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Estate of Williams v. City of Milwaukee

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

December 1, 2016



          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         During the November 10, 2016 scheduling conference for this matter, the Court and parties discussed entry of a protective order. (Docket #13). Later that same day, the plaintiffs submitted a proposed order to the Court's e-mail submission box; no motion for a protective order was filed on the docket itself. The defendants then filed a response to the plaintiff's proposed order. (Docket #14).

         The plaintiffs' proposed protective order matches another such order entered recently in a similar case, also alleging police misconduct involving the City of Milwaukee. See J.M. et al. v. City of Milwaukee et al., 16-CV-507-JPS, (Docket #24). As indicated in the scheduling conference, the Court is inclined to enter that order here as well. The defendants request that one sentence be added, namely that the word “CONFIDENTIAL” should be affixed to any document containing confidential information.[1] The plaintiffs do not oppose the addition. (Docket #15).

         The Court will grant the request in a manner consistent with the remainder of the protective order. As addressed later in this Order, only specific instances of sensitive information, and not entire documents, should be designated as confidential. Thus, if a “CONFIDENTIAL” stamp appears on any document, it will only serve as notice that particular instances of sensitive information appear within the document. It will not have the effect of rendering the entire document confidential, as was discussed and rejected by the Court in the context of the J.M. protective order.

         With those points in mind, the Court addresses the propriety of the protective order itself. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) allows for an order “requiring that a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information not be revealed or be revealed only in a specified way.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1)(G), Civil L.R. 26(e). Protective orders are, in fact, an exception to the general rule that pretrial discovery must occur in the public eye. American Telephone & Telegraph Co. v. Grady, 594 F.2d 594, 596 (7th Cir. 1979); Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c); see also Citizens First Nat'l Bank of Princeton v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 943, 945-46 (7th Cir. 1999). Litigation must be “conducted in public to the maximum extent consistent with respecting trade secrets…and other facts that should be held in confidence.” Hicklin Eng'r, L.C. v. Bartell, 439 F.3d 346, 348 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Nonetheless, the Court can enter a protective order if the parties have shown good cause, and also that the order is narrowly tailored to serving that cause. F.R.C.P. 26(c); see, e.g., Citizens First Nat'l Bank of Princeton, 178 F.3d at 945, Jepson, Inc. v. Makita Elec. Works, Ltd., 30 F.3d 854, 858 (7th Cir. 1994) (holding that, even when parties agree to the entry of a protective order, they still must show the existence of good cause). The Court can even find that broad, blanket orders are narrowly tailored and permissible, when it finds that two factors are satisfied:

(1) that the parties will act in good faith in designating the portions of the record that should be subject to the protective order; and
(2) that the order explicitly allows the parties to the case and other interested members of the public to challenge the sealing of documents.

Cty. Materials Corp. v. Allan Block Corp., 502 F.3d 730, 740 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Citizens First Nat'l Bank of Princeton, 178 F.3d 943, 945 (7th Cir. 1999)).

         Though no motion for entry of a protective order was actually filed, the Court finds that the parties' request for such an order is made in good faith. This case involves the death of Derek Williams, Jr. in the course of interactions with various Milwaukee Police Department officers. The discovery process will result in the exchange of a substantial amount of City of Milwaukee records. Such documents often include very sensitive material, including: information that may personally identify individuals including juveniles, confidential informants, family members of City of Milwaukee employees, family members of the plaintiffs, and victims of violence and sexual crimes; financial information; healthcare information; emergency contact information; statements made by witnesses, complainants, and arrestees; and other personal information. In sum, many records involved in this case are hypersensitive, and the parties clearly seek the requested protective order in good faith.

         The Court further finds that the parties' proposed terms satisfy the above-stated maxims. As noted above, rather than designating entire documents as confidential, the parties will be limited to designating information within documents as confidential. This will ensure maximum transparency in this litigation while preventing disclosure of sensitive information.

         Finally, the Court must note that it subscribes to the view that the Court's decision-making process must be transparent and as publicly accessible as possible. Thus, the Court preemptively warns the parties that it will not enter any decision under seal.

         Accordingly, The Court finds that the exchange of sensitive information between the parties and/or third parties other than in accordance with this Order may cause unnecessary damage and injury to the parties and to others. The Court further finds that the terms of this Order are fair and just and that good cause has been shown for entry of this Order.

         IT IS ORDERED that, pursuant to Civil Local Rule 26(e) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c)(1)(D), 1. The following categories of information are to be handled as ...

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