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United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
May 13, 1985
[*1569] This appeal raises important issues regarding the public's right of access to civil trials. Appellant Decker appeals the district court's order, denying a request to unseal the judicial records in the case of Wilson v. American Motors Corp. (Civil Action File No. C81-1606A) (hereinafter the "Wilson case"). Because we conclude that the district court abused its discretion in ordering total closure of the public records, we REVERSE and REMAND.
The Wilson case was tried to the district court and a jury from January 31, 1983, through February 11, 1983. The trial involved a wrongful death claim arising from an accident which occurred in 1979 in Forsyth County, [**2] Georgia. The accident involved a 1976 jeep model CJ-5 manufactured by appellee American Motors, the defendant.
The Wilson case was settled, following the jury's response to special interrogatories. It is undisputed that the settlement was reached with the "encouragement and assistance" of the trial judge. 2 (ROA at 80). In negotiating the settlement, American Motors requested that the record be sealed. This motion was unopposed by the plaintiffs, and the record was sealed. We are willing to assume, for purposes of this appeal, that had the district court been unwilling to order the records sealed, the settlement might not have been reached.
Appellant Decker is the plaintiff in the case of Decker v. American [**3] Motors Corp., No. 474278, Superior Court of San Diego County, State of California (hereinafter the "California suit"). The California suit is also a wrongful death claim, involving a 1977 jeep manufactured by American Motors. Decker has candidly acknowledged that she seeks the records in order to attempt to invoke offensive collateral estoppel against American Motors in the California action. (Appellant's Opening Brief at 19).
From all we can determine from the material presented to us, the Wilson trial was handled in routine fashion. The courtroom was open to the public and all proceedings were reported by an official court reporter. Decker, or her counsel, could have been present in the courtroom and listened to all the evidence presented. We assume the court reporter's notes have been duly filed with the clerk pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 753(b).
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759 F.2d 1568 *; 1985 U.S. App. LEXIS 29576 **; 11 Media L. Rep. 2008
Barbara D. WILSON, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. AMERICAN MOTORS CORP., et al., Defendants-Appellees, Jean Decker, Appellant
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
proceedings, records, sealed, district court, exhibits, public record, settlement, constitutional right, civil trial, circumstances, closure, rights
Governments, Courts, Common Law, Court Records, Civil Procedure, Discovery & Disclosure, Discovery, Undue Burdens in Discovery, Evidence, Presumptions, Exceptions, Common Law Presumptions, Trade Secrets Law, Civil Actions, Sealed Records, Preclusion of Judgments, Estoppel, Collateral Estoppel, Judgments, General Overview