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Littlejohn v. BIC Corp.

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

April 15, 1988, Argued ; July 6, 1988, Filed

No. 87-1666

Opinion

 [*675]  OPINION OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

This appeal requires us to consider the application of the common law right of access to judicial records where materials which were initially discovered under the aegis of a protective order requiring confidentiality are later admitted into evidence at an open civil trial. We are presented with two disputes over access to trial transcripts and exhibits that arose after the final settlement of a products liability suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

 [**2]  In the primary dispute, Philadelphia News, Inc. (PNI) intervened in the district court to secure access to certain trial exhibits that had been admitted into evidence. 1 Appellant BIC Corporation (BIC), the defendant in the original personal injury action, sought to prevent PNI's access to these exhibits because they were confidential corporate documents, the disclosure of which was assertedly prohibited by the terms of a protective order (PO). In a  [*676]  parallel dispute, BIC petitioned for an order of contempt against the original plaintiff's attorney, appellee Mel D. Kardos, contending that he had violated the protective order by refusing to return confidential BIC documents pursuant to its provisions. BIC also sought to enlarge the record through further discovery.

The district court granted PNI access to the judicial record, including access to three contested documents, refused to hold Kardos in contempt, and denied BIC's petition to enlarge the record. BIC's appeal implicates both the substantive and temporal boundaries of the common law right of public access. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case for further [**3]  proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BIC's attempts to retain control over the disclosure of its corporate documents are an outgrowth of a products liability action brought against it by plaintiff Cynthia Littlejohn. Littlejohn alleged that she had been seriously injured by a defectively designed BIC disposable lighter. After engaging in not uncommon disagreements over the scope of discovery, the parties stipulated to, and the district court entered, an "umbrella" protective order that was designed to protect BIC's "trade secrets and other confidential information" from public disclosure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c).

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851 F.2d 673 *; 1988 U.S. App. LEXIS 9223 **; 15 Media L. Rep. 1841

Cynthia S. Littlejohn v. BIC Corporation; BIC Societe, S.A.; John Doe(s), Component Manufacturer(s); John Doe(s), Distributor(s) and/or Wholesaler(s); John Doe, Retailer; Levi Strauss & Co.; and John Doe(s), Clothing Manufacturer(s), Distributor(s), Wholesaler(s), and/or Retailer(s); Philadelphia Newspaper, Inc., Intervenor. BIC Corporation, Appellant

Prior History:  [**1]  Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Civil No. 85-5952.

CORE TERMS

exhibits, documents, judicial record, district court, contempt, confidential, access rights, protective order, public access, parties, records, common law, disclosure, disputed, confidential documents, copies, deposition testimony, discovery, seal, common law right, public record, trial exhibit, circumstances, proceedings, settlement, purposes, enlarge, judicial proceedings, trade secret, contested

Governments, Courts, Court Records, Civil Procedure, Parties, Intervention, Motions to Intervene, Pleading & Practice, Motion Practice, General Overview, Time Limitations, Evidence, Presumptions, Exceptions, Common Law Presumptions, Common Law, Inferences & Presumptions, Trials, Bench Trials, Appeals, Standards of Review, Clearly Erroneous Review, Record on Appeal, Clerks of Court, Rule Application & Interpretation, Sanctions, Contempt, Civil Contempt, Judgments, Entry of Judgments, Compelling Specific Acts, Abuse of Discretion, Trade Secrets Law, Protection of Secrecy, Federal Versus State Law, US Federal Trade Commission