United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
MICHAEL HART, et al., individually and On behalf of classes of similar employees, Plaintiffs,
ITC SERVICE GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.
ORDER DENYING LEAVE TO FILE UNDER SEAL MOTION FOR
ORDER CONFIRMING ARBITRATOR'S ORDER APPROVING
KAYS, CHIEF JUDGE.
case arises out of Plaintiffs' employment as installation
and service technicians with Defendant ITC Service Group,
Inc. Plaintiffs allege ITC Service Group along with the other
Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.,
by willfully failing to pay them overtime compensation.
Defendants deny the allegations. On June 2, 2016, the Court
granted the parties' cross-motions to compel arbitration
before the Court is the parties' “Joint Motion for
Leave to File Under Seal Joint Motion for Order Confirming
Arbitrator's Order Approving of Settlement of FLSA
Claims, Attorney's Fees, and Incentive Fees” (Doc.
71). The parties report they have reached a proposed
settlement agreement as to Plaintiffs Jesse Allen and Cody
Hickcox and seek leave to file the arbitrator's order
approving settlement of claims, attorney's fees, and
incentive fees under seal. For the reasons below, the motion
is a common law presumption that judicial records are open to
the public. Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435
U.S. 589, 597 (1978); Jessup v. Luther, 277 F.3d
926, 928-930 (7th Cir. 2002) (Posner, J.) (“The general
rule is that the record of a judicial proceeding is
public.”). This presumption is based not only on the
values underlying the free-speech and free-press clauses of
the First Amendment, but also on the fact that the public
cannot adequately monitor the judiciary's performance if
records of judicial proceedings are kept secret.
Jessup, 277 F.3d at 928. Of course, “[i]n most
cases when the parties settle, the court does not examine or
approve their agreements” because the settlement is a
private contract and not part of the court's record.
Stalnaker v. Novar Corp., 293 F.Supp.2d 1260, 1263
(M.D. Ala. 2003) (ordering FLSA settlement agreement to be
unsealed). But, an FLSA settlement must be approved by the
court, and once approved it becomes part of the judicial
record and is presumptively open to the public.
Jessup, 277 F.3d at 928-30; In re Sepracor Inc.
FLSA Litigation, MDL No. 2039-DGC, 2009 WL 3253947, at
*1-2 (D. Ariz. Oct. 8, 2009) (unsealing FLSA settlement
agreement, noting strong presumption for keeping FLSA
settlement agreements unsealed and available for public
view); Stalnaker, 293 F.Supp.2d at 1263 (noting the
presumption in favor of openness is strongest when the
document at issue is an FLSA wage-settlement agreement).
practice, this right to public records creates a presumption
in favor of disclosure. In re Neal, 461 F.3d 1048,
1053 (8th Cir. 2006). This presumption even extends to
private settlements, such as this one, which require court
approval. See LEAP Sys., Inc. v. MoneyTrax, Inc.,
638 F.3d 216, 220 (3d Cir. 2011). But the right of access is
not absolute; a party may overcome the presumption of
openness by showing a compelling need to seal
documents. In re Neal, 461 F.3d at 1053.
compelling need exists, for example, if the settlement
agreement compromises personal safety, reveals trade secrets,
or identifies a minor. See, e.g., Goff v.
Graves, 362 F.3d 543, 550 (8th Cir. 2004) (recognizing
the protection of a confidential informant as a compelling
government interest justifying the reception of evidence
under seal); IDT Corp. v. eBay, 709 F.3d 1220,
1223-24 (8th Cir. 2013) (finding a company's
“confidential and competitively sensitive
information” warranted sealing the complaint);
Eugene S. v. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.J.,
663 F.3d 1124, 1135 (10th Cir. 2011) (granting an
appellant's request to file under seal an appendix to the
appellate record that contained personal information about a
minor). A court, however, will not seal documents that were
integral to its approval of a settlement simply because the
parties agreed to keep the material terms confidential.
See Goesel v. Boley Int'l (H.K.) Ltd., 738 F.3d
831, 834-35 (7th Cir. 2013) (Posner, J., in chambers).
Ultimately, in determining whether to seal documents, the
court must balance “the interests served by the
common-law right of access . . . against the salutary
interests served by maintaining confidentiality of the
information sought to be sealed.” IDT Corp.,
709 F.3d at 1223.
support of their motion the parties argue: (1) a
confidentiality provision is part of the proposed settlement;
(2) courts routinely permit FLSA settlements to be filed
under seal; and (3) the parties' interests and
public's interest weigh in favor of sealing the
settlement documents. These arguments are unavailing.
parties have not rebutted the presumption of openness. There
is no claim that the proposed settlement concerns any highly
sensitive matter that would rebut the presumption in favor of
openness and justify sealing the record. See Jessup,
277 F.3d at 928; In re Sepracor, 2009 WL 3253947, at
*1 (holding confidentiality provision insufficient interest
to overcome presumption in unsealing FLSA settlement). This
is an ordinary FLSA settlement, thus it should be open to the
public. While sealing the record may encourage one or both
parties to settle, the public's access to judicial
records is not a bargaining chip the parties may trade away
in their settlement negotiations.
foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the parties' motion
(Doc. 71). No later than July 3, 2017, the parties must
file-but not under seal-a copy of the Arbitrator's order
approving the settlement, including any attachments. The
parties may not redact any ...