The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott
Before the Court is plaintiff's motion to seal portions of the record and to proceed under a pseudonym (Docket No. 65) and his motion for an expedited hearing of the motion to seal (Docket No. 66). (Also pending are defendants' motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 44) and their motion to dismiss (Docket No. 61).) Given the pending motions and the expedited nature of plaintiff's latest motions, the Court has decided these motions without seeking response from defendants. The motion to expedite (Docket No. 66) is granted but plaintiff's motion to seal and to proceed under a pseudonym is denied.
The motion to file under seal consists of plaintiff's attorney declaration (based upon counsel's familiarity of the facts in this case, particularly the allegations contained in the Complaint, Docket No. 65, Pl. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 1, 3-7), and memorandum of law (Docket No. 65). Plaintiff repeats the allegations in the Complaint that he fears for his safety due to his cooperation with law enforcement, claiming that he has been threatened and assaulted by other inmates once they learn or believe that he is an informant (id. ¶¶ 3-6), with defendant Department of Corrections Services officials failing to protect plaintiff from these assaults and threats (id. ¶ 7). Plaintiff initially intended to file the Complaint anonymously in 2006 (see Docket No. 1, Compl. at 1 (caption of action had word "anonymous" stricken)) but had plaintiff's name inserted. The caption in subsequent filings by the parties indicate not only plaintiff's name but also his Departmental Identification Number ("DIN"). Plaintiff argues that these threats and violence will continue if he has to publicly file his papers.
Three years later (and over a year after counsel was appointed for plaintiff, see Docket No. 37), plaintiff now moves to seal "specific portions of the record which list [plaintiff's] name and his Departmental Identification Number (DIN number), including all papers previously filed by either the plaintiff or the defendants...," (Docket No. 65, Pl. Motion to Seal ¶ 1), redaction of his name and DIN from all previously filed papers and allowing plaintiff to proceed under a pseudonym (id. ¶ 2). Plaintiff makes this motion after his request to appear at a status conference "off the record" was denied (Docket No. 65, Pl. Atty. Decl. ¶ 10; see also Docket No. 60).
The moving papers here, however, do not allege any new threats or assaults arising either from plaintiff prosecuting this action or renewed disclosure of the allegation that he was an informant from the pleadings and papers filed in this action, although his counsel declares (in support of the parallel motion for expedited hearing) that plaintiff suffered several incidences of violence while incarcerated, due to retaliation for his activities as a prison informant and that more attacks may happen in the future after he responds to defendants' motion (Docket No. 66, Pl. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 5, 6). Plaintiff himself did not submit a statement in support of this motion.
Also currently pending is defendants' motion to dismiss (Docket No. 61) arising from an Order to Show Cause regarding plaintiff's conduct in federal actions in this Court and in other districts (Docket No. 58). Briefing of this motion now has responses due July 1, 2009, any reply by July 15, 2009, argument on July 21, 2009, at 10:15 am (Docket No. 64), hence plaintiff's second motion for expedited hearing of the motion to stay so that he knows whether he can respond to the motion to dismiss or not (Docket No. 66, Pl. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 3, 7).
Plaintiff claims that details of his activities as a prison informant would be revealed in his response to the defense motion to dismiss, details that would become part of the public record if not allowed to be filed under seal or with his name redacted (id. ¶ 5).
There is a presumption that Court documents are accessible to the public and "that a substantial showing is necessary to restrict access," W.D.N.Y. Loc. Civ. R. 5.4(a); see id. R. 5.4(b) (procedure for sealing cases or portion thereof). As noted by plaintiff (Docket No. 65, Pl. Memo. at 6), the Court may seal certain judicial records when the Court has made "specific, on the record findings... demonstrating that 'closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest,'" In re New York Times, 828 F.2d 110, 116 (2d Cir. 1987) (citing Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 13-14 (1986)); United States v. Alcantara, 396 F.3d 189, 199 (2d Cir. 2005). No such record has been made here to justify sealing or allowing plaintiff to proceed by pseudonym.
Plaintiff's counsel's declaration is exclusively based upon plaintiff's allegations in the Complaint about prior threats and violence without any further allegation of harm from disclosure of plaintiff prosecuting this action by, for example, responding to pending motions. Only in the motion for expedited hearing does plaintiff (again by counsel's declaration) make general statements that further detailed disclosure in filing may cause retaliation. He does not state how other inmates would learn of filings in this action (both those currently in the public record and those he intends to file). Plaintiff has not given examples of post-filing threats or violence or the failure (or continued failure) of defendants or the Department of Correctional Services to afford him protection from threats. The previous threats and violence that plaintiff now cites as proof of potential future violence are contested allegations. For example, defendants' pending summary judgment motion (among other grounds) dispute whether plaintiff was assaulted in one instance (see Docket No. 46, Defs. Memo. at 4, 6-7). This initial allegation, without even an allegation of a present or potential future threat, is not sufficient to justify sealing the record.
While plaintiff argues that he not seeking a wholesale sealing of the record, wishing only to remove his name and DIN from the public record, given that all captioned items by the parties contain his name and DIN, it would require redaction of that entire record (almost the entire record save ...