In this case, the Court rejected the unopposed motion of the plaintiff to place the entire contents of a case which had been settled under seal.
The Court’s rationale ran like this:
- It is inconsistent with the North Carolina Public Records Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 132-1 to 132-10 (2007), to put everything in a case file under seal.
- The Public Records law provides that there should be "liberal access to public records," and that public records "must be made available for public inspection" in the absence of a “clear statutory exemption or exception."
- Civil and criminal case filings are public records. The public has a statutory right of inspection of court filings pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-109(a) (2007).
- The public’s right of access to court filings can be limited only “when there is a compelling countervailing public interest and closure of the court proceedings or sealing of documents is required to protect such countervailing public interest,” per the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in Virmani v. Presbyterian Health Servs., 350 N.C. 449, 476, 515 S.E.2d 675, 693 (1999).
Judge Diaz indicated that he would consider the arguments of the parties as to the need for sealing particular documents in "due course."
This isn’t the first time that the parties to this case tried to keep their dispute out of the public eye. Back in September 2008, Judge Diaz entered an Order denying their request for a blanket protective order permitting them to file all exhibits to their briefs and pleadings under seal. The rationale of that Order was pretty much the same as the order entered in December.