United States District Court, District of Columbia
JOHN N. XEREAS, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant,
MARJORIE A. HEISS, et al., Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
DEBORAH A. ROBINSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter before the court was filed on March 23, 2012, and
stems from events regarding the formation and dissolution of
a joint business venture . See Complaint (ECF No.
1). Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief for
twenty-six statutory and common law claims, including
trademark infringement, unfair competition, conversion,
breach of contract, fraud, unauthorized interception and
disclosure of electronic communications, unlawful access to
stored communications, misappropriation of trade secrets,
intentional interference with business relations, unjust
enrichment, cybersquatting, breach of fiduciary duty, breach
of duty of good faith and fair dealing, violation of right to
information, violation of RICO, and conspiracy. Id.
at 68-104. Defendants filed a counterclaim, seeking both
injunctive relief and damages for thirteen claims, including
breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair
dealing, tortious interference with existing business and
contractual relationships, tortious interference wit h
prospective business relationships, breach of fiduciary duty,
violation of the computer fraud and abuse act, conversion,
and conspiracy. Counterclaim (ECF No. 67) at 16-27.
case was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate
Judge for resolution of discovery matters, and the assignment
was later expanded to include consideration of the
parties' cross motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 57, 76).
See 06/01/2017 Minute Order; 06/15/2017 Minute
Order. The court now considers Plaintiff's
Motion to Withdraw Motion for Leave to File Plaintiff's
Second Amended Complaint under Seal (ECF No. 77), filed
following the original Motion for Leave to File under Seal
(ECF No. 54), included with Plaintiff's filing of the
Second Amended Complaint.
deciding whether to grant a motion to seal, this court must
weigh the request against the “strong presumption in
favor of public access to judicial proceedings.”
E.E.O.C. v. Nat'l Children's Ctr., Inc., 98
F.3d 1406, 1409 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (internal quotations
omitted). “Access to records serves the important
function of ensuring the integrity of judicial proceedings,
” however, the public's access may be restricted to
protect private and public interests, such as trade secrets,
the privacy and reputation of victims of crimes, risks to
national security interests, and the danger of an unfair
trial by adverse publicity. United States v.
Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 314-16 (D.C. Cir. 1980).
strong presumption in favor of public access may be overcome
upon consideration of six factors: (1) the need for public
access to the documents at issue; (2) the extent of previous
public access to the documents; (3) the fact that someone has
objected to disclosure, and the identity of that person; (4)
the strength of any property and privacy interests asserted;
(5) the possibility of prejudice to those opposing
disclosure; and (6) the purposes for which the documents were
introduced during the judicial proceedings. Nat'l
Children's Ctr., Inc., 98 F.3d at 1409 (c it in g
Hubbard, 650 F.2d at 317-22).
contends none of the information in Plaintiff's Second
Amended Complaint warrants filing under seal; however, he
filed the Second Amended Complaint with his motion for leave
to file under seal “out of abundance of caution”
that the complaint may contain information that Defendants
may consider subject to the joint stipulation protecting
confidential business information. Plaintiff's Mot. For
Leave to File Under Seal (ECF No. 54). Plaintiff ha s now
move d to withdraw his original motion requesting leave to
file the Second Amended Complaint under seal. However, in
their respective motion for leave to file under seal,
Defendants argue that the pleadings should remain under seal
because there is “a strong privacy interest in having
the scandalous materials reviewed by the Court prior to any
public discourse.” Defendants' Mot. For Leave to
File under Seal (ECF No. 56).
review of Defendants' motion, the undersigned observes no
specific evidence proffered in support of Defendant's
arguments against public filing of the Second Amended
Complaint, nor do Defendants c it e any legal authority
recognizing “a strong privacy interest in [protecting]
scandalous materials . . . prior to public discourse .
” Id; see Friedman v. Sebelius, 672
F.Supp.2d 54, 58 (D.D.C. 2009) (“[A] party seeking to
seal court documents must come forward w it h
specific reasons why the record, or any part
thereof, should remain under seal.”) (emphasis added).
Instead, Defendants mistakenly rest on the notion that
“[n]one of the other [Hubbard] factors weigh
heavily in favor of rejecting the request for filing under
undersigned notes that the District of Columbia Circuit
established that the factors laid out in Hubbard are
to be weighed against the “strong presumption in
favor of public access to judicial proceedings, ”
Nat'l Children's Ctr., Inc., 98 F.3d at
1410, designating the burden to rebut the presumption of
disclosure to the objecting party. Here, Defendants have
failed to carry that burden.
majority of the Hubbard factors weigh heavily in
favor of disclosure. As to the first factor, the undersigned
perceives a high probability that the complaint w ill
inevitably be referred to in the court's decision on
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 57), enhancing the
need for public disclosure. See Grynberg v. BP
P.L.C., 205 F.Supp.3d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2016) (“[T]here
is a need for public access in those instances where the
documents at issue are specifically referred to in the 
judge's public decision.”).
consideration of the fourth factor, the undersigned
considered Defendants' primary assertion that the
pleadings and related motions should remain under seal
because “[t]he propose d Second Amended Complaint
contains numerous impertinent and scandalous statements
unnecessarily impugning the moral character of the defendants
and others, including allegations of adulterous
relationships, that have no relevance to any of the plead
counts.” However, this court has found such
“generalized” claims of privacy interest
involving “harm to reputation[, ]” such as those
alleged above, insufficient to compel disclosure under
Hubbard. See United States ex rel. Grover v.
Related Companies, LP, 4 F.Supp.3d 21, 27 (D.D.C. 2013).
unlike a tangentially related exhibit, the documents sought
to be sealed here are Plaintiff's Second Amended
Complaint and subsequent motions regarding it and information
contained therein. Thus, upon consideration of the sixth
factor, the undersigned finds the purpose for which the
relevant documents have been introduced is significant, and
as this court has opine d, “the more relevant a
pleading is to the central claims of the litigation, the
stronger the presumption of unsealing the pleading
becomes.” See United States ex rel. Grover,
LP, 4 F.Supp.3d at 28. Thus, as Plaintiff asserts, the
complaint is a central feature of the underlying litigation,
rendering the sealing of it and any subsequent motions which
refer to it inappropriate in this instance.
I t is,
therefore, ORDERED that Plaintiff's
Motion to Withdraw the Motion for Leave to File under Seal
(ECF No. 77) is GRANTED; and it is,
FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's
remaining Motions for Leave to File under Seal (ECF Nos. 58,
91, 97, 98)) are DENIED as moot; and it is
ORDERED that Defendants' Motions for Leave to
File under Seal (ECF ...