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Village on James Street Association v. Oregon Mutual Insurance Co.

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

December 10, 2019

VILLAGE ON JAMES STREET ASSOCIATION, a Washington non-profit corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
OREGON MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, an Oregon Corporation; DOE INSURANCE COMPANIES 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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 explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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.)

         On 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.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Seal

         “[T]here 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).

         In 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.”).

         Defendant 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.)

         Thus, 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 DENIED.

         B. Motion to Approve Settlement and Bar Contribution Claims

         “A 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.

         1. Re ...


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