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Jacobs v. Barnett Outdoors, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

August 21, 2017

DANNY JACOBS, Plaintiff,



         BEFORE THE COURT are Plaintiffs Motion to Seal (Dkt. 45) and Defendant Barnett's Brief Regarding Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File Under Seal (Dkt. 46). Upon consideration, the motion to seal is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         Defendant Barnett Outdoors, LLC ("Barnett") and Defendants Synergy Outdoors, LLC and Wildgame Innovations, LLC filed respective motions for summary judgment. (Dkts. 26, 27). Plaintiff responded in opposition to both motions. (Dkts. 36, 37). He moved for leave to file the following exhibits to his responses under seal: "Crossbow Claims Chart"; "Interoffice email dated November 4, 2013"; "Academy Sports Outdoors E-Commerce Vendor Agreement"; "Interoffice emailed [sic] dated March 5, 2013"; "crossbow drawings and interoffice emails"; and "Crossbow Modification Timeline." (Dkt. 38 at p. 2). Barnett responded with a brief asserting that only two of those exhibits, the Claims Chart and the Modification Timeline, were of such a sensitive nature that they needed to be filed under seal. (Dkt. 39). The motion to seal was denied without prejudice for failure to comply with Local Rule 1.09(a). (Order, Dkt. 44).

         Plaintiff filed a second motion to seal requesting that he be permitted to file the Claims Chart and Modification Timeline under seal and that the seal be for a duration of one year. (Dkt. 45). According to Plaintiff, he "does not concede that the documents in question are necessarily sensitive in nature, " but he felt "compelled to file this Motion to Seal so as not to violate" a confidentiality agreement with Barnett. (Id. at p, 8 n.2). Plaintiff argues that it is necessary for him to file the Claims Chart because it establishes "Barnett's knowledge that inadequately guarded crossbows cause injury to its users, " which is material to his punitive damages claim. (Id. at pp. 5-6). He argues that the Modification Timeline is material, in that it shows the feasibility of adding safety features to the product and Barnett's knowledge of the need to add safety features, (Id. at p. 7). Because Barnett is the party with the primary interest in maintaining the confidentiality of those documents, it addressed the need for sealing those documents in its brief. (Barnett's Brief, Dkt. 46).

         Barnett contends that it is not necessary to file either the Claims Chart or the Modification Timeline because they are not relevant to Plaintiff s claims and, in the alternative, the Claims Chart is unduly prejudicial. (Id. at pp. 4-5). According to Barnett, the chart "identifies each and every individual ever to have made a claim" of an incident involving a Barnett crossbow, "including those who did so confidentially to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission." (Id. at p. 4). While Barnett contends that there are no means other than sealing available because "simply redacting the names does not remove the confidential nature of the Chart, " it did not offer further explanation. (Motion to Seal, Dkt. 45 at p. 9). As for the Modification Timeline, Barnett asserts that it should be sealed because it "was created by Barnett engineers to detail each engineering change to the various crossbow models over time" and it "contains information that is sensitive to Barnett, as its disclosure would provide detailed engineering information to Barnett's competitors." (Barnett's Brief, Dkt. 46 at p. 5). Barnett argues that the timeline "is not the type of document that would be subject to redaction" because "all content on the Timeline is proprietary." (Motion to Seal, Dkt. 45 at p. 9).

         Trial courts have the inherent authority and discretion to seal records, Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 598-99 (1978). Decisions on motions to seal must balance the public's common law right of access against the interests favoring confidentiality. See Id. at 597-99. The common law right of access is implicated by any pretrial motion that requires judicial resolution of the merits, including summary judgment motions, and can be overcome only by a showing of "good cause." Chicago Tribune Co. v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 263 F.3d 1304, 1311-13 (11th Cir. 2001) (per curiam).[1]

         The "good cause" standard requires the trial court to "balance the respective interests." Id. at 1313. Whether good cause exists depends on the nature and character of the information in question. Romero, 480 F.3d at 1246. In balancing the public interest in access to court documents against a party's interest in keeping the information confidential, courts consider

whether allowing access would impair court functions or harm legitimate privacy interests, the degree of and likelihood of injury if made public, the reliability of the information, whether there will be an opportunity to respond to the information, whether the information concerns public officials or public concerns, and the availability of a less onerous alternative to sealing the documents.

Id. (citations omitted).

         The Local Rules for the Middle District of Florida also prescribe the contents of a motion to seal. The movant must include:

(i) an identification and description of each item proposed for sealing; (ii) the reason that filing each item is necessary; (iii) the reason that sealing each item is necessary; (iv) the reason that a means other than sealing is unavailable or unsatisfactory to preserve the interest advanced by the movant in support of the seal; (v) a statement of the proposed duration of the seal; and (vi) a memorandum of legal authority supporting the seal.

M.D. Fla. Local Rule 1.09(a).

         The parties have not established good cause to seal the Claims Chart. Despite Barnett's arguments to the contrary, the chart's listing of every known incident involving a Barnett crossbow is relevant to its motion for summary judgment. Barnett moves for summary judgment on Plaintiffs punitive damages claim that requires him to show that it engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence. (Barnett's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Dkt. 26 at p. 13) (citing Southstar Equity, LLC v, Lai Chau, 998 So.2d 625, 632 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008)). A chart showing a history of injuries caused by Barnett's crossbows is not so clearly irrelevant to Plaintiffs punitive damages claim that he should be barred from filing it in support of his opposition to Barnett's motion. See Toyota Motor Co. v. Moll, 438 So.2d 192, 194 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1983) (holding that punitive damages are allowed where a defendant has knowledge of a defect or dangerous condition and chose not to remedy the condition). Accordingly, Plaintiff sufficiently establishes the need for filing the Claims Chart in support of his opposition.[2]

         Neither party shows why a means other than sealing is insufficient to protect the information within the chart. The only sensitive information identified by Barnett is the identity of each individual who reported an incident with a Barnett crossbow. (Barnett's Brief, Dkt. 46 at pp. 3-4). Barnett's only explanation for why redaction is insufficient is that redaction does not remove the confidential nature of the ...

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