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Current Developments in the US District Court for the
Eastern District of New York
Posted: June 7, 2018

Judge Feuerstein Grants Motion To Dismiss Where Plaintiffs Failed To Take Timely Steps To Identify Jane Doe Defendant

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

District Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein dismissed an action against a Jane Doe defendant after finding that plaintiffs failed to take reasonable steps to discover the identity of the Jane Doe defendant. The Court held that “while courts ‘typically resist dismissing suits against John Doe defendants until the plaintiff has had some opportunity for discovery to learn the identities of responsible officials’”, plaintiffs must be reasonably diligent and timely in identifying the unnamed defendant. Conley v. Copiague Union Free Sch. Dist., 16-cv-4546 (E.D.N.Y. June 4, 2018) (SJF) (AYS).

In this case, Plaintiffs – a student and his father – initially sued the Copiague Union Free School District (the “District) alleging civil rights violations. Plaintiffs’ claims arose from alleged “racially charged statements made to [the student] by an unidentified ‘school nurse’”.

The Court had previously dismissed the claim against the District itself, but allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint to allege claims solely against the unidentified school nurse (the Jane Doe 2 defendant). Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that Jane Doe had not received sufficient notice of the action as she had not been identified and that plaintiffs had two years to identify the Jane Doe.

The Court agreed:

It is beyond dispute that “[u]sing ‘Doe’ in place of specifically naming a defendant does not serve to sufficiently identify the defendant.” Kearse v. Lincoln Hosp. , No. 07–CV–4730, 2009 WL 1706554, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 17, 2009); Cruz v. City of New York, 232 F. Supp. 3d 438, 448 (S.D.N.Y. 2017). In addition, while courts “typically resist dismissing suits against John Doe defendants until the plaintiff has had some opportunity for discovery to learn the identities of responsible officials . . . [w]here a plaintiff has had ample time to identify a John Doe defendant but gives no indication that he has made any effort to discover the [defendant’s] name, . . . the plaintiff simply cannot continue to maintain a suit against the John Doe defendant.” Cruz, 232 F. Supp. 3d at 448 (internal citation omitted); see Harewood v. City of New York, No. 09-CV-2874, 2012 WL 12884356, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 10, 2012) (same); Coward v. Town & Vill. of Harrison, 665 F. Supp. 2d 281, 300 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (same); see also Abreu v. City of New York, 657 F. Supp. 2d 357, 363 (E.D.N.Y. 2009) (“Where a plaintiff names ‘John Doe’ as a placeholder defendant because he does not know the identity of an individual defendant, he generally is required to replace the placeholder with a named party within the applicable statute of limitations period.”).

The underlying incident giving rise to this matter occurred on May 19, 2015, see generally Am. Compl., the initial Complaint was filed on August 15, 2016. See Compl. Thus, Plaintiffs have had over three years from time of the incident and almost two years from the time the Complaint was filed to exercise due diligence in order to ascertain the identity of Jane Doe 2. Despite this significant passage of time, the docket does not reflect nor do Plaintiffs assert that any affirmative steps were taken to attempt to ascertain the identity of Jane Doe 2 during the intervening period. Indeed, although Plaintiffs have indicated that they would file a motion to compel in order to obtain the necessary materials to unearth Jane Doe 2’s identity, see Pls.’ Opp’n at 9, to date, no such motion has been filed. However, it is Plaintiffs’ burden to take reasonable steps to discover the identity of a Jane Doe defendant. See Kearse, 2009 WL 1706554, at *3 (recognizing that it is plaintiff who must take steps to identify a John Doe defendant); Reed v. Doe, No. 9:11-CV-250, 2015 WL 902795, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 3, 2015) (“plaintiff was directed to take reasonable steps to ascertain the identity of defendant John Doe” and was warned that “failure to ascertain the identity of Defendant John Doe # 1 will result in the dismissal of this action”); see also Doe v. New York, 97 F. Supp. 3d 5, 19 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (considering viability of relation back doctrine as set forth in CPLR § 1024 to § 1983 claim, recognizing that due diligence within the meaning of CPLR § 1024 “requires that a plaintiff show that he or she made timely efforts to identify the correct party before the statute of limitations expired,” and concluding that “plaintiff cannot satisfy that [ ] requirement, as he failed to act with due diligence in identifying the John Doe Defendants prior to the filing of the Third Amended Complaint”).” Moreover, discovery has not been stayed in this matter pending the Court’s determination of either the instant motion or Defendant’s previously adjudicated motion to dismiss. Thus, Plaintiffs have had an ample opportunity to make full use of the discovery devices set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as well as any other alternative means in order to ferret out Jane Doe 2’s identity. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs failed to act.

