Law School Case Brief
Phillips v. GMC - 307 F.3d 1206 (9th Cir. 2002)
Generally, the public can gain access to litigation documents and information produced during discovery unless the party opposing disclosure shows "good cause" why a protective order is necessary. It is well established that the fruits of pretrial discovery are, in the absence of a court order to the contrary, presumptively public. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) authorizes a district court to override this presumption where "good cause" is shown.
In 1998, plaintiffs Darrell and Angela Byrd and their two minor sons filed a complaint in federal district for damages against defendant General Motors Corporation ("GM") allegedly caused by a defect in the gas tank of a pickup truck manufactured by GM. Before discovery, both sides stipulated to a "share" protective order that allowed the parties to share all information covered under the order with other litigants in similar cases, but not the public. In the course of litigation, GM disclosed information about previous settlements in cases involving the particular pickup truck. The Byrds and GM ultimately settled their case and the action was dismissed in 2000. Thereafter, intervenor Los Angeles Times ("Times") intervened in the action and requested the district court to unseal the confidential settlement information. The district court granted the Times' request. GM appealed.
Did the district court err giving the Times access to GM's confidential settlement information?
The appellate court vacated the district court's order and remanded the matter to that court with instructions that the district court conduct a "good cause" analysis. The court noted that generally the public could gain access to litigation documents and information produced during discovery unless the party opposing disclosure shows "good cause" why a protective order was necessary. However, in the instant case, the district court never engaged in a "good cause" analysis, but held that, based on Rule 26(c)(7), only trade secrets or other confidential research, development, or commercial information could be protected from disclosure.
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