The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

"To Say That the Court Finds the Motion Puzzling Is to Do a Disservice to Puzzles Everywhere"

Plus a special appearance by The Princess Bride and Weekend at Bernie's.


From Judge Joshua Wolson (E.D. Pa.) in Neebe v. Ravin Crossbows, LLC:

Plaintiff's counsel wants the Court to place under seal a full-page newspaper advertisement paying tribute to a recently-deceased partner, which Plaintiff's counsel purchased.

To say that the Court finds the Motion puzzling is to do a disservice to puzzles everywhere. The Third Circuit has held that Courts should only place public records under seal if an interest in secrecy outweighs the presumption of public access to those records. That requires a movant to show that the material is the kind of information that courts will protect and that disclosure will work a clearly defined and serious injury to the party seeking closure. Plaintiff's Motion fails on both counts.

First, there is nothing private about the advertisement. The advertisement is a touching tribute to a deceased partner and friend, designed for public consumption. Plaintiff's use of the word "privacy" to justify placing it under seal brings to mind The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Second, the Court cannot fathom what injury could arise from the public disclosure of something that Plaintiff's counsel paid a newspaper to make public. Indeed, other than to allow some sort of Weekend At Bernie's style caper, the Court cannot envision a reason to keep the tribute private.

Because there is nothing private or confidential about a paid advertisement in a newspaper—especially one as well-intentioned as the tribute here[—]the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion to file Exhibit B to her Response to the Court's Order to Show Cause under seal….

The ad was apparently introduced in support of the firm's request that the court consider an untimely response; the untimeliness, the firm argued, should be excused because it stemmed from the partner's unexpected death.

Thanks to Benjamin R. Picker for the pointer.