In light of the fact that Plaintiffs have failed to present the Court with (1) reasonable efforts made to discover Jane Doe 2’s identity or (2) good cause for this failure, their suit against the Jane Doe 2 defendant cannot be maintained. See Watkins v. Doe, No. 04–CV–0138, 2006 WL 648022, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 14, 2006) (dismissing without prejudice claims against “John Doe” defendants where “despite having the full opportunity to conduct discovery, plaintiff has not yet identified and served [those] defendants . . . within 120 days of filing the complaint . . . [and] has not sought an extension of the time allowed”); Harewood, 2012 WL 12884356, at *2 (Harewood has had ample time since filing his complaint in July 2009 to identify John Doe . . . [and] [t]here is nothing in the record to show that Harewood has expended any effort to discover the defendant’s identity. Accordingly, Harewood’s claims against John Doe are dismissed.”); United States v. Callard, No. 11-CV-4819, 2013 WL 6173798, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 19, 2013) (denying plaintiff’s request to reinstate fictitious parties as defendants where “[p]laintiff has not demonstrated that it has determined or attempted to determine the identities of ‘XYZ Corporation’ or ‘John Does # 1–10,’” after being given a sufficient opportunity to do so).

Conley v. Copiague Union Free Sch. Dist., 16-cv-4546 (E.D.N.Y. June 4, 2018) (SJF) (AYS).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: May 11, 2018

Judge Hurley Continues Sua Sponte Dismissals Of Cases Involving LLCs That Fail To Properly Plead Diversity Jurisdiction

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

We previously wrote about District Judge Denis R. Hurley’s sua sponte dismissal of cases involving LLCs that fail to properly plead diversity jurisdiction. Judge Hurley has recently dismissed yet another case involving an LLC for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Encompass Group, LLC v. Oceanside Inst’l Indus., Inc., 16-cv-2560 (E.D.N.Y May 3, 2018) (DRH) (AYS).

(As explained in our previous post, the citizenship of an LLC is determined based on the citizenship of its members – unlike traditional corporations where citizenship is based on the principal place of business and state of incorporation. However, many attorneys assume that diversity jurisdiction exists based on the LLC’s state of organization and principal place of business, resulting in cases where jurisdiction is improperly pled or nonexistent.)

The anecdotal tally of Judge Hurley’s effort to establish jurisdictional order in his Court (at least three dismissals of LLC cases since early April) suggests that the overall number of such cases in the federal court system may be quite high. Indeed, it is the view of the author that this problem will not be resolved absent legislative change in how LLCs are treated for diversity purposes or, at least, a change in the “civil cover sheet” that accounts for the citizenship requirements of LLCs.

In this most recent case, Judge Hurley explained that “[t]his case is but just one of the numerous cases filed in this Court in which diversity jurisdiction is not properly alleged.” The Court noted that “the problem is such that this Court has, in the past year, issued numerous orders to show cause pointing out the deficiencies in a pleading’s jurisdictional allegations and directing that the relevant party show cause why the action should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.”

The case at issue had been filed almost two years ago and discovery was complete. Apparently, while reviewing the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the Court recognized that the plaintiff had failed to properly plead diversity jurisdiction.

[T]he Court issued the following Order to Show Cause on April 13, 2018:

