United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
REIDINGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on the pro se
Plaintiff's Motion to Seal [Doc. 12].
Plaintiff, who is a military veteran and a former employee of
the Department of Veteran Affairs, originally filed this
action on February 26, 2019. In her Complaint, the Plaintiff
alleged that the Secretary for the Department of Veterans
Affairs, the Governor of the State of New Hampshire, the
Governor of the State of Vermont, United States Senators
Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, and others violated her
constitutional rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth
Amendments. [Doc. 1]. On March 6, 2019, the Court dismissed
her Complaint without prejudice for failing to state a claim.
[Doc. 3]. The Plaintiff appealed [Doc. 5], and on August 22,
2019, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed her
appeal and remanded this case so that the Plaintiff could be
afforded an opportunity to file an Amended Complaint. [Doc.
8]. Following the issue of the mandate [Doc. 10], this Court
entered an Order giving the Plaintiff until November 12,
2019, to file an Amended Complaint correcting the
deficiencies identified in the Court's previous Order.
November 6, 2019, the Plaintiff filed the present motion.
[Doc. 12]. Specifically, the Plaintiff moves the Court to
seal the entirety of her civil case or otherwise limit public
inspection of the case record. [Doc. 12]. For grounds, the
Plaintiff states that she believes that “immediate,
substantial, and irreparable harm will result to me if these
records are not immediately sealed or made unavailable for
public inspection.” [Id. at 1]. She further
states that “the information in this case could put
[her] life in grave danger….” [Id.].
November 12, 2019, the Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint
[Doc. 14], along with a number of supporting exhibits, all
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).
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)).
Court finds that the Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate any
interest compelling enough to overcome the presumptive right
of public access to this civil action, under either the First
Amendment or the common law. The Plaintiff's claims of
“immediate, substantial, and irreparable harm”
and “grave danger” are simply too speculative and
conclusory to justify the extraordinary relief requested. The
Court cannot permit the sealing of an entire civil case
“based on unsubstantiated or speculative claims of harm
. . . .” Public Citizen, 749 F.3d at 270. The
Plaintiff's request for a wholesale sealing of this
action is therefore denied.
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint was provisionally filed
under seal pending a ruling on the Plaintiff's motion to
seal the entire case. As that motion is denied, the
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and its supporting exhibits
will be unsealed within seven (7) days of the entry of this
Order. The Plaintiff may withdraw her Amended Complaint
before that time.
Plaintiff wishes to file any future documents under seal, she
must file a motion to seal setting forth: (1) a
non-confidential description of the material sought to be
sealed; (2) a statement indicating why sealing is necessary
and why there are no alternatives to filing under seal; (3)
unless permanent sealing is sought, a statement indicating
how long the party seeks to have the material maintained
under seal and how the matter is to be handled upon
unsealing; and (4) supporting statutes, case law, or other
authority. See LCvR 6.1(c).
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that the Plaintiff's
Motion to Seal [Doc. 12] is DENIED.
IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Plaintiffs Amended
Complaint and accompanying exhibits [Doc. 14] shall be
UNSEALED within seven (7) days of the entry
of this Order.