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Federal Bar Update: Confidentiality not always enforceable

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Federal Bar UpdateAmendments

In Dugdale Communications v. Alcatel-Lucent USA, No. 1:09-CV-960 (S.D. Ind. Feb. 11, 2011), the court addressed defendant’s motion to amend its answer. Magistrate Judge Tim Baker denied the motion, starting the court’s opinion by writing, “Leave to amend pleadings is freely granted when justice requires. But when, as in this case, a party waits until significant deadlines have passed to seek leave to make amendments that could have been made earlier, and which would unduly prejudice the opposing party, justice requires denial of leave to amend.”

As with most discretionary amendment issues, the opinion turns on its unique facts, but one of the desired amendments – to add a statute of frauds defense – was denied due to undue delay. The court explained, “While Dugdale’s discovery responses may not have been entirely consistent, Alcatel waited to depose Witham until the day before the discovery deadline. As a result of this and other circumstances, Alcatel cannot in fairness claim that it now should be allowed to add a claim based on something it should (or easily could) have known long ago. The court has already enlarged CMP deadlines twice and recently declined to further delay progress in this case. Accordingly, the court denies Alcatel’s motion for leave to add a statute of frauds defense.”

Enforcing confidential settlement agreements

As federal practitioners know, the 7th Circuit is particularly strict about protecting public access to federal court filings. Trial judges within the 7th Circuit are thus equally strict in ensuring that sealed record requests meet the 7th Circuit standards. So can a confidential settlement agreement be enforced in federal court while preserving confidentiality?

This issue was addressed by the court in Gant v. Carrier Corp., No. 1:09-CV-1193 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 25, 2011). The defendant sought to enforce a confidential settlement agreement. The court set the matter for a court conference to try to informally resolve the matter, kept the agreement under seal until that conference, but expressed that it “has serious reservations about the propriety of maintaining the purported settlement agreement and related documents under seal given that the Court is now being asked to enforce this purported agreement.”

The court explained, “In Cincinnati Insurance, the Seventh Circuit noted that ‘[t]he parties to a lawsuit are not the only people who have a legitimate interest in the record compiled in a legal proceeding.’ Id. at 944. The public’s interest in a transparent and predictable legal system extends to the Court’s enforcement of settlement agreements. Many cases never reach the courtroom and others end without even a written opinion. As the Seventh Circuit stated in Jessup v. Luther, 277 F.3d 926, 929 (7th Cir. 2002), ‘[t]he public has an interest in knowing what terms of a settlement a federal judge would approve and perhaps therefore nudge the parties to agree to.’ The Seventh Circuit has further stated that ‘[p]eople who want secrecy should opt for arbitration. When they call on the courts, they must accept the openness that goes with subsidized dispute resolution by public (and publicly accountable) officials.’ Union Oil Co. of Cal. v. Leavell, 220 F.3d 562, 568 (7th Cir. 2000).”

The court continued, “In the case at bar, Carrier has provided no reasons why its desire for sealing overcomes the public’s legitimate interest in the record compiled by this legal proceeding. The purported settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which presumably is at the heart of this sealing request. But the parties’ (or one party’s) desire for confidentiality does not override the public’s interest in open proceedings when disputes require the Court’s intervention. Certainly Carrier’s motion contains no authority supporting such an outcome.”

Thus, parties seeking to enforce confidential settlement agreements should be on notice that confidentiality cannot be assured in federal court. If confidentiality is vital, consideration should be given to possibly including enforcement mechanisms through arbitration or a simple state-law, state-court breach of contract action.

Mark your calendars

The annual Federal Civil Practice Seminar will be held Friday, Dec. 16, in Indianapolis.•

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John Maley, jmaley@btlaw.com, is a partner with Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, practicing federal and state litigation, employment matters, and appeals. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  2. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  3. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  4. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  5. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

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