“In connection with the pending motion for summary judgment, it has come to the Court’s attention that subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship is not properly alleged in this matter. According to the Complaint ‘[Plaintiff] Encompass is a limited liability company organized and existing under the laws of State of Delaware and maintains a principal place of business at 615 Macon Street, McDonough, Georgia 30253.’ However, the citizenship of a limited liability company (LLC) is determined by the citizenship of each of its members. See, e.g., Bayerische Landesbank, New York Branch v. Aladdin Capital Management LLC, 692 F.3d 42, 49 (2d Cir. 2012); Handelsman v. Bedford Vill. Assocs. Ltd Pship, 213 F.3d 48, 51-52 (2d Cir. 2000). . . . Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT Plaintiff file an amended complaint, on or before May 1, 2018, setting forth the citizenship of each of its members.”
. . .
Encompass has not taken advantage of the opportunity afforded it to amend its complaint to correctly assert its citizenship for diversity purposes. Accordingly, based on the record before the Court, this action must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Encompass Group, LLC v. Oceanside Inst’l Indus., Inc., 16-cv-2560 (E.D.N.Y May 3, 2018) (DRH) (AYS).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: May 10, 2018

Judge Garaufis denies insurer’s motion to dismiss in lawsuit involving “ordinary traffic accident with an international twist”

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis denied an insurer’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought directly by a plaintiff against the insurer of a vehicle that belonged to the Principality of Monaco. The Court ruled that the lawsuit was proper under the Diplomatic Relations Act of 1978, despite the fact that plaintiffs typically may not bring a direct lawsuit against the insurer of an alleged tortfeasor. Green v. First Liberty Insurance Corporation, 17-cv-6975 (E.D.N.Y May 8, 2018) (NGG)(CLP).

Plaintiff in this case alleged injuries resulting from a traffic accident that involved a jeep owned by Monaco and alleged driven by a member of the Monegasque mission. Plaintiff sued the jeep’s insurer directly in order to bypass the diplomatic immunities available to the registrant and driver of the jeep. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff improperly brought a direct action against the insurer. The Court denied the motion – explaining the history of the Diplomatic Relations Act and holding that it provided for a direct action against the insurer in this case.

Under the common law, a tort victim had no right of action against a tortfeasor’s liability insurer, because the two were not in privity of contract. Lang v. Hanover Ins. Co., 820 N.E.2d 855, 857 (N.Y. 2004); 7A Steven Plitt et al., Couch on Insurance § 104:2 (3d ed. updated 2017). Consistent with this common-law rule, most states prohibit a party injured in a traffic accident from bringing suit solely and directly against the alleged tortfeasor’s liability insurer. 13F Charles A. Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 3629, at 186 n.4 (3d ed. 2009). Some states—among them New York—have softened this prohibition on direct actions by permitting a tort victim to sue the alleged tortfeasor’s liability insurer, provided that, among other things, the victim first obtains a judgment against the tortfeasor. N.Y. Ins. Law § 3420; see also, e.g., Md. Code., Ins. § 19-102(b)(2); Va. Code § 38.2-2200(2).

These rules had unfortunate consequences for Americans injured in domestic traffic accidents with foreign diplomats. After such accidents, these victims were often left without legal recourse. As a diplomat, the actual tortfeasor could claim immunity from suit. See Windsor v. State Farm Ins. Co., 509 F. Supp. 342, 344 (D.D.C. 1981); Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities: Hearings Before the Subcomm. on Int’l Operations of the House Comm. on Int’l Relations, 95th Cong, 1st Sess., at 3, 5-6 (1977) (hereinafter Diplomatic Privileges Hearings) (statement of Rep. Fisher). Even if the plaintiff could bring a direct action against the diplomat’s liability insurer, the insurer could escape liability by asserting the insured’s diplomatic immunity as a defense to the suit. S. Rep. 95-1108, at 3 (1978) (statement of Sen. Mathias).

