United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BRACK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the Defendant's request,
during the March 14, 2017 Evidentiary Hearing, that this
Court unseal the Government's sealed Motion in Limine
(Doc. 157). See Doc. 159 at 7 (Minutes at 1:00
p.m.). Being fully advised, the Court will unseal the motion.
is facing charges for multiple violations involving the
possession and distribution of marijuana and possession of
unlawful firearm silencers. See Doc. 138. On March
14, 2017, this Court held an evidentiary hearing in relation
to Defendant's Second Motion to Suppress and Second
Motion to Dismiss for Prosecutorial Vindictiveness. Doc. 155.
Just prior to the hearing, the Government filed a Sealed
Motion in Limine regarding testimony by former DEA Special
Agent Ryan Mirabal. Doc. 157. During the hearing, Defendant
requested that the Government's motion be unsealed on the
basis of public access to judicial records. Doc. 159 at 7
(Minutes at 1:00 p.m.);.The Government objected to such
disclosure, citing the embarrassment and potential
incrimination of Agent Mirabal. Id.
courts have historically acknowledged a "general right
to inspect and copy public records and documents, including
judicial records and documents." Nixon v. Warner
Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 & n. 7 (1978).
This right is justified by the interest of citizens in
"keep[ing] a watchful eye on the workings of public
agencies." Id. at 598. Although this right is
not absolute, there is a "strong presumption in favor of
public access." United States v. Pickard, 733
F.3d 1297, 1302-03 (10th Cir. 2013) (quoting Mann v.
Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1149 (10th Cir. 2007). This is
particularly true where the court can make use of the sealed
documents "to determine litigants' substantive legal
rights, " including evidentiary issues. Id.
(quoting Colony Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222,
1241 (10th Cir. 2012)). In order to overcome this presumption
of openness, a party seeking to seal judicial documents must
demonstrate that "countervailing interests heavily
outweigh the public interests in access." Id.
To do so, a party must articulate compelling reasons
supported by specific factual findings. See San Jose
Mercury News, Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Ct., 187 F.3d 1096,
1102-03 (9th Cir. 1999).
judicial records and other case-related information should be
sealed or otherwise withheld from the public is a matter left
to the sound discretion of the district court."
Mann, 477 F.3d at 1149; see also Nixon, 435
U.S. at 599. In exercising this discretion, the court should
"weigh the interests of the public, which are
presumptively paramount, against those advanced by the
parties." Helm v. Kansas, 656 F.3d 1277, 1292
(10th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). In
addition, "[t]he party seeking to overcome the
presumption of public access to the documents bears the
burden of showing some significant interest that outweighs
the presumption." Id. (internal quotation marks
hearing in this case, the Government explained that
publication of their motion and its exhibits would cause
significant embarrassment and potential incrimination to
their witness, Former Special Agent Mirabal, regarding an
unrelated criminal investigation. Doc. 159 at 7 (Minutes at
1:00 p.m.). However, federal courts addressing this question
have held that "[t]he mere fact that the production of
records may lead to. . . embarrassment, incrimination, or
exposure to further litigation will not, without more, compel
the court to seal its records." Kamakana v. City
& Cty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178-79 (9th Cir.
2006); see also Wauchop v. Domino's Pizza, Inc.,
138 F.R.D. 539, 546-47 (N.D.Ind.1991); Culinary Foods,
Inc. v. Raychem Corp., 151 F.R.D. 297, 301
(N.D.I11.1993). The Tenth Circuit also appears to have
adopted this approach in practice. See Mann, 477
F.3d at 1149 (holding that privacy concerns with respect to
family dispute and medical information were not
"sufficiently critical to outweigh the strong
presumption in favor of public access to judicial
Government has failed to present a sufficiently compelling
interest to rebut the strong presumption of public access to
judicial documents, the Court holds that their Motion should
not remain sealed.
foregoing reasons, the Court ORDERS that the Government's