Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Newspaper Cannot See GM's Confidential Settlement Figures

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Newspaper Cannot See GM's Confidential Settlement Figures

Article excerpt

A Los Angeles newspaper cannot examine confidential settlement figures that General Motors Corp. filed with a federal district court under a protective order, unless it can show compelling reasons, the Ninth Circuit has ruled. Deciding an issue not previously addressed by that circuit, the court also ruled that the federal common law right of access to documents filed with the courts does not apply to papers filed under seal.

The district court had ruled that the Los Angeles Times, an intervenor in the underlying action, had a common law right of access to the settlement-related documents GM had filed. The plaintiffs in the underlying action sued GM for damages allegedly caused by a defective gas tank in a C/K pickup truck. Before. discovery, both sides stipulated to a "share" protective order, allowing them to share specified information with other litigants in similar cases but not with the public. As part of that protective order, GM produced information on the total number and aggregate dollar amount of all settlements involving C/K pickup truck fuel-fed fires. Shortly after this, the underlying case settled.

The Los Angeles Times later moved to intervene, asking the court to unseal GM's settlement documents. The magistrate judge ordered the requested information released, finding it neither covered under the share protective order nor deserving of its own protective order.

Vacating the district court's order in Phillips v. General Motors Corp., 289 F.3d 1117 (2002), the Ninth Circuit held that the lower court had used an improper legal standard in analyzing the protective order issue. …

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