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Levitin v. Northwest Community Hospital

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 8, 2016

YELENA LEVITIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NORTHWEST COMMUNITY HOSPITAL, et al., Defendants.

          Gary Feinerman Judge.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. DAVID WEISMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Yelena Levitin and Chicago Surgical Clinic, Ltd. (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) bring a cause of action alleging a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and several state law claims against Northwest Community Hospital, Advanced Surgical Associates, S.C. (“ASA”), Alan B. Loren, William D. Soper, and Daniel R. Conway (collectively, “Defendants”). This case is before the Court on the parties’ dispute regarding which documents shall remain under seal in connection with the parties’ summary judgment materials. (See dkt. 223, 287; see also dkt. 297, p. 4.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court defers its ruling on which documents shall remain under seal in connection with the pending motions for summary judgment until after the district court has ruled on the substantive motions.

         Background

         On April 21, 2016, Judge Feinerman instructed the parties to file simultaneous briefs arguing their respective positions as to which filed documents shall remain under seal and referred the matter to this Court for resolution. (Dkt. 287.) After the parties submitted their memoranda, (dkt. 297, 298), the Court directed the parties to address at oral argument particular issues of interest to the Court in resolving this dispute. (Dkt. 322.)[1] Much of the Court’s additional inquiry sought elaboration on the parties’ arguments regarding whether the documents at issue would underpin the district court’s ruling on the motions for summary judgment and whether this Court could even predict an answer to that question in advance of the district court’s decision. (See id.; see also dkt. 297, pp. 4-11; dkt. 298, pp. 11-13; dkt. 326, pp. 1-8.) The Court then heard oral argument on August 4, 2016.

         Because it impacts the Court’s calculus, it bears noting which issues the parties have and have not raised on summary judgment before the district court. Plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment as to the issue of immunity. (Dkt. 236.) Defendants moved for summary judgment on the Title VII claim positing various arguments, including that Plaintiffs cannot establish an employment relationship, that the claim is untimely, and that Plaintiff cannot establish as a matter of law disparate treatment or retaliation. (Dkt. 167.) Defendants have also raised the issue of immunity as to the state law causes of action and claim that the defamation, false light, and Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act claims are statutorily time-barred. (Id.) Defendants’ motion for summary judgment thus does not raise the substance of Plaintiffs’ state law claims. At oral argument, Defendants represented to this Court that the parties will appear before the district court on August 11, 2016, and they anticipate a ruling on the motions for summary judgment on that date or soon thereafter.[2]

         Dispute Concerning Which Documents Shall Remain Under Seal

         I. Categories of Information in Dispute

         In their initial simultaneous submissions, the parties identify the categories of documents they believe remain in dispute as to the propriety of maintaining such information under seal. Plaintiffs point to two categories of documents: (1) certain statements and information contained in the professional review action involving Dr. Levitin; and (2) the identities of Defendants[3]Conway, Loren, and Soper; non-defendant surgeons affiliated with ASA; and witness Dr. Alexandra Roginsky, [4] who are listed on Plaintiffs’ summary chart and in Plaintiffs’ Expert’s opinions. (Dkt. 297, pp. 4-8.)

         Defendants, for their part, identify three categories of documents they believe to be in dispute as to whether the information should remain sealed. Those categories are: (1) specific references to Drs. Levitin, Conway, Soper, and Loren, i.e., the doctors named as parties to this lawsuit; (2) specific references to Drs. Barnett, Bilimoria, Mahon, and Rao, i.e., doctors affiliated with Defendant ASA but not parties to this lawsuit, and witness Dr. Roginsky; and (3) the documents containing the alleged false statements made by Defendants. (Dkt. 298, p. 1.) Thus, the parties essentially agree as to what information remains in dispute. They simply provide a slightly different categorical breakdown.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiffs’ view regarding the allegedly false and defamatory information is that “certain statements and information contained in the professional review action involving Levitin should not be unsealed and disclosed … [because the information] will not influence or underpin the district court’s decisions on summary judgment.” (Dkt. 297, p. 5-6 (footnote omitted).) Plaintiff reasons that such information cannot influence the district court’s summary judgment decision since the substance of the allegedly false statements and information are not even at issue in either of the pending cross motions for summary judgment. (Id.)

         Defendants counter that whatever privacy interest Dr. Levitin might have had evaporated by virtue of her choice to pursue these claims in a public forum. (Dkt. 298, p. 12.). In other words, by filing defamation, false light, and negligent misrepresentation claims specifically based on the statements at issue in the present dispute, “the public has a heightened interest in being able to access” those statements. (Id. at 15 (citing Promega Corp. v. Life Techs. Corp., No. 10-CV-281-BBC, 2010 WL 3121811 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 9, 2010))).

         As to the named defendant doctors, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants’ identities will necessarily influence the district court’s decision on summary judgment because they are the individuals who allegedly harassed Dr. Levitin and directed the peer review process to which Dr. Levitin was subjected. (See dkt. 297, p. 7.) Moreover, because Defendants were allegedly treated more favorably, Plaintiffs believe the district court will use Defendants as comparators when analyzing the summary judgment briefs. (Id.) Plaintiffs further argue that because “[t]here is a long-recognized presumption in favor of public access to judicial records, ” (id. citing In re Continental Securities Litigation, 732 F.2d 1302, 1309 (7th Cir. 1984)), the ...


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