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Coventry Capital U.S. LLC v. EEA Life Settlements, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 2, 2002

EEA LIFE SETTLEMENTS, INC., et al., Defendants.


          PITMAN, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         By letter dated October 17, 2017 Coventry Capital U.S. LLC ("Coventry") seeks an Order declaring that it may publicly file an unredacted copy of the complaint and the exhibit attached thereto. Defendants oppose plaintiff's application and cross-move for an Order directing that the complaint be filed under seal or, in the alternative, that additional material be redacted from the publicly available version of the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's application is granted and defendants' application is denied.

         II. Facts

         This is a diversity action arising out of the parties' unsuccessful efforts to negotiate the sale of a portfolio of life insurance policies from defendant EEA Life Settlements, Inc. ("EEA") to plaintiff. Prior to entering into those negotiations plaintiff and EEA entered into an agreement dated April 27, 2017 which provided, among other things, that the parties to the negotiations would not disclose "Confidential Information." The April 27 agreement defined "Confidential Information" as:

all non-public or proprietary information, know-how and materials (whether technical, commercial, financial or otherwise and whether disclosed in writing, electronically, orally, visually or otherwise) which have been or may be disclosed by or on behalf of [EEA] to [Coventry] in relation to the Potential Transaction and relating to [EEA] and/or its business, products or marketing activities, together with the proposal, either party's interest in the proposal, the existence and the terms of this Agreement and any discussions and negotiations (including the status thereof) between the parties or their Related Parties, and with respect to the portfolio of life policies held by [EEA] or its subsidiaries, all personal identifying information relating to the underlying insureds (including, without limitation, dates of birth, social security numbers, medical records, addresses, phone numbers, passport numbers and driving licence numbers) ....

         The negotiations for the sale of the policies ultimately foundered, and Coventry has now asserted claims for fraud and breach of contract.

         In an effort to avoid a claim that it has breached the confidentiality agreement, Coventry has heavily redacted the publicly available version of the complaint on file with the Clerk of the Court. The redactions have placed virtually all of the allegations concerning the specifics of the parties' negotiations beyond the public's view.

         Defendants not only oppose the motion to un-redact the complaint but claim that Coventry's redactions do not go far enough. Defendants contend that the entire complaint should be placed under seal or further redacted.

         Ill. Analysis

         Judicial documents, such as complaints, "are presumptively public so that the federal courts 'have a measure of accountability' and so that the public may 'have confidence in the administration of justice.'" Bernstein v. Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman LLP, 814 F.3d 132, 139 (2d Cir. 2016), quoting United States v. Amodeo, 71 F.3d 1044, 1048 (2d Cir. 1995).

There is a strong presumption of public access to "judicial documents, " that is, such "items filed with the court that are relevant to the performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process." See In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, 454 F.Supp.2d 220, 222 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (quoting SEC v. The, 273 F.3d 222, 231 (2d Cir. 2001)). "Accordingly, a party seeking a protective order sealing trial, other court hearings, or motions and accom- panying exhibits filed with the court must satisfy a more demanding standard of good cause." In re Terrorist Attacks, 454 F.Supp.2d at 222-23.

Std. Inv. Chartered. Inc. v. Nat' 1 Ass'n of Sec. Dealers, Inc., 621 F.Supp.2d 55, 61 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (Kram, D.J.). "The common law right of public access to judicial documents is firmly rooted in our nation's history." Luaosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onandaga, 435 F.3d 110, 119 (2d Cir. 2006); accord In re Document Technologies Litig., 17 Civ. 2405 (JSR), 17 Civ. 3433 (JSR), 17 Civ. 3917 (JSR), 2017 WL 4797903 at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 23, 2017) (Rakoff, D.J.).

In addition to the common law presumption of public access . . ., courts have identified a similar, though more demanding, presumption stemming from the First Amendment. See, e.g., Lugosch, 435 F.3d at 124; Gambale [v. Deutsche Bank AG, 377 F.3d 133, 140 & n.4 (2d Cir. 2004)]. The First Amendment's "qualified right of access to judicial documents" is "a necessary corollary of the capacity to attend the relevant proceedings. " Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 93 (2d Cir. 2004). Once a court has determined that "the more stringent First Amendment framework applies, continued sealing of the documents may be justified only with specific, on-the-record findings that sealing ...

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