The Risks of Overbroad Motions to Seal

Knobbe Martens

Knobbe Martens


Before Prost, Mayer, and Taranto. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Summary: Motions to seal must be narrowly tailored and well supported to overcome the presumption of public access to court filings.

In the District Court, Uniloc moved to seal a large amount of allegedly confidential information referenced in several Apple motions to dismiss. The material sought to be sealed included citations to case law, quotations from published opinions, and twenty three exhibits that included matters of public record. The District Court denied the motions to seal, stating that Uniloc had not provided compelling reasons to overcome the public’s right to the information. Uniloc’s motions were not “narrowly tailored,” and requested an “astonishing” amount of material be sealed.

The Federal Circuit, reviewing the disputed order under the collateral order doctrine, affirmed in part and vacated in part. The Federal Circuit divided the information Uniloc sought to seal into two categories: 1) Uniloc’s own purportedly confidential information; and 2) the purportedly confidential information of Uniloc’s third-party licensees. With respect to Uniloc’s allegedly confidential information, the District Court did not abuse its discretion because Uniloc “fell woefully short” of the local rule requirement to narrowly tailor its request and Uniloc provided only “perfunctory assertions” that the documents required sealing. With respect to third-party licensees, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded because the District Court did not properly assess whether the public’s right of access outweighed the confidentiality interest of the third parties.

Editor: Paul Stewart

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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