Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Schalmo, 2008 Wl 2697248 (Fla. App. 2 Dist. July 11, 2008)

The District Court of Appeal for the Second District in Florida confirmed that, no matter how unpleasant the task, when faced with an issue regarding whether documents are covered by Florida's Sunshine in Litigation Act, § 69.081, the trial court must conduct an in camera inspection of the documents and cannot enter a blanket confidentiality order.

In Goodyear, the tire company refused to produce confidential and trade secrets documents in connection with a products liability lawsuit filed against it by individuals injured when the tire (manufactured by Goodyear) of a motor home separated and caused an accident. Goodyear argued that the Act required the court to conduct an in camera inspection of each of the documents before entering a confidentiality order and requiring production.

Under the Florida Sunshine in Litigation Act

Upon motion and good cause shown by a party attempting to prevent disclosure of information or materials which have not been previously been disclosed, including but not limited to alleged trade secrets, the court shall examine the disputed information or materials in camera. If the court finds that the information or materials or portions thereof consist of information concerning a public hazard or information which may be useful to members of the public in protecting themselves from injury which may result from a public hazard, the court shall allow disclosure of the information or materials. If allowing disclosure, the court shall allow disclosure of only that portion of the information or materials necessary or useful to the public regarding the public hazard.

Goodyear, 2008 WL 2697248, *2 (quoting Fla. Stat. § 69.081(7)). The trial court, concerned about the inability to review and understand voluminous technical documents, developed its own procedure by which it protected all confidential materials through a blanket order and directed the parties to resolve the other issues regarding what would be protected, bringing back to the court only those issues the parties themselves could not resolve. The appellate court found that this procedure violated the judge’s duties to act as the gatekeeper of the Act. Id. at *3.

The appellate court went on to recognize that, although a trial court may still prevent public disclosure of trade secrets, it cannot do so if those alleged trade secrets relate to a public hazard. If the trade secret material is otherwise relevant and discoverable (but not relating to a public hazard), it can be protected by an appropriate confidentiality order.