In this case, a consumer sued a loan servicing company for mistakes in the modification of his home mortgage. When the consumer moved for partial summary judgment, he attached under seal an exhibit that he had received in discovery under a protective order. The parties then briefed the issue whether the exhibit should remain sealed. In a 38-page opinion, the judge denied the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment and the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The judge sealed the entire opinion and the exhibit. The parties later settled the case.
Public Citizen, joined by the National Association Of Consumer Advocates, West Virginia Consumer Protection Alliance, and West Virginia Association For Justice, moved to intervene in the suit for the limited purpose of seeking unsealing of the exhibit and the court’s opinion. The motion argued both that the trial judge had failed to use the right procedures before sealing the documents, including notice to the public and an opportunity for the public to object to sealing, and that sealing the opinion and exhibit violate the First Amendment right of public access to judicial records.
The court granted both motions. It held that, in this case, “the strong presumption favoring the public’s access to court documents under the First Amendment [overcame] any argument that the trade secrets at issue constitute a higher value.