United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
TRAMISHA U. MULLINGS, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Treasey Lee Wingo; TREMAINE J. MULLINGS; J.J.J.H., a Minor Child by TRAMISHA U. MULLINGS, His Next Friend, Plaintiffs,
MINNESOTA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
RANDAL HALL CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES SOUTHERN DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
the Court is the Parties' joint motion for leave to file
under seal. (Doc. 10.) Because a plaintiff in this action is
a minor, the Court must approve the confidential settlement
agreement (the "Settlement") reached by the
Parties. See LR 17.1, SDGa. The Parties request that
"all the documents required by Local Rule 17.1, to wit:
a copy of the settlement agreement, a petition of the minor
child's guardian, and an attorney's statement"
be sealed. (Mot. to Seal, Doc. 10, at 3.)
noted by the Parties, "There is a common-law presumption
that judicial records are public documents." Hesed
El v. Poff, No. CV 118-079, 2018 WL 4688720, at *2 (S.D.
Ga. Sept. 29, 2018) (citation omitted); Nixon v. Warner
Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978);
Chicago Tribune Co. v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc.,
263 F.3d 1304, 1311 (11th Cir. 2001). "The operations of
the courts and the judicial conduct of judges are matters of
utmost public concern, and the common-law right of access to
judicial proceedings, an essential component of our system of
justice, is instrumental in securing the integrity of the
process." Romero v. Drummond Co., 480 F.3d
1234, 1245 (11th Cir. 2007) (internal citation and quotation
marks omitted). Although there is no right of access with
private settlement agreements, because the Court must review
the Settlement, it is a public record and subject to the
presumption of public access. Webb v. CVS Caremark
Corp., No. 5:11-CV-106, 2011 WL 6743284, at *1 (M.D. Ga.
Dec. 23, 2011); see Jessup v. Luther, 277 F.3d 926,
927-28 (7th Cir. 2002).
deciding whether to seal documents, courts "should weigh
the interests protected by the presumption of openness,
namely judicial transparency . . . and the first-amendment
values of freedom of speech and of the press, against the
parties' interest in secrecy." Eigenberger v.
Tokyo Statesboro GA, LLC, No. CV 617-160, 2018 WL
2065942, at *2 (S.D. Ga. May 3, 2018). In some cases
"involving . . . the privacy of [minors], . . . the
interest in secrecy is compelling."
Eigenberger, 2018 WL 2065942, at *2 (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted); see Clark v.
Bamberger, No. 1:12CV1122-MHT (WO), 2016 WL 1183180, at
*2 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 28, 2016) (Protecting a minor's
privacy is "undoubtedly an important concern."). To
weigh in favor of keeping information about minors secret,
the information must be more than the amount of money
received in a settlement. Wilson v. Am. Motors
Corp., 759 F.2d 1568, 1571 n.4 (11th Cir. 1985) ("
[T] he payment of money to an injured party is simply not a
compelling government interest . . . entitled to
consideration in deciding whether or not to seal a
record."); Clark, 2016 WL 1183180, at *3. For
example, a minor's interest in privacy is more compelling
when the documents would "expose confidential
educational, medical, or mental-health information."
Clark, 2016 WL 1183180, at *3.
Court acknowledges that naming the minor's family members
may make the minor identifiable even with using initials as
required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2.
"However, as the [P]arties have not shown that the
documents would expose anything confidential under law or
embarrassing about the [minor], the [C]ourt finds the use of
initials sufficient to protect the [minor]'s privacy in
this circumstance." Id. Additionally, neither
the confidentiality clause in the Settlement nor the fact
that the Parties agreed that the Settlement should be sealed
is a compelling reason to grant the motion. See
Eigenberer, 2018 WL 2065942, at *2 ("[T]he [c]ourt
needs far more than the parties' agreement that the
settlement agreement should be sealed.").
foregoing reasons, the motion to seal (Doc. 10) is
DENIED. The Parties may move forward with
settling the case by filing on the public docket a motion for
approval of the settlement agreement with the Settlement and
attachments appended. Should the Parties wish to withdraw
from the Settlement as a consequence of this decision, they
shall file a joint statement to that effect.
ENTERED at Augusta, Georgia,
 The Parties also argue that the
documents should be sealed because "[t]here is a strong
local interest in this case. News reporters have contacted
[P]laintiffs' attorneys on multiple occasions inquiring
into the facts of this litigation." (Mot. to Seal,
¶ 8.) This reasoning weighs in favor of not sealing
because, as mentioned above, values of free speech and of the
press are weighed against the Parties' interest in
 Per Local Rule 79.7(c), the Court
DIRECTS the Clerk to return the documents
received from Attorney Jeffrey Peil. (See ...