United States District Court, District of Columbia
ALFRED L. AMATO United States of America ex rel., Relator,
BRANCH BANKING AND TRUST COMPANY, Defendant.
S. CHUTKAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court are Relator Alfred Amato's Request for
Voluntary Dismissal Pursuant to Rule 41(A) and Motion for a
Temporary Sealing Order. For the reasons stated below, the
court will GRANT Relator's Request for Voluntary
Dismissal and DENY Relator's Motion for a Temporary
March 31, 2016, Relator filed this qui tam action
against Defendant Branch Banking and Trust Company
(“BB&T”) pursuant to the False Claims Act
(“FCA”), 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729, et
seq. ECF No. 1 (Compl.). Relator alleges that BB&T
made false statements and claims to the Federal Deposit
Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”) in order to
receive reimbursement payments from the FDIC for financial
losses it incurred on certain loans. Id.
¶¶ 2-15. Specifically, Relator alleges that
BB&T fraudulently obtained approximately $5 million in
reimbursement funds on a mortgage loan for which he was the
guarantor (the “South Fork Loan”). Id.
¶ 34; ECF No. 9 (Mot.) at 3. On December 8, 2017, after
a full investigation into Relator's allegations, the
United States declined to intervene in this action. ECF No.
light of the government's decision not to intervene,
Relator filed a Request for Voluntary Dismissal Pursuant to
Rule 41(A) on December 14, 2017. ECF No. 10. The government
does not oppose the Request. See id.
New York State Court Action
30, 2010, BB&T sued Relator in New York state court for
payment of the balance of the South Fork Loan (the
“State Court Action”). Compl. ¶ 105; ECF No.
9-1 (Nelson Decl.) ¶ 2. The case was certified as ready
for trial on August 8, 2016, and the parties are currently
engaging in final, pretrial discovery. Id. On the
same day he filed the Request for Voluntary Dismissal,
Relator also filed a Motion for a Temporary Sealing Order,
requesting that the court temporarily maintain the current
seal over the entire record until the State Court Action is
resolved. See generally Mot. The government
opposes this request. ECF No. 13 (Opp.).
starting point in considering a motion to seal court records
is a strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial
proceedings.'” Hardaway v. Dist. of Columbia
Hous. Auth., 843 F.3d 973, 980 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (quoting
E.E.O.C. v. Nat'l Children's Ctr., Inc., 98
F.3d 1406, 1409 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). In United States v.
Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 317-22 (D.C. Cir. 1980), the D.C.
Circuit articulated “six factors that might act to
overcome this presumption” of public access:
(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 or
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
Nat'l Children's Ctr., 98 F.3d at 1409
(citing Hubbard, 650 F.2d at 317-22). The weighing
of these factors is “‘best left to the sound
discretion of the trial court, a discretion to be exercised
in light of the relevant facts and circumstances of the
particular case.'” Hubbard, 650 F.2d at
316- 17 (quoting Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc.,
435 U.S. 589, 599 (1978)). The court finds that only one of
the Hubbard factors-the fact that Relator has
objected to disclosure-weighs in favor of maintaining a
temporary seal in this case.
Need For Public Access
noted, there is a strong presumption in favor of public
access to judicial proceedings. Hardaway, 843 F.3d
at 980. This strong presumption is especially present in FCA
cases because such cases “inherently implicate the
public interest.” U.S. ex rel. Durham v. Prospect
Waterproofing, Inc., 818 F.Supp.2d 64, 67 (D.D.C. 2011)
(citation omitted). Indeed, “[t]axpayers are
‘real parties in interest' in FCA cases because
they possess a strong interest in fraud committed against the
United States that ...