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Glisson v. Hooks

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

June 4, 2019




         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Petitioner Mack Chason Glisson's Motion to Seal documents. (Doc. No. 5.) Petitioner is represented by Christopher John Heaney of North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services (“NCPLS”).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner is a prisoner of the State of North Carolina, who, on December 18, 2014, was convicted of first-degree murder after a jury trial in Buncombe County Superior Court. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (§ 2254 Pet. 1-2, Doc. No. 1.)

         On March 21, 2017, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an unpublished opinion finding no error in the judgment. State v. Glisson, 797 S.E.2d 381 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2017) (Table). Petitioner did not seek discretionary review of the appellate court's decision in the North Carolina Supreme Court. (§ 2254 Pet. 2.)

         Petitioner, through counsel, filed a post-conviction motion for appropriate relief (“MAR”) in the Buncombe County Superior Court on April 23, 2018; it was denied on September 26, 2018, without an evidentiary hearing. (§ 2254 Pet. 3-4.) Petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the North Carolina Court of Appeals on March 28, 2019, seeking review of the denial of his MAR. (§ 2254 Pet. 13.) The certiorari petition was allowed on May 2, 2019, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals vacated the order denying the MAR and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. (Status Update, Doc. No. 7 (citing State v. Glisson, P19-213 ( N.C. Ct. App. May 2, 2019)). Petitioner's MAR is now pending before the Superior Court of Buncombe County. (Id.)

         Contemporaneously with the filing of his state certiorari petition, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in this Court. (Doc. No. 1.) He also filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. No. 2), a Motion to hold this action in abeyance pending exhaustion of state remedies (Doc. No. 6), and the instant Motion to Seal (Doc. No. 5). On May 10, 2019, the Court entered a written Order granting the first two Motions and directing Petitioner to correct a filing error related to the third. (Doc. No. 8.) Petitioner has corrected the error (Doc. No. 9), and his Motion to Seal is now ripe for review.


         In this Motion, Petitioner seeks to seal Exhibit A and Exhibit B submitted in support of his § 2254 Petition, the memorandum in support of his habeas Petition, and a reference list to Exhibit A. (Mot. to Seal 1, Doc. No. 5.) Because Exhibit A (Doc. No. 9) and Exhibit B (Doc. No. 4-2) are themselves comprised of numbered exhibits, the Court shall refer to Exhibit A as Appendix A and Exhibit B as Appendix B.

         “It is well settled that the public and press have a qualified right of access to judicial documents and records filed in civil and criminal proceedings.” Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 265 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 n.17 (1980); Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978); Media Gen. Operations, Inc. v. Buchanan, 417 F.3d 424, 428 (4th Cir.2005)). In Doe, the Fourth Circuit explained:

The right of public access springs from the First Amendment and the common-law tradition that court proceedings are presumptively open to public scrutiny. Va. Dep't of State Police v. Wash. Post, 386 F.3d 567, 575 (4th Cir.2004). “The distinction between the rights of access afforded by the common law and the First Amendment is significant, because the common law does not afford as much substantive protection to the interests of the press and the public as does the First Amendment.” In re United States for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 2703, 707 F.3d 283, 290 (4th Cir.2013) (quoting Va. Dep't of State Police, 386 F.3d at 575) (internal quotation marks omitted). 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.” Rushford [v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc.], 846 F.2d [249, 253 (4th Cir. 1988)]. By contrast, the First Amendment secures a right of access “only to particular judicial records and documents, ” Stone [v. University of Md. Med. Sys. Corp.], 855 F.2d [178, 180 (4th Cir.1988)], and, when it applies, 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, ” In re Wash. Post Co., 807 F.2d 383, 390 (4th Cir.1986) (quoting Press-Enter. Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 510 (1984) (internal quotation marks omitted)).

749 F.3d at 265-66. In determining whether to seal judicial documents,

a judicial officer must comply with certain procedural requirements. [In re Washington Post Co., 807 F.2d 383, 390 (4th Cir.1986).] The decision to seal documents must be made after independent review by a judicial officer, and supported by ‘findings and conclusions specific enough for appellate review.' [Baltimore Sun Co. v. Goetz, 886 F.2d 60, 65-66 (4th Cir. 1989)]. If a judicial officer determines that full public access is not appropriate, she ‘must consider alternatives to sealing the documents' which may include giving the public access to some of the documents or releasing a redacted version of the documents. . . .

Media Gen. Operations, Inc. v. Buchanan, 417 F.3d 424, 429 (4th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

         A party who seeks to seal any pleading in this Court must comply with it's Local Rules. Local Civil Rule (“LCvR”) 6.1 provides in relevant part:


(a) Scope of Rule. To further openness in civil case proceedings, there is a presumption under applicable common law and the First Amendment that materials filed in this Court will be filed unsealed. This Rule governs any party's request to seal, or otherwise restrict public access to, any materials filed with the Court or used in connection with judicial decision-making. As used in this Rule, ...

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