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Paradyme Management, Inc. v. Curto

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

October 16, 2018



          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Paradyme Management, Inc. (“Paradyme”) brought this suit nearly 10 months ago, seeking to hold a former employee, Mary Ellen Curto (“Curto”), liable for breach of contract and violation of various state and federal laws. Compl., ECF No. 1. The Court will now address two of the many issues that have arisen in the course of the case. The first issue is whether the Court should sanction the defendant, Ms. Curto, or enter a default judgment against her as a consequence of her conduct in this suit. See June 2018 Mem. & Order, ECF No. 87. The second issue is whether to unseal all remaining sealed documents in the case. See August 2018 Letter Order, ECF No. 93. The parties have fully briefed both issues, see ECF Nos. 89, 94-95, and no hearing is required, see Loc. R. 105.6.


         I begin with the matter of Ms. Curto's conduct. On June 11, 2018, this Court ordered Ms. Curto to show cause why she should not be sanctioned, with potential consequences including entry of a default judgment, a contempt order, or the imposition of a monetary sanction. June 2018 Mem. & Order 23. The Court's memorandum opinion detailed many examples of Ms. Curto's discourteous and disruptive actions over the course of this case, including her repeated failure to comply with court orders; her apparent disregard for a consent order she agreed to enter into; her violation of the Court's Local Rules; her use of inappropriate language; and her abuse of the Court's willingness, as a courtesy to Ms. Curto, to send her electronic copies of any filings made by the Court on the day they were entered on the docket, in addition to sending her copies by mail, as required by Court procedures. See Id. at 1-10.

         Ms. Curto's June 22 response to the Court's show cause order mostly seeks to deflect the Court's attention onto Paradyme, reprising a long list of allegations Ms. Curto has previously aired in numerous other filings. See, e.g., Resp. to Show Cause 16, ECF No. 89 (“The Court cautions the Defendant for unethical professional behavior, but does not consider the ethics of the Plaintiff bringing forth a false law suit with the sole intention to prevent the reporting of fraud against the United States Government.”). In a response that runs 18 pages, plus 62 pages' worth of exhibits, Ms. Curto expresses no contrition and offers few excuses for the actions this Court cited. The most she allows is that her “tone may be reflective of her intense disdain for [the] bullying and overt fraud” she feels she has encountered in connection with Paradyme's “cruel, toxic, and unlawful work environment.” Id. at 2. Beyond that, Ms. Curto asserts she lacked adequate notice for the Court's December 14, 2017, telephone conference call; was not properly served with process; and never received various court papers because they were improperly addressed. See Id. at 12-15. Ms. Curto adds that she has tried to follow court procedures and “wishes that [the] Clerk had asked for [her] signature when the documents were hand-delivered and accepted at the Clerk's window.” Id. at 16.

         I can see nothing in Ms. Curto's response to the show cause order to justify her consistent disregard for this Court's rules and procedures. While she seeks to justify her misconduct by blaming Paradyme for filing suit to enforce the non-disclosure covenant in her employment contract, it is her own conduct in repeatedly refusing to file an answer or motion to dismiss that has delayed the progress of this case to a point where the merits of the complaint could be resolved.[1] Nor has she filed a counterclaim, as the Rules of Procedure would allow her to do, to assert any claims that she may have against her former employer. In short, while Ms. Curto continues to bemoan what she perceives as an unmeritorious lawsuit, she herself has prolonged the litigation by repeatedly refusing to comply with Court orders instructing her to respond to the Complaint in a manner allowed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         And, while she continues to be aggrieved by the Court's ruling that the Consent Order she entered into is enforceable, see Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Ltr. Seeking Enforcement 4, ECF No. 64, she conveniently overlooks the fact that the enforcement order only did so to the extent that it did not prevent her from filing good faith false claims complaints against the Plaintiff.[2] Simply put, the fastest way for Ms. Curto to obtain the resolution she seeks is to comply with the Rules of Procedure and Court orders that will enable her to respond to the suit in the proper manner.

         While I believe her conduct to this point provides ample grounds for, at a minimum, a contempt order, I will not issue such an order at this time. Instead, I will allow Ms. Curto a final opportunity to purge herself of her prior contempt by curbing her disrespectful conduct and complying with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and orders of this Court.

         Paradyme has repeatedly urged this Court to enter a default against Ms. Curto for having failed to properly respond to the Complaint in accordance with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 12. See Mot. for Entry of Default, ECF No. 74; Second Mot. for Entry of Default, ECF No. 84. I have previously refused its entreaties. See June 2018 Mem. & Order 24. Let there be no mistake, though: Ms. Curto must file an answer (which may include a counterclaim, if there is a good-faith basis for one) or motion to dismiss in compliance with the pre-motion conference procedure set out at ECF No. 20 and the Federal Rules, and this will be her last chance to do so. The answer or pre-motion request will be due on or before November 6, 2018. No. extensions will be provided. Should she fail to file a timely response, she may be subject to appropriate relief, including an entry of default. I am enclosing a copy of the Federal Rules for her reference and direct her attention to the rules that are most applicable for her purposes, which are Rules 8 and 10 through 13.


         I turn now to a different matter the parties have fully briefed, which is whether to unseal the 14 documents that remain sealed in this case. See ECF Nos. 47, 60, 64, 67, 68, 70-73, 80, 81, 87, 89 & 90. I informed the parties in my letter order of August 20, 2018, that I was inclined to unseal these documents. See August 20, 2018 Letter Order, ECF No. 93. Paradyme has agreed it would be proper to unseal these records. See Paradyme Unsealing Letter, ECF No. 94. Ms. Curto's responsive brief is decidedly less clear but appears to take the contrary position. See Curto Unsealing Letter, ECF No. 95. There, Ms. Curto intimates that her January 26, 2018, request for a protective order, ECF No. 34, justified the sealing of documents that may disclose her role in an unrelated qui tam action. See Curto Unsealing Letter 1.

         There can be no doubt that the public enjoys a “qualified right of access to judicial documents and records” filed in civil cases. Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 265 (4th Cir. 2014). This right, which emanates both from the common law and from the First Amendment, serves two aims. First, it gives members of the public the opportunity to “oversee and monitor the workings of the Judicial Branch.” Id. Second, “public access to the courts promotes the institutional integrity of the Judicial Branch.” Id.

         It is important to distinguish between the two independent sources from which the right of access derives, because they differ in two key ways. First, they are not coextensive. “While the common law presumption in favor of access attaches to all ‘judicial records and documents,' the First Amendment guarantee of access has been extended only to particular judicial records and documents.” Stone v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 855 F.2d 178, 180-81 (4th Cir. 1988) (quoting Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978)) (emphasis added). That is to say, there may be times when the common law presumption applies to a record, but the First Amendment guarantee of access does not.

         Second, to the extent both sources of access rights do apply to the same set of documents, they are not equal in strength. The common law is the weaker of the two, in that it merely creates a rebuttable presumption of access. To overcome the presumption, the party seeking to seal the records must show that “countervailing interests heavily outweigh the public interests in access.” Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir. 1988). The First Amendment, when applicable, is more rigorous. Under the First Amendment, access to covered court records “may ...

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