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Cottingham v. City of Racine

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

April 19, 2017

CONRAD D. COTTINGHAM, JR., a minor by his legal and general guardians Conrad D. Cottingham, Sr. and Tyronza Cottingham, Plaintiff,
CITY OF RACINE, RACINE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, BRINELLE A. NABORS, in his individual capacity, and JEROME D. KING, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge.

         On April 13, 2017, the parties jointly requested entry of a protective order so that they may avoid the public disclosure of sensitive information and documents in this case. (Docket #36). Rule 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).

         The Court sympathizes with the parties' request and will grant it, but, before doing so, must note the limits that apply to protective orders. Protective orders are, in fact, an exception to the general rule that pretrial discovery must occur in the public eye. Am. Tel. & Tel. 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. Fed.R.Civ.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-such as the one in this case-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.

         County 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)).

         The parties have requested the protective order in this case in good faith. This is a civil rights case involving allegations of excessive force causing injury, and it will therefore likely entail disclosure of sensitive information such as, among other things, medical information. (Docket #1). The Court thus finds that there is good cause to issue the requested protective order.

         However, the Court finds that two slight changes are necessary to maintain compliance with the above-cited precedent. First, the proposed order requires sealing, in whole or in part, of all confidential documents. This departs from the Court's desire to ensure that every phase of the trial occurs in the public eye to the maximum extent possible. See Hicklin Eng'r, L.C., 439 F.3d at 348. While the Court understands that some documents will need to be sealed entirely, other documents may contain only small amounts of confidential information, and so redaction of those documents may be more appropriate. The Court has modified the parties' proposed language to that effect. See supra Paragraph (C)(2). Second, consistent with the Court's and this district's standard practice, the Court will allow members of the public to challenge the confidentiality of documents filed in this case. See supra Paragraph (D).

         Finally, the Court must note that, while it finds the parties' proposed order to be permissible and will, therefore, enter it, the Court 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, Based on the stipulation of the parties, (Docket #36), and the factual representations set forth therein, and elsewhere in the pleadings, the Court finds that exchange of sensitive information between or among the parties and/or third parties other than in accordance with this Order may cause unnecessary damage and injury to the parties or 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 a protective order governing the confidentiality of documents produced in discovery, answers to interrogatories, answers to requests for admission, and deposition testimony.

         IT IS ORDERED that, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c) and Civil L. R. 26(e):

         (A) DESIGNATION OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION. Designation of information under this Order must be made by placing or affixing on the document or material, in a manner that will not interfere with its legibility, the word “CONFIDENTIAL.”

(1) One who produces information, documents, or other material may designate them as “CONFIDENTIAL” when they contain sensitive information, including but not limited to home telephone numbers, ...

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