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Williamson v. S.A. Gear Co., Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 8, 2017

STEVE WILLIAMSON and RHONDA CHRISTINE LEMASTER, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
S.A. GEAR COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          DONALD G. WILKERSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Permission to File Under Seal or Alternatively for Protective Order filed by Defendants AutoZone, Inc., AutoZone Stores, LLC, and AutoZone Parts, Inc. (collectively referred to as the “AutoZone Defendants”) (Doc. 130) and the Motion to Place Documents under Seal or for Other Relief and Request to Expedite filed by Plaintiffs (Doc. 186). For the reasons set forth below, the AutoZone Defendants' motion to seal is GRANTED and Plaintiffs' motion to seal is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         On April 26, 2017, the AutoZone Defendants filed a motion seeking permission to file under seal certain confidential documents in support of their memorandum in opposition to Plaintiff's motion for class certification. The AutoZone Defendants generally indicated that they intended to file the declarations of Scott Brack and Larry Arthur, employees of AutoZone, Inc., in which they address confidential, proprietary business information including internal claims procedures, warranty processes, and sales information. These Defendants assert that this information is non-public, proprietary and commercially sensitive business information.

         Plaintiffs objected to Defendants' motion on May 10, 2017 arguing Defendants' motion is devoid of any explanation concerning how or why any of its documents constitute trade secrets. Plaintiffs also argued that the AutoZone Defendants' motion is moot insofar as they forfeited confidentiality claims when they produced the relevant documents without ever requesting a protective order from the Court.

         The AutoZone Defendants filed a reply brief on May 17, 2017 that sufficiently identified the exceptional circumstances that necessitated said filing - mainly they filed their motion prior to submitting their opposition brief and, as such, had not yet finalized the evidence that would require confidential treatment. Accordingly, in their reply brief, Defendants delineated the documents they seek to protect and set forth their argument as to why said documents should be sealed. Plaintiffs filed a motion to strike Defendants' reply which the Court denied on July 26, 2017. In its Order, the Court granted Plaintiffs leave to file a sur-reply to Defendants' motion to seal. Plaintiffs did not file a sur-reply.

         Although the Seventh Circuit avers that “[i]nformation that affects the disposition of litigation belongs in the public record unless a statute or privilege justifies nondisclosure, ” United States v. Foster, 564 F.3d 852, 853 (7th Cir. 2009), it also recognizes that documents that contain information that meets the definition of trade secret or other confidential information may be sealed. Id. In this instance, the AutoZone Defendants have identified discrete documents that they assert include confidential, proprietary business information regarding AutoZone's unique internal claims procedures, warranty processes, and sales information. Based on a review of the identified documents, and in light of Plaintiffs' failure to file a sur-reply setting forth any argument to the contrary, the Court agrees. The particular documents identified by Defendants contain vendor agreements, internal sales tracking data and proprietary business information concerning processes and procedures for handling particular claims[1]. The Court finds that said information constitutes the definition of “trade secret” considered by the Seventh Circuit in Foster. For these reasons, the AutoZone Defendants' Motion for Permission to File under Seal (Doc. 130) is GRANTED.

         The remaining issue is how to effectuate this Court's decision. A review of the docket in this matter demonstrates a concerning practice insofar as the parties have filed various documents under seal without seeking permission from this Court. In particular, Plaintiffs filed all of their exhibits in support of their motion for class certification under seal (see Doc. 124). There was no accompanying motion to file under seal. The AutoZone Defendants also filed all of their exhibits under seal, albeit while their motion to file under seal was pending (see Doc. 135). By way of this Order, the Court has ruled that good cause has been established to keep only the following documents related to class certification briefing under seal:

1. Exhibits 1-2 to the Declaration of Scott Brack, Doc. 135-4, pp. 7-24.
2. Paragraphs 5-10 to the Declaration of Larry Arthur, Doc. 135-3.
3. Exhibit 1 to the Declaration of Larry Arthur, Doc. 135-3, pp. 10-23.
4. Plaintiff's Exhibit 15 in support of their Motion for Class Certification, Doc. 124-15[2].
5. Plaintiff's Exhibit 16 in support of their Motion for Class Certification, Doc. 124-16[3].
6. Plaintiff's Exhibit 17 in support of their Motion for Class Certification, Doc. 124-17.
7. Plaintiff's Exhibit 20 in support of their Motion for Class ...

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