Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Doe v. Usd 237, The Smith Center School District

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 19, 2019

JANE DOE, and ANGELA HARRISON, Plaintiffs,
v.
USD No. 237, THE SMITH CENTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Teresa J. James U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Confidential Exhibits to Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Under Seal (ECF No. 96), Defendants' Motion for Leave to File Under Seal (ECF No. 98), and Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Plaintiffs' Response to Defendants' Motion for Protective Order Under Seal (ECF No. 99). For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the motions.

         I. Legal Standard

         The Supreme Court has recognized a “general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.”[1] That is also true in this district. “It is well settled that federal courts recognize a common-law right of access to judicial records.”[2] The public's right of access is not absolute, and whether to allow access to records is within the district court's discretion.[3] Courts must consider “the relevant facts and circumstances of the case and balance the public's right of access, which is presumed paramount, with the parties' interests in sealing the record or a portion thereof. Documents should be sealed only on the basis of articulable facts known to the court, not on the basis of unsupported hypothesis or conjecture.”[4] The fact that the parties agree that a document should be sealed is not sufficient to justify the sealing of the document.[5] Rather, to rebut the presumption of access to judicial records, a party must demonstrate that “countervailing interests heavily outweigh the public interests in access.”[6] Additionally, that the document is “confidential” within the meaning of the parties' protective order has no bearing on whether the document should be filed under seal.[7] As Judge Crabtree explained recently:

“[T]he court is mindful that taxpayers fund the cost of court operations. They thus hold a substantial stake in what happens in our courtrooms and the decisions that judges make there. Also, the public's faith in court rulings is important to the rule of law. Having access to court decisions, and the reasoning and facts that produce them, helps inspire such faith. While both of these factors favor access and transparency, our law also recognizes that some exceptions exist. When a piece of information or a data point qualifies for restricted access, the court should make that restriction no greater than necessary to serve the interest deserving protection.”[8]

         II. Analysis

         This case involves allegations of sexual harassment and related inappropriate conduct by Defendant Brock Hutchinson, a teacher and coach at USD No. 237, Smith Center School District. Among other things, the complaint sets out multiple incidents of alleged sexual harassment and related inappropriate conduct by Hutchinson toward Plaintiff Jane Doe, while she was a minor high school student, as well as an alleged inappropriate romantic relationship between Hutchinson and another minor high school student. This second student has been deposed in this case and she is referenced throughout the parties' briefing as Jane Doe Witness.

         Plaintiffs request to file their entire Motion to Compel and 11 of 13 exhibits to the motion under seal. The exhibits at issue are: third-party Jane Doe Witness's deposition, a declaration of Jane Doe Witness's father, a declaration of a former Smith Center cheerleading sponsor, a declaration of a former Smith Center teacher, a declaration of a former Smith Center student, a declaration of a former Smith Center student's parent, and Defendants' responses and objections to Plaintiffs' various discovery requests.

         In their motion, Plaintiffs' very broad request for a sealed filing does not articulate any facts upon which the Court may base a finding of a public or private harm that would overcome the public's right of access. Instead, Plaintiffs argue the exhibits risk revealing third-party Jane Doe Witness's identity and the identities of the witnesses who provided declarations, but Plaintiffs never explain why it is essential to protect the identities of all these witnesses or what harm there would be if the identities were revealed. Indeed, the Court finds the public interest in having access to information significant in this case, which involves allegations that a teacher/coach has been inappropriate with at least one, if not multiple, minor high school students, and yet the school district has failed to take any disciplinary action. But Plaintiffs make no attempt to balance any potential harm of identifying these witnesses against the public's right of access.

         In addition, the Amended Complaint consists of 169 numbered paragraphs which recount in some detail a number of specific instances of alleged inappropriate conduct by Hutchinson involving minor high school students, and include details such as the names of the school district superintendent, principal and a school counselor at times material to the allegations. Much of the information that the parties now request to have sealed is already in the court record and available to the public, as it should be.

         The Court is mindful that it has previously entered an order allowing Plaintiff Jane Doe, who was a minor at the time this case was filed, to continue to proceed in the case by pseudonym after she turned eighteen years old.[9] The Court found compelling Plaintiffs' arguments, in their memorandum in support of the motion requesting that Jane Doe be allowed to proceed by pseudonym, [10] regarding the potential harm to Jane Doe if her identity were revealed in this lawsuit. However, in its order the Court stressed the importance of maintaining open court records and limited its ruling to the specific and unique facts of the case, namely: “The allegations [concerning Jane Doe] involve matters of a highly sensitive and personal nature, which occurred while Doe was a minor high school student.”[11]

         Applying similar reasoning, the Court finds that references to Jane Doe Witness in documents and filings in this case should also be under a pseudonym. Like the plaintiff, Jane Doe Witness was a minor at all times material to the allegations regarding her in the complaint. The allegations concerning Jane Doe Witness involve matters of a highly sensitive and personal nature, which occurred while Jane Doe Witness was a minor high school student.[12] Additionally, consistent with this Court's prior ruling, the names of all witnesses who were minor high school students at the time of the allegations at issue in the complaint shall be redacted. Jane Doe Witness's father's name shall also be redacted to further protect his daughter's identity.[13]

         Plaintiffs do not articulate any explanation for why redacting these names in the exhibits to their motion would not be feasible or sufficient to protect the identities of Jane Doe, Jane Doe Witness, or other witnesses who were minor students at the time of the allegations in the complaint. For the declaration of Jane Doe Witness's father, Plaintiffs state redaction “risks rendering it unintelligible” but provide no support for this statement. The Court does not agree that redaction of names would render the document “unintelligible.” Plaintiffs also state redaction of Defendants' discovery responses “may hinder the court's ability to consider the merits of Plaintiffs' motion, ” again with no support. The Court again does not agree that redaction would hinder its ability to consider the merits of Plaintiffs' motion.

         As to the motion itself, it is twenty pages and consists primarily of legal arguments and authorities as well as other information already in the public record in this case. Plaintiffs make no argument as to why the motion itself should be filed under seal except that it “contains necessary context that would potentially identify witnesses whose information is protected pursuant to the Agreed Protective Order.”[14] But this has no bearing on whether the motion should ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.