United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
VILLAGE ON JAMES STREET ASSOCIATION, a Washington non-profit corporation, Plaintiff,
OREGON MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, an Oregon Corporation; DOE INSURANCE COMPANIES 1-10, Defendants.
C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Oregon Mutual
Insurance Company's motion to seal (Dkt. No. 22) and the
parties' joint motion for an order approving settlement
and barring contribution claims (Dkt. No. 23). Having
thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the
relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary
and hereby DENIES Defendant's motion to seal and GRANTS
the parties' joint motion for an order approving
settlement and barring contribution claims for the reasons
is a nonprofit corporation with the duty to maintain the
common elements and any limited common elements of the
Village on James Street condominium complex. (See
Dkt. No. 1 at 2.) Defendant sold Plaintiff property insurance
policies identifying the Village on James Street condominium
complex as covered property. (See id.) In March
2018, an investigation uncovered hidden damage at the Village
on James Street condominium complex. (See id. at 3.)
In May 2018, Plaintiff tendered claims to Defendant. (See
id.) The parties subsequently entered into a tolling
agreement that expired on September 28, 2018. (See
id.) On September 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit against
Defendant, seeking a declaratory judgment that
Defendant's policies provided coverage and alleging
various claims arising under Washington state law. (See
id. at 3- 5; Dkt. No. 18.)
September 9, 2019, the parties participated in mediation and
reached an agreement to settle this matter. (See
Dkt. No. 23 at 2-3.) The parties jointly move for an order
approving the settlement and barring contribution claims.
(Dkt. No. 23.) Defendant individually moves to file under
seal two exhibits concerning the parties' settlement.
(Dkt. No. 22; see Dkt. No. 26.)
Motion to Seal
is a strong presumption of public access to [the Court's]
files.” W.D. Wash. Local Civ. R. 5(g)(3); see Nixon
v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978).
“A party may file a document under seal . . . if a
statute, rule, or prior court order expressly authorizes the
party to file the document under seal; or . . . if the party
files a motion . . . to seal the motion at the same time the
party files the sealed document.” W.D. Wash. Local Civ.
R. 5(g)(2)(A)-(B). The party seeking to maintain documents
under seal bears the burden of showing specific prejudice or
harm that will result via a particularized showing to each
individual document. See Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd
v. Gen. Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1210-11 (9th Cir.
2002); San Jose Mercury News, Inc. v. U.S. Dist.
Ct., 187 F.3d 1096, 1103 (9th Cir. 1999).
determining whether a judicial record is properly maintained
under seal, the Court looks to whether the motion is more
than tangentially related to the merits of a case. See
Ctr. for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Grp., LLC, 809 F.3d
1092, 1096-1102 (9th Cir. 2016) (examining case law and
clarifying standard to file documents under seal). If a
motion is more than tangentially related to the merits of a
case, the party seeking protection must demonstrate that
“compelling reasons” exist and justify
maintaining the record under seal. See id.;
Kamakana v. City & County of Honolulu, 447 F.3d
1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 2006). But a party seeking to seal
judicial records that are only tangentially related to the
merits of a case “need only satisfy the less exacting
‘good cause' standard.” Ctr. for Auto
Safety, 809 F.3d at 1097 (quoting Foltz v. State
Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir.
2003)); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a). The Ninth Circuit
has not provided specific guidance as to which standard
applies to settlement agreements, and district courts have
applied both standards. See Select Portfolio Servicing v.
Valentino, 2013 WL 1800039, slip op. at 2 (N.D. Cal.
2013) (collecting cases); Prosurance Grp., Inc. v.
Liberty Mut. Grp., Inc., 2011 WL 704456, slip op. at 1
(N.D. Cal. 2011) (applying good cause standard because
“a motion to determine good faith settlement is only
tangentially related to the merits of the underlying cause of
action”); Taylor v. AFS Techs., Inc., 2010 WL
2079750, slip op. at 2 (D. Ariz. 2010) (“Because
approval of the settlement agreement will be dispositive of
the FLSA claim, the compelling reasons standard set forth in
Kamakana applies to that agreement.”).
first argues that the terms and conditions of the
parties' settlement are confidential. (See Dkt.
No. 22 at 3.) But mere assertions of confidentiality do not
establish good cause or a compelling reason to maintain
documents under seal. See Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto.
Ins. Co., 331 F.3d 1122, 1136-38 (9th Cir. 2003);
Bernstein v. Target Stores, Inc., 2013 WL 5807581,
slip op. at 3 (N.D. Cal. 2013) (“The existence of a
confidentiality provision, without more, does not constitute
good cause, let alone a compelling reason, to seal.”).
Defendant next argues that the exhibits should be maintained
under seal because they are “the product of
mediation” and thus are confidential under Washington
law. (See Dkt. No. 22 at 3-4) (citing Wash. Rev.
Code § 7.07.070). But the statute cited by Plaintiff
provides that “mediation communications are
confidential to the extent agreed by the parties or provided
by other law or rule of this state.” Wash. Rev. Code
§ 7.07.070 (emphasis added). Defendant's claim that
the exhibits arose from mediation does not establish that the
exhibits thus constitute “mediation
communications” within the meaning of the statute. And,
notably, Defendant's motion to seal discusses the
parties' mediation in much more detail than the exhibits
do themselves. (See Dkt. No. 22 at 2.)
Defendant has not identified a statute, rule, or prior court
order expressly authorizing it to file the exhibits at issue
under seal, and it has not carried its burden of
demonstrating that the exhibits should be sealed under either
the compelling reason standard or the good cause standard.
See W.D. Wash. Local Civ. R. 5(g)(2)(A)-(B).
Therefore, Defendant's motion to seal (Dkt. No. 22) is
Motion to Approve Settlement and Bar Contribution
court has the ‘inheritable [sic] equitable authority to
enter an order precluding subsequent claims for contribution
and indemnity by non-settling parties.'”
Nautica Condo. Owners Ass'n v. Aspen Specialty Ins.
Co., No. C15-1788-JLR, Dkt. No. 83 at 2-3 (W.D. Wash.
2018) (quoting Canal Indem. Co. v. Glob. Dev., LLC,
No. C14-0823-RSM, Dkt. No. 132 at 5 (W.D. Wash. 2015)).
“Contribution bar orders are ‘consistent with the
public policy in Washington of encouraging
settlement.'” Id. at 3 (quoting Puget
Sound Energy v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, 138
P.3d 1068, 1079 (Wash.Ct.App. 2006)); accord Franklin v.
Kaypro Corp., 884 F.2d 1222, 1229 (9th Cir. 1989).
“In determining whether a contemplated contribution bar
is appropriate, the court considers whether the proposed
settlement is reasonable and the interests of non-settling
defendants are protected.” Canal Indem. Co.,
No. C14-0823-RSM, Dkt. No. 132 at 6.