California District Court Denies Government’s Request to Maintain Documents Under Seal

On September 25, 2015, a Central District of California judge denied the government’s request to maintain documents under seal in a declined qui tam suit, on the basis that the documents describe only routine investigative methods of the government.  See United States ex rel. Hong v. Newport Sensors, Inc. et al., No. 13-cv-01164-JLS-JPR (C.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2015).  This order followed the court’s prior denial of an attempt by the government to maintain the seal for a failure to show good cause to limit the unsealing to only specific documents.

In its recent order, the district court emphasized that to overcome the presumption in favor of access to court records, the government bears the burden of showing how the disclosure would: (i) reveal confidential investigative techniques; (ii) jeopardize an ongoing investigation; or (iii) harm non-parties.  The government sought to maintain the seal with respect to filings that, for example, sought an extension of the seal due to delays in the government investigation, generally discussed documents and witnesses the government was examining, and identified the agencies involved in interviewing witnesses.  In denying the government’s motion, the court rejected the argument that the documents “tell the government’s investigatory techniques, decision-making processes, research, and reasoning that apply in hundreds of similar cases.”  To the contrary, the court held the documents “describe only routine processes used in the normal course of governmental investigations;” as such, the government failed to meet its burden to maintain the seal.

A copy of the district court’s order can be found here.