United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
CHRISTY A. BUTIGAN, Plaintiff
SALAH MOHAMMED K. A. AL-MALKI, SALWA AWAD M. SAEED, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Bruce Lee United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on the Parties' Joint Motion
to Seal Court Files. (Doc. 39). This case concerns a civil
action brought by Christy A. Butigan ("Plaintiff')
for alleged improprieties performed by Salah Mohammed K. A.
Al-Malki and Salwa Awad M. Saeed ("Defendants")
against Plaintiff during her term of employment with
Defendants. The issue before the Court is whether to seal the
entire record in this case where a settlement agreement was
reached without judicial intervention. The Court DENIES the
Parties' Joint Motion because the Parties assert no
significant interest that outweighs the presumption in favor
of public access to court records.
employed Plaintiff as a domestic servant in their homes in
both the United States and Qatar from approximately September
10, 2010 until April 27, 2011. (Doc. 1 ¶ 22.) Plaintiff
terminated her employment with Defendants on April 27, 2011
when she fled from their home in Vienna, Virginia due to
intolerable living and working conditions. (Doc. 1 ¶
April 26, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) against
Defendants for alleged violations of the Trafficking Victims
Protection Act and Fair Labor Standards Act, in addition to
asserting state law claims. (Doc. 21-1 ¶ 3.) On May 12,
2014, a default judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff
and against Defendants. (Doc. 31.) The Parties then entered
into a Confidential Settlement Agreement on January 17, 2017,
and on February 14, 2017, the Court entered a Stipulation and
Order vacating the default judgment and dismissing the matter
with prejudice and without costs. (Doc. 38.) As a separate
condition of the Settlement Agreement, the Parties agreed to
jointly petition the Court, in its discretion, to seal the
court record. The Parties' Joint Motion is now ripe for
disposition. (Doc. 39.)
Standard of Review
public has a common law right to access, inspect, and copy
court records and documents. In re Knight Publ'g
Co., 743 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984) (citing Nixon
v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978)).
The public right of access to court files is not absolute,
however. Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598. The Court "has
supervisory power over its own records and may, in its
discretion, seal documents if the public's right of
access is outweighed by competing interests." In re
Knight, 743 F.2d at 235.
party seeking to overcome the [common law] presumption [of
access] bears the burden of showing some significant interest
that outweighs the presumption." Rushford v. New
Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir.
1988). Access to court files may be denied, for instance,
"(1) where disclosure may be used to gratify private
spite or promote public scandal, (2) where disclosed records
may serve as reservoirs of libelous statements for press
consumption, or (3) where disclosure might reveal trade
secrets[.]" Under Seal v. Under Seal, 326 F.3d
479, 485-86 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Nixon, 435 U.S.
at 598-99). In deciding whether to seal court records and
documents, the court should consider factors including
"whether the records are sought for improper purposes .
. .; whether release would enhance the public's
understanding of an important historical event; and whether
the public has already had access to the information
contained in the records." In re Knight, 743
F.2d at 235 (citing Nixon, 435 U.S. at 597-608). The
trial court is to exercise its discretion to seal court files
"in light of the relevant facts and circumstances of the
particular case." Nixon, 435 U.S. at 599.
First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees
public access to trials, Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v.
Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 575-76 (1980), and this
guarantee extends to particular court records and documents,
including those filed in connection with dispositive motions
in civil cases. Stone v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys.
Corp., 855 F.2d 178, 180 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing
Rushford, 846 F.2d at 253). Denial of public access
to such court records is justified only if it is required by
compelling governmental interest and "there is no less
restrictive way to serve that governmental interest."
Rushford, 846 F.2d at 253.
that the standard under which the court must consider motions
to seal court documents depends on the nature of the
documents, the court must determine whether the public's
right of access to the documents is protected by the First
Amendment or arises solely from the common law. Id.
Additionally, the court must "provide public notice of
the request to seal and allow interested parties a reasonable
opportunity to object." Ashcraft v. Conoco,
Inc., 218 F.3d 288, 302 (4th Cir. 2000). Before granting
a request to seal court records, the court must
"consider less drastic alternatives to sealing the
documents[.]" Id. If the court decides that
sealing the court documents is appropriate, it must
"provide specific reasons and factual findings
supporting its decision to seal the documents and for
rejecting the alternatives." Id.
Court DENIES the Parties' Joint Motion to Seal because
the Parties do not assert a compelling governmental interest
that necessitates or justifies the sealing of documents, nor
do they assert a significant interest that outweighs the
public's common law right of access to judicial records.
procedural requirements for sealing have been satisfied here.
The Court has provided public notice of the parties'
request to seal all documents filed in this case and an
opportunity for interested members of the public to object to
this request. The Court has received no objections to the
request. However, even where all of the litigants request
that the court files be sealed and no one objects, the court
"must engage in a careful deliberation ...