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Meeker v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 23, 2015

MICHELLE MEEKER, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFE CARE CENTERS OF AMERICA, INC. d/b/a HERITAGE PARK CARE CENTER; COLORADOMEDICAL INVESTORS, LLC d/b/a HERITAGE PARKCARE CENTER; TOWN OF CARBONDALE, COLORADO; EUGENE SCHILLING; MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN; ROBERT BAKER; JESSICA VARLEY; and MELANIE HOLMES, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER

NINA Y. WANG, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the court on Defendants Life Care Centers of America, Inc. ("Life Care"), Colorado Medical Investors, LLC, Robert Baker, Jessica Varley, and Melanie Holmes (collectively, "Life Care Defendants") Motion for Protective Order, filed February 19, 2015 (the "Motion for Protective Order") [#61, public entry #64]. Pursuant to the Order of Reference dated July 29, 2014 [#6] and the Memorandum dated February 20, 2015 [#76], the Motion for Protective Order is before this Magistrate Judge. The court has reviewed the pending Motion for Protective Order, Plaintiffs' Response, Defendant's Reply, and the exhibits thereto. Satisfied that the Motion for Protective Order can be resolved on the record before the court without the need for oral argument from counsel, for the reasons discussed below, the court GRANTS the Motion for Protective Order IN PART and DENIES the Motion for Protective Order IN PART as follows.

BACKGROUND

Because of the relevance to the discovery dispute at issue, the court will discuss Plaintiff Michelle Meeker's (also "Plaintiff" or "Ms. Meeker") allegations as set forth in her Complaint filed on January 29, 2014 [#1]. On October 16, 2013, Plaintiff unwittingly participated in a hostage taking preparedness drill conducted at Life Care's Heritage Park Care Center nursing facility in Carbondale, Colorado. [#1, ¶ 1]. During the incident, Carbondale Police Officer Michael Zimmerman posed as a hostage taker, "reveal[ed] a [mock] gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans, " and ordered Ms. Meeker to enter an unattended room at the nursing facility. [ Id., ¶¶ 32-36]. As a result of the October 16, 2013 hostage taking drill, Ms. Meeker alleges that she "has suffered and continues to suffer significant damages, including severe mental and emotional distress." [ Id., ¶ 1].

On December 31, 2014, this court issued a modified version of the Proposed Protective Order tendered by the Life Care Defendants. [#45]. In purported compliance with that Order, the Life Care Defendants have, throughout the course of discovery, designated a number of documents as "Confidential"-including the documents subject to the instant Motion for Protective Order. [#61, 1-2]. According to the Life Care Defendants, the bulk of the documents at issue "constitute what can best be described as LCCA's Employee Handbook." [ Id., at 3]. The remainder of the disputed documents are twenty pages of Plaintiff's own personnel file from her time as an employee at Life Care's Heritage Park Care Center. [ Id., 6-7].

ANALYSIS

I. Standard of Review

Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 26(c)(1) provides that a party may obtain a protective order on a showing of good cause to "protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense" and to protect "a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information." Conclusory assertions are insufficient to show good cause. "Instead, the party seeking a protective order must show that disclosure will result in a clearly defined and serious injury to the party seeking protection." Exum v. United States Olympic Committee, 209 F.R.D. 201, 206 (D. Colo. 2002) (internal citations omitted). "In the absence of a showing of good cause for confidentiality, the parties are free to disseminate discovery materials to the public." Id.

In order to establish the existence of a trade secret or other confidential information entitled to protection, the movant must show:

(1) the extent to which the information is known outside the business; (2) the extent to which it is known to those inside the business, i.e., by the employees; (3) the precautions taken by the holder of the trade secret to guard the secrecy of the information; (4) the savings effected and the value to the holder in having the information as against its competitors; (5) the amount of effort or money expended in obtaining and developing the information; and (6) the amount of time and expense it would take for others to acquire and duplicate the information.

Hertz v. Luzenac Group, 576 F.3d 1103, 1108 (10th Cir. 2009).

With respect to any discovery materials filed in proceedings before this court, the Supreme Court acknowledged a common-law right of access to judicial records in Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). This right is premised upon the recognition that public monitoring of the courts fosters important values such as respect for the legal system. See In re Providence Journal Co., 293 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2002). Judges have a responsibility to avoid secrecy in court proceedings because "secret court proceedings are anathema to a free society." M.M. v. Zavaras, 939 F.Supp. 799, 801 (D. Colo. 1996). There is a presumption that documents essential to the judicial process are to be available to the public, but access to them may be restricted when the public's right of access is outweighed by interests which favor nondisclosure. See United States v. McVeigh, 119 F.3d 806, 811 (10th Cir. 1997).

Accordingly, documents filed with this District are presumptively available to the public, and the burden is on the party seeking restriction to justify such relief. D.C.COLO.LCivR 7.2(A). A showing of compelling reasons for restriction of public access is necessary, as it critical that the public be able to review the factual basis of this Court's decisions and evaluate the court's rationale so that it may be confident that the court is functioning as a neutral arbiter. Cf. McVeigh, 119 F.3d at 814. A party seeking to restrict access must make a multi-part showing. It must: (1) identify the specific document for which restriction is sought; (2) it must identify the interest to be protected and the reasons why that interest outweighs the presumption of public access; (3) it must identify a clear injury that would ...


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