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M.F. v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 12, 2015

M.F., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

ORDER APPROVING MINOR SETTLEMENT

JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the court is Plaintiffs M.F., a minor, and her parents, Veronica Lara and Herbert Faamausili's motions (1) for and an order approving the settlement herein involving the minor, M.F. (Mot. (Dkt. # 14)), and (2) for sealing Exhibits A, B, and C of the declaration of James L. Holman (Holman Decl. (Dkt. # 15)), which was filed in support of the motion to approve the settlement (Mot. to Seal (Dkt. # 13)). The court has considered the motions, the responses filed by Defendant United States of America ("the government"), the balance of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised the court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion to approve the settlement and DENIES Plaintiffs' motion to seal, but without prejudice to re-filing in a manner that complies with the court's local rules and meets the standards required in federal court.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs filed their complaint for medical malpractice and loss of consortium on October 4, 2013. ( See Compl. (Dkt. # 1).) In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that during the time that Defendant Cordelia Dickinson, M.D., provided health care to M.F., M.F. developed a right-eye white reflex, subsequently diagnosed as retinoblastoma. ( Id. 3.4.) M.F.'s retinoblastoma was initially diagnosed by a different doctor on September 16, 2011. (Id. ¶ 3.5.) As a result of the diagnosis, M.F. was sent to Children's Hospital, where M.F.s right eye was removed in surgery and replaced with an orbital implant. ( See id. ¶¶ 3.6-3.8.) Plaintiffs further allege that if Defendants had met the reasonably prudent standard of care with respect to their care of M.F., then M.F. would not have lost his eye and his vision would have been normal. (Id. ¶ 3.9.) Plaintiffs assert claims of medical malpractice against Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 4.1-4.4.)

On January 14, 2015, the parties advised the court that they had reached a settlement. ( See 1/14/15 Dkt. Entry.) Previously, on January 9, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a petition for approval of the settlement and settlement trust involving M.F. in Superior Court for the State of Washington for Pierce County. ( See Holman Decl. Ex. C.) The Superior Court approved the settlement on January 28, 2015. ( See id. Ex. D.)

On January 28, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a motion seeking this court's approval of the settlement involving the minor, M.F., as well. ( See generally Mot.) Plaintiffs' motion is based on the identical materials that they submitted regarding the settlement to the Superior Court. ( See generally Holman Decl. Exs. A-C.) Plaintiffs also filed their motion to seal the exhibits attached to Mr. Holman's declaration that same day. ( See generally Mot. to Seal.) The court now considers both motions.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Motion to Seal

Plaintiffs' motion to seal Exhibits A-D of Mr. Holman's declaration consists of one sentence asking for order permitting Plaintiffs to file the documents under seal. ( See generally Mot. to Seal.) The government's response consists of a single sentence indicating that it does not oppose Plaintiffs' motion to seal. ( See Resp. to Mot. to Seal (Dkt. # 16).)

Under the court's Local Rules, "[t]here is a strong presumption of public access to the court's files." Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 5(g); see also Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). To rebut this presumption, a party must file a motion that includes "a specific statement of the applicable legal standard and the reasons for keeping a document under seal, with evidentiary support from declarations where necessary." Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 5(g)(3)(B). Thus, the burden is on the moving party to come forward with an applicable legal standard justifying the sealing of the documents at issue and to produce evidentiary support showing that the standard is met. See id.

A party must demonstrate "compelling reasons" to seal judicial records attached to a dispositive motion. Kamakana v. City & Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 2006). A party seeking to seal records in connection with a nondispositive motion, however, must show "good cause" under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c). In re Midland Nat'l Life Ins. Co. Annuity Sales Practices Litig., 686 F.3d 1115, 1119 (9th Cir. 2012); Pintos v. P. Creditors Ass'n, 605 F.3d 665, 678 (9th Cir. 2010) ("In light of the weaker public interest in nondispositive materials, we apply the good cause' standard when parties wish to keep them under seal."). The "compelling reasons" standard applies to this motion because approval of the minor settlement agreement is dispositive of the proceeding. See M.P. ex rel. Provins v. Lowe's Companies, Inc., No. 11-cv-01985, 2012 WL 1574801, at *1 (E.D. Cal. May 3, 2012) (holding that the "compelling reasons" standard applies to a motion to seal related to a minor's settlement because an order approving the settlement is dispositive); see also White v. Sabatino, No. 04-00500 ACK.LEK, 2007 WL 2750604, at *2 (D. Haw. Sept. 17, 2007) (holding that the "compelling reasons" standard applied to a motion to seal documents related to a motion to set aside a minor's settlement).

Under the "compelling reasons" standard, the party seeking to seal judicial records bears the burden of "articulat[ing] compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings... that outweigh the general history of access and the public policies favoring disclosure, such as the public interest in understanding the judicial process." Kamakana, 447 F.3d at 1178-79 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "In turn, the court must conscientiously balance the competing interests of the public and the party who seeks to keep certain judicial records secret." Id. at 1179 (internal alterations, quotation marks, and citations omitted). Then, "if the court decides to seal certain judicial records, it must base its decision on a compelling reason and articulate the factual basis for its ruling, without relying on hypothesis or conjecture." Id.

Plaintiffs' motion to seal neither meets nor even recognizes the "compelling reasons" standard or the various procedural requirements contained in Local Rule 5(g) with respect to motions to seal or redact court records. Certainly some of the information contained in the exhibits at issue should be redacted from any publicly filed document. For example, the court's local rules require parties to "refrain from including, or... partially redact where inclusion is necessary" certain personal data identifiers "from all documents filed with the court." See Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 5.2(a). Specifically, under Local Rule LCR 5.2(a), parties must redact dates of birth to the year of birth and the names of minor children to their initials. See id. Other sensitive financial information contained in the exhibits may warrant redaction under the applicable standard, but Plaintiffs have yet to make this showing or cite to any supporting case law, if any, on the issue. The court's local rules indicate that a party seeking to file information under seal must "explore redaction and other alternatives" to filing an entire document under seal. See Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 5(g)(3)(A). Indeed, much of the material that Plaintiffs seek to file under seal contains essentially the same information ...


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