June 9, 2016
CAS Chrysler Defects Case Played a Key Role in Release of Trump University Documents
In 2014, CAS moved to intervene and unseal documents in a class action in California on defective power modules in up to 4.9 million Chrysler vehicles to support a defect petition CAS had filed with NHTSA. When the District Court denied CAS’s motions to intervene and unseal the Chrysler defect documents, the Center appealed to the 9th Circuit for the following reasons:
This appeal is from the denial of the Center for Auto Safety’s motion to intervene in Velasco v. Chrysler Group LLC—a lawsuit currently pending before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California—for the limited purpose of unsealing court records and the denial of the Center’s motion to unseal those records. The Center for Auto Safety, a national nonprofit automobile safety organization, believes that the records—briefs, declarations, and exhibits submitted in connection with the Velasco plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion—may shed light on whether there is a dangerous defect in the power system installed in millions of Chrysler vehicles.
Although this Court has held that “compelling reasons” are normally required to outweigh the public’s right of access to court records, see Kamakana v.City & Cnty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 2006), the district court held that the records filed in connection with the Velasco plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion could be sealed for “good cause.”
In January 2016 CAS won in the 9th Circuit with the court holding that “good cause” was not enough to seal documents in pleadings that were not necessarily dispositive. The decision played a key role in Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s attached order against Donald Trump to release Trump University documents. In issuing his decision unsealing the Trump University documents, Judge Curiel explained:
Traditionally, the Ninth Circuit drew a distinction between “dispositive” pleadings, such as motions for summary judgment and related attachments, where the strong presumption of access was applied fully, and a party must articulate “compelling reasons” to seal a document, and “non-dispositive” motions, where a “good cause” standard applied. Id. at 1180. In Kamakana, the Ninth Circuit explained that it did so because “the resolution of a dispute on the merits, whether by trial or summary judgment, is at the heart of the interest in ensuring the public’s understanding of the judicial process and of significant public events,” whereas “the public has less of a need for access to court records attached only to non-dispositive motions because those documents are often unrelated, or only tangentially related, to the underlying cause of action.” Id. at 1179 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
However, in Center for Auto Safety, the Ninth Circuit recently disapproved of such a “binary” approach based on “mechanical classifications,” reasoning that “[m]ost litigation in a case is not literally ‘dispositive,’ but nevertheless involves important issues and information to which our case law demands the public should have access.” Ctr. for Auto Safety v. Chrysler Grp., LLC, 809 F.3d 1092, 1098 (9th Cir. 2016).
The Post argues that under Center for Auto Safety, the “compelling reasons” standard should apply because a class certification motion is “more than tangentially related to the merits of a case,” WP Mot. 8–11, while Defendant contends that the “good cause” standard should apply. Def. Opp. 5–8.
Recently, two district courts in this Circuit cited Center for Auto Safety in applying the “compelling reasons” standard to class certification motions. See Opperman v. Path, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17222 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 11, 2016) (finding that a class certification motion involves issues that are “more than tangentially related to the merits of the case”); Corvello v. Wells Fargo Bank N.A., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11647 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 29, 2016). The Court agrees.
Below are relevant documents from the CAS litigation. The Center is represented in this litigation by Jennifer Bennett and Leslie Bailey of Public Justice, P.C. in Oakland CA, (510) 622-8150.
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CLASS ACTION – CAS INTERVENTION TO RELEASE DEFECTS DOCUMENTS
CAS Respondent’s Brief in Opposition – 7/11/16
CAS Reply Brief 9th Cir – 5/14/15
Chrysler Response Brief 9th Cir – 4/30/15
CAS Opening Brief 9th Cir – 3/15/15
Reply in Support of Motion to Intervene – 11/17/14
Reply in Support of Motion to Unseal – 11/17/14
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Intervene – 10/23/14
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Unseal – 10/23/14