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Agreement between parties is not enough to seal court documents

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Agreement between parties is not enough to seal court documents

  • An appeals court said that documents in a studio’s settlement agreement do not meet the requirements needed to seal such materials.

Aug. 7, 2003 — A California appeals court in Los Angeles ruled June 29 that documents in civil litigation cannot be sealed just because of a prior agreement that they should remain secret.

Sealing of documents “requires more than a mere agreement of the parties,” the court wrote in its opinion. “The public may be excluded from a civil trial only upon a showing that the denial of access serves important governmental interest.”

The documents at issue concern a case involving Universal City Studies, Inc. The studio asked a California superior court in Los Angeles to seal various documents pertinent to an arbitration dispute. After going back and forth with the court, Universal City Studios narrowed its request to seal two documents: an Oct. 14, 1998, settlement agreement and a June 6, 2002, stipulation and sealing order in a federal case. The court denied the studio’s request to seal both of these documents.

In its opinion, the court explained that 88 redactions to the 1998 settlement agreement eliminated most financial information from the document and that any remaining financial information in the agreement also is in an unsealed document filed with a different court by the defendant. The appeals court found no evidence that harm could come to the studio if the nonfinancial information were disclosed and it refused to seal information that already was available in another court. The court also found no compelling reason to seal a federal sealing order.

The stipulated “sealing order does not purport to compel any other court to file the order itself under seal,” the court wrote.

(Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County) JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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