Tuesday, April 10, 2007
C.A. Overturns Order Sealing Records in Wal-Mart Class Action
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A litigant is not entitled to have publicly filed records in Court of Appeal writ proceedings sealed merely on the basis that they had been filed under seal in the trial court, a First District panel ruled yesterday.
Div. Four reversed an order by Alameda Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sabraw, who had granted a motion by Wal-Mart to seal records in connection with a class action in which workers accuse the retail giant of wage and hour violations.
The ruling stems from an August 2004 motion to unseal brought by The Berkeley Daily Planet and its counsel Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, which had attempted to inspect and copy the papers Wal-Mart had filed in connection with its opposition to plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and in support of its summary adjudication motion. The clerk of court informed them the documents were unavailable for public inspection because they had been filed under conditional seal in the trial court.
The judge denied the newspaper’s motion, finding that “Wal-Mart thought that its filings at the Court of Appeal would be under seal because its filings in the trial court were conditionally under seal.” The retail giant them moved to permanently seal documents concerning its labor guidelines, pay and incentive guidelines, reviews, audit information, and timekeeping system.
Procedures Not Followed
Sabraw partially granted and partially denied Wal-Mart’s motion..
Div. Four said the company waived its right to have the documents sealed because, by the time it brought its motion, it had already publicly filed the documents in the Court of Appeal. It failed to comply with the procedures for filing records under seal contained in the California Rules of Court, the justices held.
Justice Timothy A. Reardon wrote that Wal-Mart could not “reasonably think that it could operate under a parallel legal universe” outside of the rules.
“Wal-Mart could not reasonably think that the trial court had sealed the documents submitted with the retail petitions, because Wal-Mart had not moved for an order sealing the record; had not submitted points and authorities and a declaration justifying sealing; and there was no court order granting the nonexistent motion,” he said.
“Wal-Mart’s conduct was so inconsistent with an intent to enforce its rights to obtain sealed records under the Rules of Courts as to induce a reasonable belief that it had relinquished such right.”
Moreover, Reardon said, Sabraw lacked the discretion to entertain Wal-Mart’s belated motion.
“Without the accountability of reasonable time frames for bringing such motions in conjunction with adjudicatory as opposed to discovery proceedings, the presumptive openness of court records would be subject to the whim of the parties, without regard to the public.”
Presiding Justice Ignazio J. Ruvolo and Justice Maria P. Rivera concurred in the opinion.
Daily Planet’s appellate counsel, David A. Rosenfeld, could not be reached for comment.
Donald M. Falk, who represented Wal-Mart on appeal, declined to comment on the ruling.
The case is Savaglio v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (The Berkeley Daily Planet), A110120.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company