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Matson v. Hrabe

United States District Court, Tenth Circuit

August 20, 2013

MIKE C. MATSON, Plaintiff,
JOEL HRABE, Defendant.


K. Gary Sebelius U.S. Magistrate Judge

This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant Joel Hrabe’s Motion for Protective Order (ECF No. 74) and Plaintiff Mike Matson’s Motion for Oral Argument on Mr. Hrabe’s Motion for Protective Order (ECF No. 81). The parties have fully briefed Mr. Hrabe’s Motion, and the Court finds that oral argument will not materially aid in its resolution. Therefore, the Court denies Mr. Matson’s Motion for Oral Argument. Based upon the following reasons, the Court grants Mr. Hrabe’s Motion for Protective Order.

I. Relevant Background

Mr. Matson, proceeding pro se, is currently an inmate at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. On November 10, 2011, Mr. Matson brought a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Mr. Hrabe, a deputy warden at the Norton Correctional Facility (“NCF”), violated his constitutional rights by impeding upon his access to the courts and by retaliating against him for exercising his constitutional rights while in custody at NCF. On January 9, 2013, the court dismissed Mr. Matson’s access-to-the-courts claim in its entirety and dismissed, in part, his retaliation claim. Mr. Matson’s claim as it pertains to Mr. Hrabe’s alleged illegal retaliation for transferring him to a different cell was permitted to go forward.

The court has subsequently conducted a scheduling conference and Mr. Matson has served discovery requests upon Mr. Hrabe. Mr. Hrabe contends that the discovery requested includes documents and information of a confidential nature that would jeopardize institutional security. As a result, the parties tried to come to an agreement on a protective order in this case. However, the parties have come to an impasse on a number of provisions. Specifically, the parties disagree on the following two issues: 1) providing Mr. Matson with copies of all discoverable documents containing confidential information, and 2) allowing Mr. Matson to inspect copies of documents containing confidential information before such information is redacted.[1] Each party has submitted a separate proposed protective order for the Court’s review.

II. Discussion

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c), a “court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense[.]” The decision to enter a protective order is within the court’s discretion.[2] In fact, the Supreme Court recognizes that “[t]he trial court is in the best position to weigh fairly the competing needs and interests of parties affected by discovery. The unique character of the discovery process requires that the trial court have substantial latitude to fashion protective orders.”[3] Despite this broad discretion, “a protective order is only warranted when the movant demonstrates that protection is necessary under a specific category set out in Rule 26(c).”[4] In addition, the party seeking a protective order bears the burden of establishing good cause.[5] To do this, the movant must make “a particular and specific demonstration of fact, as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.”[6] Regardless of whether the parties agree to certain provisions or not, the Court must determine whether good cause is shown for the entire protective order, not just those in dispute.[7]

In this case, the parties seek a blanket protective order over confidential information. As explained by Magistrate Judge David J. Waxse,

A blanket protective order places upon the parties the initial burden of determining and defining what information is entitled to protection. Typically, a blanket protective order requires counsel for a producing party to review the information to be disclosed and designate the information counsel believes, in good faith, is confidential or otherwise entitled to protection. The designated information is then protected from certain uses and disclosure under the terms of the protective order, unless the designation is objected to by an opposing party. If the parties are unable to resolve their dispute regarding the designation, the court may review the designation and determine whether the designated information should be protected. The terms of a blanket protective order, like the terms of the two other types of protective orders, must be approved by the court, since a protective order is, by definition, an order of the court and not merely a stipulation or agreement of the parties.[8]

“The agreement of all parties is not required to enter a blanket protective order as long as the party seeking protection makes some threshold showing of good cause to believe that discovery will involve confidential or protected information.”[9] To meet this burden, the party may establish good cause on a generalized basis as opposed to a document-by-document basis.[10]

With these standards in mind, the Court will address both the agreed upon and the disputed terms of the proposed protective orders.

A. Existence of Good Cause to Enter a Protective Order

Before turning to the disputed provisions, the Court must initially determine whether good cause exists to enter a blanket protective order restricting information from use outside of this litigation pertaining to what the parties agree, in most respects, to be confidential. After review of the parties’ proposed protective orders and the briefing on this matter, the court finds that the parties have sufficiently demonstrated ...

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