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Dobson v. Milton Hershey Sch.

United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

January 21, 2020, Decided; January 21, 2020, Filed

1:16-CV-1958

Opinion

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently pending before the Court is Intervenor the Philadelphia Inquirer's Objections to U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson's Memorandum and Order of October 22, 2019, (Doc. 176), granting the Philadelphia Inquirer [*2]  intervenor status but denying its request to unseal docket entries 45, 46, 48, 54, 55, 59, 80, 82, 85, and 86. (Doc. 178). Intervenor's Objections have been fully briefed, (Docs. 179, 182, 186), and are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Intervenor's Objections shall be overruled in part and sustained in part to the extent that we shall remand this matter back to Judge Carlson to mediate a resolution between the parties in accordance with this Opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

This case is one of several filed against the Milton Hershey School and several individuals connected therewith. Unrelated to the merits of the underlying case, on June 20, 2019, the Philadelphia Inquirer ("the Inquirer") filed a motion to intervene for the limited purpose of unsealing documents 45, 46, 48, 54, 55, 59, 80, 82, 85, and 86 which had been previously sealed pursuant to Orders issued by our colleague Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner.1 The Inquirer's motion to intervene and unseal was more than fully briefed, (Docs. 154, 163, 165, 166-1, 169), and was referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson for resolution. (Doc. 164).

In Judge Carlson's Memorandum Opinion and Order authored pursuant to [*3]  28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A),2 (see Doc. 176 at 1 n.1), Judge Carlson granted the Inquirer intervenor status but denied its request to unseal any documents. (Id. at 15-16). Judge Carlson reasoned that, "[t]he sealed records in this case relate exclusively to a discovery dispute between the parties," and involve only an "intramural squabble" that "is, at most, only tangentially related to [the] matters of public interest" at issue in the merits of the claims underlying this action. (Id. at 14). Therefore, Judge Carlson concluded, the records "do not qualify as 'judicial records' subject to the public right of access or the First Amendment." (Id. at 12). Rather, after reviewing the contents of each of the documents, Judge Carlson resolved that the "records qualify as discovery documents . . . subject to Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Pansy factors." (Id. at 12-13 (citing Leucadia, Inc. v. Applied Extrusion Techs., Inc., 998 F.2d 157, 166 (3d Cir. 1993); Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772 (3d Cir. 1994)). Looking to the Pansy factors and again reiterating the contents of each of the documents that the Inquirer hoped to unseal, Judge Carlson concluded that "there [wa]s good cause for the requested documents to remain sealed" because "it [wa]s apparent that Chief Judge Conner carefully considered the countervailing legal interests and determined [that] there was good cause for sealing these particular documents" at the time [*4]  they were sealed based upon the parties' arguments and the relevant legal standard. (Id. at 14-15). Thus, Judge Carlson refused to disturb Chief Judge Conner's decision and noted that, "if either party wished to challenge the sealing of these documents, the more appropriate course of action would have been to have filed a motion to reconsider th[o]se specific rulings" at the time those rulings were made. (Id. at 15). Accordingly, Judge Carlson denied the Inquirer's request to unseal, summarizing that "the documents requested by The Inquirer related to what is now a year-old discovery dispute between the parties, were sealed and subject to carefully conceived protective orders entered by the court, and the defendants have met their burden to show continued justification for the sealing of these particular documents." (Id.).

On November 5, 2019, the Inquirer filed timely Objections to Judge Carlson's Memorandum and Order, (Doc. 178), followed by a brief in support thereof. (Doc. 179). Defendants the Hershey Trust Company and the Milton Hershey School filed a brief in opposition on November 19, 2019, (Doc. 182), and the Inquirer filed a Reply on November 26, 2019. (Doc. 186). The Inquirer's Objections have now been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Inquirer's Objections shall be overruled in part and sustained in part to the extent that we shall remand this matter back to Judge Carlson to mediate a resolution between the parties in accordance with this Opinion.

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9235 *; __ F. Supp. 3d __; 2020 WL 290429

ADAM DOBSON, Plaintiff, v. THE MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOL, et al., Defendants.

Prior History: Dobson v. Milton Hershey Sch., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126821 (M.D. Pa., Aug. 10, 2017)

CORE TERMS

sealing, documents, unseal, parties, protective order, confidential, intervenor, discovery material, good cause, factors, records, disclosure, common law right, discovery motion, discovery, merits, motion for a protective order, magistrate judge, district court, standard of review, clearly erroneous, proceedings, redactions, courts, public access, non-dispositive, motions, reasons, contrary to law, good-cause