Saraceni v. M&T Bank Corp., 19-CV-1152

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
Writing for the CourtLAWRENCE J. VILARDO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesCHRISTINE SARACENI, Plaintiff, v. M&T BANK CORPORATION, Defendant.
Docket Number19-CV-1152
Decision Date06 November 2019

CHRISTINE SARACENI, Plaintiff,
v.
M&T BANK CORPORATION, Defendant.

19-CV-1152

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

November 6, 2019


DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

On August 27, 2019, the plaintiff, Christine Saraceni, filed a complaint against the defendant, M&T Bank Corporation ("M&T"), alleging claims under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and for breach of contract. Docket Item 1. On September 25, 2019, Saraceni moved for a preliminary injunction. Docket Item 14.

The following day, M&T moved to seal Exhibit C to Saraceni's motion, Docket Item 16, stating that it had "serious concerns about the public disclosure of" that document, Docket Item 16-1 at 1-2. According to M&T, Exhibit C is "a spreadsheet consisting of names and addresses that . . . was created by Ms. Saraceni in furtherance of her role at M&T and which was specifically designed and intended to encourage those individuals to do banking at M&T." Id. On September 27, 2019, the Court issued a text order temporarily granting M&T's motion to seal "without prejudice to plaintiff's moving to unseal." Docket Item 17.

Later that same day, Saraceni filed a declaration opposing M&T's motion to seal, arguing that sealing Exhibit C was "improper under Second Circuit precedent" and that

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Saraceni would be "highly prejudiced by this sealing order." Docket Item 18 at 2. Saraceni then filed a supplemental declaration, Docket Item 20; M&T responded, Docket Item 21; and Saraceni replied, Docket Item 22. The Court treated Saraceni's declarations as seeking reconsideration of this Court's sealing order. After hearing oral argument, the Court granted Saraceni's request to reconsider and ordered additional briefing. Docket Items 25 and 26.

On October 9, 2019, M&T filed a cross-motion for preliminary injunction, Docket Item 34, and a supplemental motion to seal, Docket Item 32. The supplemental motion to seal identified three1 additional documents, attached as exhibits to M&T's cross-motion, that M&T sought to file under seal. Docket Item 32-1 at 5. On October 16, 2019, Saraceni responded. Docket Item 40. Saraceni agreed that one of the documents that M&T identified—"Copy of June Chairman's Club-Reverse.xlsx"—should be sealed but opposed sealing the other documents. Id. at 4-6. The Court again heard oral argument on October 28, 2019, and reserved decision. Docket Item 48.

LEGAL STANDARD

The standard for deciding a motion to seal depends on "the role of the material at issue in the exercise of Article III judicial power and the resultant value of such information to those monitoring the federal courts." United States v. Amodeo, 71 F.3d 1044, 1049 (2d Cir. 1995). Thus, "a strong presumption of public access" attaches to

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"evidence introduced at trial or in connection with summary judgment." Brown v. Maxwell, 929 F.3d 41, 49 (2d Cir. 2019). The Second Circuit has held that "continued sealing of [such] documents may be justified only with specific, on-the-record findings that sealing is necessary to preserve higher values and only if the sealing order is narrowly tailored to achieve that aim." Id. at 47 (quoting Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 124 (2d Cir. 2006)).

"[T]he presumption of public access in filings submitted in connection with discovery disputes or motions in limine," however, "is generally somewhat lower than the presumption applied to material introduced at trial, or in connection with dispositive motions such as motions for dismissal or summary judgment." Id. at 50. "[W]hile a court must still articulate specific and substantial reasons for sealing such material, the reasons usually need not be as compelling as those required to seal summary judgment filings." Id. This district's Local Rule of Civil Procedure 5.3(a) similarly states that "[e]xcept where restrictions are imposed by statute or rule, there is a presumption that Court documents are accessible to the public and that a substantial showing is necessary to restrict access."

ANALYSIS

The documents at issue here are all exhibits to motions for preliminary injunctions. They therefore do not have the same presumption of access as exhibits filed in support of, or in opposition to, a motion for summary judgment or admitted at trial. Even so, the Court must conduct an individualized review of each document and "articulate specific and substantial reasons for sealing." Brown, 929 F.3d at 50.

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1. "MARKETING LIST.XLS"

The document saved as "Marketing List.xls" is an excel spreadsheet containing a list of names and addresses. The parties generally agree that this list was created by Saraceni during her tenure at M&T for the purpose of sending "Look Who Joined" postcards notifying Saraceni's friends and family of her new employment. See Docket Item 32-2 at 2. After M&T informed Saraceni that her employment would be terminated, she sent two emails attaching the list: one with the subject line "Marketing list," Docket Item 32-3 at 22; Docket Item 32-4 at 11, and the other with the subject line "Referral List," Docket Item 32-3 at 28; Docket Item 32-4 at 8.

The Court finds that there is no substantial reason to seal "Marketing List.xls." While this list may well be M&T's property, there is no reason to believe that it is confidential. It includes only public information—that is, names and addresses. Although M&T claims that some of the individuals on the list are M&T customers, they are not identified as such. And even if the list was used for M&T's business, that does not...

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