Partly to address “the inequities associated with the immunity of members of diplomatic missions in civil court proceedings, “Congress enacted the Diplomatic Relations Act, which substantially revised the law of diplomatic immunity. Rodriguez v. Hanover Ins. Co., No. 14- CV-1478 (GJH), 2014 WL 3405258, at *3 (D. Md. July 9,2014) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Windsor, 509 F. Supp. at 343; S. Rep. No. 95-958, at 1 (1978). Three provisions of the Diplomatic Relations Act are relevant to this lawsuit. See Rodriguez, 2014 WL 3405258, at *3. The first, Section 5 (codified at 22 U.S.C. § 254d), “continues the long-standing concept of diplomatic immunity by providing for the dismissal of any action or proceedings brought against an individual entitled to such protection” under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18,1961, 23 U.S.T. 3227 (entered into force with respect to the U.S. Dec. 13,1972), the Diplomatic Relations Act itself, or any other laws extending diplomatic immunity or privileges. Windsor, 509 F. Supp. at 344. The second. Section 6 (codified at 22 U.S.C. § 254e), requires diplomatic missions in the United States, members of those missions, and members’ families to maintain adequate liability insurance against the risks of bodily injury, death, and property damage arising from their use of motor vehicles, vessels, or aircraft in the United States. See generally 22 C.F.R. §§ 151.11-151.11 (implementing this provision). The third. Section 7 (codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1364), provides that someone injured by certain diplomatic personnel—namely, a member of a diplomatic mission, a senior United Nations official, or a family member of either—can sue the alleged tortfeasor’s liability insurer directly in federal court, and that such a suit is tried without a jury and is not subject to the defense that the insured is protected by diplomatic immunity. By requiring individuals who are likely to be entitled to diplomatic immunity to maintain liability insurance and permitting tort victims to bring direct actions against those individuals’ insurers. Sections 6 and 7 of the Diplomatic Relations Act provide an effective remedy for Americans injured by foreign diplomatic personnel. Windsor, 509 F. Supp. at 345.
. . .
Subsection 7(a) of the Diplomatic Relations Act provides that federal courts may hear tort suits brought directly against the insurers of certain diplomatic personnel and their families. In full, this subsection reads as follows:
The district courts shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction, without regard to the amount in controversy, of any civil action commenced by any person against an insurer who by contract has insured an individual, who is, or was at the time of the tortious act or omission, a member of a mission (within the meaning of section 2(3) of the Diplomatic Relations Act (22 U.S.C. [§] 254a(3))) or a member of the family of such a member of a mission, or an individual described in section 19 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of February .13,1946, against liability for personal injury, death, or damage to property.
28 U.S.C. § 1364(a).

Plaintiff’s allegations easily satisfy Section 7. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant insured the Jeep that crashed into her car (Compl. 2, 6-7), and Defendant concedes not only that it insured the Jeep, but also that it therefore insured the party or parties allegedly responsible for the accident (Answer (Dkt. 6); Def. Mem. at 1). As the head of Monaco’s mission to the United Nations, [the registrant of the vehicle] was a “member” of that mission for purposes of the Diplomatic Relations Act. See 22 U.S.C. § 254a(l)(A). Furthermore, Plaintiff’s allegation that [the driver] worked for the mission (Compl. 6) is sufficient, at least at this stage of the litigation, to allege that he was a “member” of the mission under the Diplomatic Relations Act, which defines that term to include not only the mission’s diplomatic staff, but also its administrative, technical, and service staff. 22 U.S.C. § 254a(l)(A)-(C); see Rodriguez, 2014 WL 3405258, at *3. Defendant thus wisely concedes that “the alleged tortfeasors”—presumably both [the registrant] and [the driver]—“fall within the definitions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 254a.” (Def. Mem. at 11.)

Green v. First Liberty Insurance Corporation, 17-cv-6975 (E.D.N.Y May 8, 2018) (NGG)(CLP).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: April 17, 2018

Judge Hurley Sua Sponte Dismisses Two Cases Involving LLCs For Failure to Allege Diversity Jurisdiction

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

District Judge Denis R. Hurley sua sponte dismissed two cases in as many days where plaintiffs failed to properly allege diversity jurisdiction in cases involving LLCs. Courtyard Apartments Property 1, LLC, v. Rosenblum, 17-cv-2909 (E.D.N.Y April 3, 2018) (DRH) (SIL); Sienna Ventures, LLC v. Halley Equipment Leasing, LLC, 18-cv-201 (E.D.N.Y April 2, 2018) (DRH) (GRB).

A bit of background: Establishing diversity jurisdiction for an LLC can be tricky because the citizenship of an LLC is determined by the citizenship of all of its members. (Indeed, LLCs with sizeable membership interests will often be ineligible for diversity jurisdiction.) Problem is, many attorneys instinctively think of citizenship in terms of principal place of business and state of organization of the LLC, which are not relevant – unlike traditional incorporated entities where place of business and incorporation determine citizenship. This has led to no shortage of “oops” cases where the parties or the courts realize deep into litigation that there is no subject matter jurisdiction.

