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Williams v. Foster

United States District Court, District of Nevada

December 11, 2014

TONY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
S.L. FOSTER, et. al., Defendants.

ORDER

WILLIAM G. COBB, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Before the court are various motions filed by Defendants which seek leave to file documents in connection with their dispositive motions under seal. (Docs. # 32, 33, 38, 47, and 48.)[1]

I. BACKGROUND

At all relevant times, Plaintiff Tony Williams was in custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC). (Pl.'s Sec. Am. Compl., Doc. # 25.) Plaintiff, a pro se litigant, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id.) The events giving rise to this action took place while he was housed at Ely State Prison (ESP). (Id.) Defendants are Sheryl Foster, Renee Baker, and Mike Oxborrow. (Id.) Plaintiff's Second Amendment Complaint was allowed to proceed with his claims that Defendants violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause because of his status as an inmate under the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC). (Doc. # 31.)

On March 31, 2014, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss Per FRCP 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), and Motion for Summary Judgment Per FRCP 56. (Docs. # 34/40.) In connection with these motions, they initially filed a motion for leave to file confidential documents under seal (Doc. # 32), and two motions for leave to file confidential documents submitted in support of the motions in camera. (Docs. # 33/39.)

In Doc. # 39, they sought leave to file three exhibits in support of their dispositive motions in camera: (1) Exhibit C-the unredacted declaration of Harold Byrne; (2) Exhibit E-containing records related to Plaintiff's Security Threat Group (STG) status; and (3) Exhibit I-Plaintiff's pre-sentence investigation report (PSI).

The court issued an order denying Doc. # 39. (Doc. # 46.) The court advised Defendants that a document filed in camera, opposed to one filed under seal, is viewed only by the court but may not be viewed by other parties or the public. LR 10-5. Documents filed under seal, on the other hand, can be viewed by the court and other parties, but not by the public. Id. The court then set out the standard for sealing documents, instructing Defendants that if they seek to keep documents filed in connection with a dispositive motion under seal, they must demonstrate compelling reasons that outweigh the general history of public access to documents. (Doc. # 46 at 2.) The court also apprised Defendants that it would not agree to allow Defendants to proceed with a dispositive motion that relied on evidence the Plaintiff was not permitted to review by filing the documents in camera.

The court reviewed the exhibits, and determined, with one exception, that "compelling reasons" exist for filing the documents under seal, but that there was no basis for the documents to be filed in camera. (Doc. # 46 at 3.)

In its review of Exhibit C submitted by Defendants in camera, the unredacted declaration of Harold Byrne, the court concluded that it contained one paragraph with a portion redacted (¶ 5) and one paragraph that was entirely redacted (¶ 7). The redacted portions of paragraph 5 appeared verbatim in Defendants' motion; therefore, there was no reason that this portion of the declaration should be submitted under seal or in camera. Paragraph 7 contained information regarding Plaintiff's STG status. The court recognized the sensitive nature of this information and potential safety and security hazards posed if other inmates were to come into possession of this information. Therefore, it found compelling reasons existed for filing this portion of the document under seal. Defendants were directed to re-file Exhibit C with paragraphs one through five unredacted, and the remainder filed under seal. (Doc. # 46 at 4-5.)

With respect to Exhibit E, which contains records concerning Plaintiff's STG status, the court found that the compelling reasons existed for filing the first document in this exhibit under seal, but not in camera. As to the second document in Exhibit E, the court found compelling reasons existed for filing the document under seal, but not in camera, and allowed Defendants to redact the names of the officers. (Id. at 6.) Regarding the third, fourth and fifth documents in Exhibit E, the court found compelling reasons exist for filing them under seal, but not in camera. (Id.at 6-7.)

Finally, with respect to Exhibit I, the PSI, the court found that it should be filed under seal but not in camera. (Id. at 7.)

The court will now address the remaining pending motions to file documents in camera or under seal. The court is concurrently issuing a report and recommendation on Defendants' pending dispositive motions.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

“Historically, courts have recognized a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.” See Kamakana v. City and County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “‘Throughout our history, the open courtroom has been a fundamental feature of the American judicial system. Basic principles have emerged to guide judicial discretion respecting public access to judicial proceedings. These principles apply as well to the determination of whether to permit access to information contained in court documents because court records often provide important, sometimes the only, bases or explanations for a ...


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