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McGee v. Pilot Thomas Logistics, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 18, 2017

NEIMIAH MCGEE, ANTHONY URNBERG, FOUDOU ADAM, FREDRICK A. NICOLOSI, OUSMAN ABOUDOU, MALACHI MCGEE, JONAH KALILI, RAUL YANEZ-SANDOVAL, JOEL KLASSEN, and SOLOMON DEBRETSION, Plaintiffs,
v.
PILOT THOMAS LOGISTICS, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER

          RAYMOND P. MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the Colorado Wage Act, and common law. (ECF No. 31.) This matter is before the Court on the “Joint Motion to Restrict Access to Settlement Agreement and Plaintiffs' Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs [ECF Nos. 54 and 55]” (the “Joint Motion”) (ECF No. 56) filed by Defendant Pilot Thomas Logistics, LLC and Plaintiffs Neimiah McGee, Anthony Urnberg, Foudou Adam, Fredrick A. Nicolosi, Malachi McGee, Jonah Kalili, Raul Yanez-Sandoval, and Solomon Debretsion (collectively, the “Parties”). The Joint Motion requests a Level 1 restriction for the following two documents: (1) the Parties' Settlement Agreement and Release of Claims (the “Agreement”) (ECF No. 54); and (2) Plaintiffs' Petition for Approval of Attorneys' Fees and Costs (the “Petition for Fees”) (ECF No. 55). For the reasons stated herein, the Joint Motion is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Parties have reached a settlement of this action and now seek approval from this Court. At issue is the Parties' request to seal the two above-referenced documents. The Parties' arguments in support of the requested restriction appear to be based on the following: (1) confidentiality of the Agreement is a material term agreed to by the Parties; (2) the terms of the Agreement were derived from confidential facts concerning Defendants' business and employee wages; (3) disclosure of the terms which the Parties desire be confidential would discourage settlement of wage and hour cases, contrary to the public policy of encouraging settlements; (4) courts have frequently granted leave to file an FLSA settlement agreement under seal upon joint motion; and (5) the Parties agree the Agreement and Petition for Fees should be filed as restricted to protect their “confidentiality.” The Parties also assert that, as the terms of the Agreement are intended to be kept confidential, a less restrictive alternative to sealing is not practicable. The Court examines these arguments in light of the law and the documents at issue.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         “‘Courts have long recognized a common-law right of access to judicial records, ' but this right ‘is not absolute.'” JetAway Aviation, LLC v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs of Cty. of Montrose, Colo., 754 F.3d 824, 826 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Mann v. Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1149 (10th Cir. 2007)). Courts may exercise discretion and restrict a public's right to access judicial records if that “‘right of access is outweighed by competing interests.'” Id. (quoting Helm v. Kansas, 656 F.3d 1277, 1292 (10th Cir. 2011)). In exercising that discretion, the court “‘weigh[s] the interests of the public, which are presumptively paramount, against those advanced by the parties.'” United States v. Dillard, 795 F.3d 1191, 1205 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting Crystal Grower's Corp. v. Dobbins, 616 F.2d 458, 461 (10th Cir. 1980)).

         The presumption against restriction may be overcome if the party seeking to restrict access to records “articulate[s] a real and substantial interest that justifies depriving the public of access to the records that inform [the court's] decision-making process.” JetAway, 754 F.3d at 826 (quotation marks and citation omitted); Pine Tele. Co. v. Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc., 617 Fed.Appx. 846, 852 (10th Cir. 2015) (unpublished) (showing of “some significant interest” required). “[A] generalized allusion to confidential information” is insufficient. JetAway, 754 F.3d at 827.

         In addition to these general rules, restrictions in this district are also governed by D.C.COLO.LCivR 7.2. The party seeking restriction of public access to a document must also comply with this Local Rule and demonstrate that restriction is appropriate.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. The Petition for Fees.

         Other than a conclusory statement that the restriction is needed to protect its confidentiality, there are neither facts nor argument to support that anything contained in the Petition for Fees should be kept confidential. Indeed, the Petition is short, cites the standard for evaluating fees, but then contains very little factual information to support the fees requested. If it is the amount requested which the Parties contend is confidential, the Parties cite no law to support why it is so. Further, if it is the amount which should be restricted, the Parties provide no reason why redaction of the amount would be insufficient. Accordingly, on this record, the Parties have not met their burden.

         B. The Agreement.

         The Parties raise a number of related arguments but, on this record, they are insufficient. First, the Tenth Circuit has stated, “[t]he Court recognizes that preserving the confidentiality of settlement agreements may encourage settlement, and that denying a motion to seal may chill future settlement discussions.” Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222, 1241 (10th Cir. 2012). The Parties contend this is so - that the failure to restrict public access would discourage FLSA settlements - but offer no evidence to support it is so. Moreover, this contention may be contradicted by the fact that numerous FLSA settlement agreements contain no confidentiality provision, have been filed unrestricted, and/or have been filed redacted. See, e.g., Baker v. Vail Resorts Mgmt. Co., No. 13-cv-01649-PAB-CBS, 2014 WL 700096, at *2 (D. Colo. Feb. 24, 2014) (no confidentiality provision); Anderson v. Walgreen Co., No. 14-cv-02642-RM-MJW, 2016 WL 74934, at *3 (D. Colo. Jan. 7, 2016) (request to withdraw motion to restrict settlement agreement with confidentiality provision); Cooper v. OFS 2 Deal 2, LLC, No. 15-cv-01291-RM-NYW, 2016 WL 1071002, at *3 (D. Colo. Mar. 17, 2016) (public access to redacted settlement agreement).

         Next, a party's interest in keeping the terms of their agreements confidential, standing alone, may be insufficient to outweigh the public's interest of access to court documents. SeeColony Ins. Co., 698 F.3d at 1241 (denial of request to seal settlement agreements containing confidentiality provisions where parties placed agreements at center of the controversy). Were it otherwise, the common-law ...


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