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Free Speech

Presumption Against Sealed Motions to Seal


From Doe v. City of N.Y., decided Wednesday by Judge Laura Taylor Swain (S.D.N.Y.):

Courts within this Circuit have tended to treat a motion to seal as a judicial document that is entitled to a strong presumption of public access. McGill v. Univ. of Rochester, No. 10-CV-6697, 2013 WL 5951930, at (W.D.N.Y. Nov. 6, 2013), aff'd, 600 F. App'x 789 (2d Cir. 2015) (summary order); see also SEC v. Ahmed, No. 3:15-CV-0675, 2020 WL 8812199, at *3-4 (D. Conn. July 10, 2020) (denying request to seal unredacted version of motion to seal); Vineyard Vines LLC v. MacBeth Collection, L.L.C., No. 3:14-CV-1096, 2019 WL 12024583, at n.6 (D. Conn. Apr. 1, 2019) (Merriam, M.J.) ("The motion to seal itself should be filed on the public docket and not under seal.") (emphasis in original); cf. Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 272 (4th Cir. 2014) (noting Fourth Circuit's requirement of "provid[ing] public notice of the sealing request and a reasonable opportunity for the public to voice objections to the motion"); Allegiant Travel Co. v. Kinzer, No. 2:21-CV-1649, 2022 WL 2819734, at (D. Nev. July 19, 2022) ("A motion to seal itself should not generally require sealing or redaction because litigants should be able to address the applicable standard without specific reference to confidential information.") (Koppe, M.J.); United States v. Savage, No. 16-CR-0484-34, 2020 WL 7770982, at (D. Md. Dec. 30, 2020) ("By filing the motion to seal itself under seal, Petitioner has prevented [the] public notice function that filing on the public docket normally provides. The motion and exhibits will be unsealed."); Szany v. City of Hammond, No. 2:17-CV-0074, 2019 WL 3812492, at (N.D. Ind. Aug. 14, 2019) ("The motion to seal itself … is presumptively public because it is a motion that the Court considered and ruled upon.").

The Court will treat Plaintiff's letter [that sought, among other things, "leave to file a motion to proceed anonymously or under seal," and that Plaintiff also sought to seal -EV] as a judicial document because it is "relevant to the performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process," in that it explains to the Court Plaintiff's arguments as to why Plaintiff believes the letter should be sealed or why he should be allowed to proceed under a pseudonym, The Court must therefore evaluate whether any countervailing factors outweigh the relatively strong presumption of public access to the letter.

The contents of the letter are not sufficiently extraordinary to outweigh the presumption in favor of public access to them. The facts alleged in the letter, especially as to Plaintiff's medical condition, largely mirror those made in the complaint. In both of those documents, Plaintiff has proceeded, without the Court's leave, under a pseudonym, though both of those documents have been publicly available on the Court's docket of this action.

Thus, while Plaintiff's information has already been made public, which weighs against sealing the letter, Plaintiff has enjoyed the protection of anonymity by continuing to proceed under a pseudonym without the Court's leave. Such circumstances do not overcome the presumption of public access to the letter.