A federal magistrate judge has ruled that documents possibly subject to a confidentiality agreement in a reinsurance arbitration could not be filed under seal in the federal district court due to the presumption of public access to court documents. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. Randall & Quilter Reinsurance Company, No. 2:07-cv-0120, 2007 WL 2326878 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 10, 2007).

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and Randall & Quilter Reinsurance Company arbitrated a reinsurance dispute, and Nationwide subsequently filed a petition to enforce the arbitration award in federal district court. In response, R&Q sought to file a motion for summary judgment under seal. R&Q requested that the court seal the documents that the parties had exchanged during the arbitration, such as copies of the reinsurance contracts, the transcript of an organizational meeting, and an affidavit concerning payment of the arbitration award.

Nationwide opposed the sealing of the arbitration documents. Nationwide argued that no confidentiality order was entered in the arbitration and, in the alternative, that R&Q had not demonstrated good cause for filing documents under seal given the presumption that all documents filed in court will be open to the public.

The magistrate judge agreed with Nationwide, and ordered that the documents be unsealed. According to the judge, the court is required to balance the public and private interests involved, “with particular emphasis on whether the party seeking to have the documents sealed was able to identify and articulate a specific injury which would occur if the documents were made part of the public domain.” The court further noted that a confidentiality agreement between the parties “is simply one factor in the Court’s calculus and not outcome-determinative.”

The court found that none of the documents at issue would injure R&Q if made public. “In fact, R&Q specifically represents that it is not concerned about any injury to its reputation should any of the documents filed or exchanged during the arbitration find their way into the public domain.” Accordingly, the court concluded that the presumption of public access to court documents outweighed any prejudice to R&Q from the unsealing of the documents.