Diligent federal judges and clerks have tackled the issue by proactively reviewing jurisdictional pleadings involving LLCs and sua sponte directing litigants to address jurisdictional defects at the outset of the case. Judge Hurley recently dismissed two such cases.

In Courtyard Apartments Property 1, LLC, v. Rosenblum, Judge Hurley, sua sponte, issued an order directing plaintiffs to explain the basis for subject matter jurisdiction, and citing caselaw that “A complaint premised upon diversity of citizenship must allege the citizenship of natural persons who are members of a limited liability company and the place of incorporation and principal place of business of any corporate entities who are members of the limited liability company.”

In accordance with its obligation to ensure that subject matter jurisdiction exists, on January 25, 2018, this Court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause in writing why the action should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On February 7, 2018, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, which again failed to address the citizenship of all of either Plaintiffs’ or Defendants’ members. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Rosenblum “formed, and solely owned, or controlled as Managing Member” the corporate defendants. (Amended Complaint ¶ 12.) Plaintiffs make no other allegations concerning the citizenship of Defendants’ members, nor do Plaintiffs distinguish between which of the defendant corporations Rosenblum solely owned and which he just controlled.
. . .
The citizenship of a limited liability company (“LLC”) is determined by the citizenship of each of its members. See, e.g., Bayerische Landesbank, New York Branch v. Aladdin Capital Management LLC, 692 F.3d 42, 49 (2d Cir. 2012); Handelsman v. Bedford Vill. Assocs. Ltd P’ship, 213 F.3d 48, 51–52 (2d Cir. 2000). “A complaint premised upon diversity of citizenship must allege the citizenship of natural persons who are members of a limited liability company and the place of incorporation and principal place of business of any corporate entities who are members of the limited liability company.” New Millennium Capital Partners, III, LLC v. Juniper Grp. Inc., 2010 WL 1257325, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2010), (citing Handelsman, 213 F.3d at 51–52)); Bishop v. Toys “R” Us-NY LLC, 414 F. Supp.2d 385, 389 n.1 (S.D.N.Y. 2006), aff’d, 385 Fed. App’x 38 (2d Cir. 2010).

When viewed against the foregoing principles, diversity jurisdiction has not been properly pled in this case as there are numerous fatal shortcomings in the Amended Complaint that are neither adequately addressed nor remedied by the Response to the Order to Show Cause. First, Plaintiffs make a blanket statement that each of the sixteen Plaintiffs are limited liability companies “with its same natural citizen sole owner and same principal place of business and residential address [] listed as follows[.]” (Amended Compl. ¶ 9.) The Court is unpersuaded that this is sufficient to allege citizenship of each of the members of the sixteen limited liability companies. Moreover, Plaintiffs have failed to even allege the members, let alone the members’ citizenship, of certain of the Plaintiffs such as those of the David J. Keudell Revocable Trust. See Amerigold Logistics, LLC v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 136 S. Cit. 1012, 1016–17 (2016) (explaining that for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, a trust as an unincorporated entity “possesses the citizenship of all of its members”). This shortcoming alone is fatal to diversity jurisdiction, however, there are also significant issues with Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the citizenship of all Defendants.

As noted above, Plaintiffs make no allegations concerning the citizenship of each of the Defendants’ members, relying on confusing statements about Defendant Rosenblum’s involvement in the companies. Reference is also made to other non-defendants who apparently have or had some stake in the Defendant companies at some point in time.
. . .
While Plaintiffs ask that the Court provide guidance or further directive as to its Order to Show Cause, the Court declines to do so here. Plaintiffs have had three proverbial “bites at the apple” to properly allege subject matter jurisdiction; in the Complaint, the Amended Complaint, and the Response to the Order to Show Cause. Plaintiffs have failed to do so on all occasions. It is not the Court’s responsibility to do research for Plaintiffs’ counsel on how to properly allege subject matter jurisdiction.

Courtyard Apartments Property 1, LLC, v. Rosenblum, 17-cv-2909 (E.D.N.Y April 3, 2018) (DRH) (SIL)

Similarly, in Sienna Ventures, LLC v. Halley Equipment Leasing, LLC, the court issued a sua sponte directive for the plaintiff to fill in the jurisdictional blanks or have the case dismissed. However, plaintiff’s response failed to identify the members of defendant’s LLC and their citizenship. The court dismissed the action.

