United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
Reidinger, United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's
Motion to File under Seal Certain Confidential Information
Plaintiff has moved for an award of attorneys' fees and
costs incurred in pursuing its claim for patent infringement
against the Defendant Zhejiang Longda Forge Co. Ltd.
(“Longda”). [Doc. 56]. In order to substantiate
the reasonableness of the claimed fees, the Plaintiff has
submitted the Declarations of Craig Mytelka (“Mytelka
Declaration”) and J. Douglas Grimes (“Grimes
Declaration”), as well as certain exhibits thereto.
These Declarations reference the rates charged by Williams
Mullen attorneys. Attached to the Mytelka Declaration are the
billing records of those attorneys. [Doc. 57: Mytelka Decl.,
Exs. 2, 3, 5].
Plaintiff seeks to seal the billing invoices, as well as
those portions of the Declarations referencing the hourly
rates charged by Williams Mullen attorneys, on the grounds
that such materials constitute “confidential
proprietary business information and [are] related to
relevant time entries that may reveal work product and
privileged information.” [Doc. 55 at 4].
press and the public have, under both the First Amendment and
the common law, a qualified right of access to judicial
documents and records filed in civil and criminal
proceedings. Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246,
265 (4th Cir. 2014). “The common-law presumptive right
of access extends to all judicial documents and records, and
the presumption can be rebutted only by showing that
‘countervailing interests heavily outweigh the public
interests in access.'” Id. at 265-66
(quoting in part Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine,
Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir. 1988)). The First
Amendment right of access “may be restricted only if
closure is ‘necessitated by a compelling government
interest' and the denial of access is ‘narrowly
tailored to serve that interest.'” Id. at
266 (quoting in part In re Wash. Post Co., 807 F.2d
383, 390 (4th Cir. 1986)).
presented with a motion to seal, the law of this Circuit
requires this Court to: “(1) provide public notice of
the request to seal and allow interested parties a reasonable
opportunity to object, (2) consider less drastic alternatives
to sealing the documents, and (3) if the sealing motion is
granted, provide specific reasons and factual findings
supporting its decision to seal the documents and for
rejecting the alternatives.” Ashcraft v. Conoco,
Inc., 218 F.3d 288, 302 (4th Cir. 2000).
the Plaintiff has demonstrated that the billing records
attached to the Mytleka Declaration may reveal confidential
and privileged information, and that the public's right
of access to such information is substantially outweighed by
the compelling interest in protecting the details of such
information from public disclosure. The Fourth Circuit has
recognized that attorney time records can contain privileged
information. See Chaudry v. Gallerizzo, 174 F.3d
394, 402 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Clarke v. American
Commerce Nat'l Bank, 974 F.2d 127, 129 (9th Cir.
1992) (noting that time records can “reveal the motive
of the client in seeking representation, litigation strategy,
or the specific nature of the services provided, such as
researching particular areas of law”)).
Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate, however, that the
attorneys' hourly billing rates constitute
“confidential propriety business information”
which should be shielded from public disclosure. Accordingly,
while the Court will permit the billing invoices to be filed
under seal, the Court will deny the Plaintiff's request
to seal those portions of the Mytelka and Grimes Declarations
which reference the Williams Mullen attorneys' hourly
Court finds that the public has been provided with adequate
notice and an opportunity to object to the Plaintiff's
motion. The Plaintiff filed the present motion on April 4,
2019, and they have been accessible to the public through the
Court's electronic case filing system since that time.
Finally, having considered less drastic alternatives to
sealing the billing invoices, the Court concludes that the
permanent sealing of these records is narrowly tailored to
serve the interest of protecting the confidentiality of the
information contained therein.
these reasons, the Plaintiff's motion to seal is granted
in part and denied in part.
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that:
Plaintiff's Motion to File under Seal Certain
Confidential Information [Doc. 55] is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART.
Specifically, the Motion is GRANTED to the
extent that the billing invoices submitted as exhibits to the
Mytelka Declaration shall be filed under seal and shall
remain under seal until further order of this Court. The
Motion is DENIED to the extent that the
Plaintiff seeks to file any portions of the Mytelka and
Grimes Declarations under seal.
Plaintiff shall have fourteen (14) days to file unredacted
versions of the Mytelka and Grimes Declarations.