Plaintiff responded to the Court’s order to show cause by letter, which alleges simply that “subject matter jurisdiction exists in this case as Sienna Ventures, LLC [] is a New York Limited Liability Company and its sole member is a citizen and resident of New York, and Halley Equipment Leasing, LLC [] is a Texas Limited Liability Company.” Plaintiff makes no other allegations concerning the residency or citizenship of Defendant’s members. Thus, as explained below, the case is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Sienna Ventures, LLC v. Halley Equipment Leasing, LLC, 18-cv-201 (E.D.N.Y April 2, 2018) (DRH) (GRB).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: April 11, 2018

Judge Garaufis Denies Motion to Dismiss and Holds that Taiwan is Not bound to Warsaw Convention despite China’s Accession to the Treaty

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

In a case of first impression in the Second Circuit, District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis held that China’s agreement to join the Warsaw Convention does not apply to a dispute involving spoiled cherries shipped from Chile to Taiwan. Allianz Global Risks US Ins. Co. v. Latam Cargo USA, LLC, et al., (E.D.N.Y Mar. 31, 2018) 16-CV-6217 (NGG) (ST).

The lawsuit was brought against a number of cargo transporters, alleging that a shipment of fresh cherries arrived spoiled in Taiwan. The fresh cherries were allegedly delayed in transit after taking a circuitous route and “‘stored for a substantial period of time to the detriment of the fruit.’”

The Warsaw Convention, as amended by the Hague Protocol, governs, among other things, the international carriage by air of cargo. The Court explained that if the Warsaw Convention applied to the dispute then there would be no subject matter jurisdiction. This is because the Warsaw Convention has specific requirements where a suit could be brought based on the carriers’ locations and destination of the shipment – none of which were in the United States.

However, the parties disputed whether Taiwan is bound to Warsaw Convention in the first instance:

Defendants contend that because China acceded to the Warsaw Convention, so did Taiwan. (Cathay Mem. at 6; LAN-Latam. Mem. at 2.) China’s instrument of accession to the Warsaw Convention states “The Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the Chinese People. The [Warsaw] Convention to which the Government of the People’s Republic of China adhere shall of course apply to the entire Chinese territory including Taiwan.” Warsaw Convention, Reference 10. Defendants thus argue that, as a result of China’s accession to the Warsaw Convention, Taiwan is a signatory to the Convention, and thus that the shipment in question falls within the scope of the Convention.

Defendants are mistaken, however, about Taiwan being bound by the Warsaw convention. Although the Second Circuit does not appear to have ruled on the issue, the majority of case law supports the position that Taiwan is not bound by the Warsaw Convention.

In Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co. v. Northwest Airlines, 796 F. Supp. 1188 (E.D. Wis. 1992), the District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin held that Taiwan was part of China, and thus that China’s status as a High Contracting Party to the Convention rendered Taiwan bound by the Convention. Id. at 1190-91. This ruling, however, was questioned by the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which stated that “[t]he reasoning in Atlantic Mutual was flawed …. The United States’s recognition of mainland China and derecognition of Taiwan has not had the effect in any legal or practical sense of accepting the PRC’s territorial claim to Taiwan.” Schwinn Plan Comm. v. AFS Cycle & Co., Ltd. (In re Schwinn Bicycle Co.) . 190 B.R. 599,611 (Bankr. N.D. Ill. 1995). Further, the Schwinn Plan Committee court held that “the question of what government is representative of a foreign state is one to be determined by the Executive Branch and is beyond the purview of judicial review. By analogy, it would be beyond a court’s authority to decide … that Taiwan has tacitly been recognized by the United States as a party to any treaty signed by the PRC.” Id. at 612.

Taiwan’s status with regard to the Warsaw Convention then was brought before the Ninth Circuit, which in Mingtai Fire & Marine Insurance Co. v. UPS, 177 F .3d 1142 (9th Cir. 1999) (“Mingtai Fire”), followed in the footsteps of Schwinn Plan Committee. The Ninth Circuit stated that “the Constitution commits to the Executive Branch alone the authority to recognize, and to withdraw recognition from, foreign regimes.” Id. at 1145. The court also then addressed the Taiwan Relations Act, and stated that “despite the absence of official relations, the United States continues to deal separately with Taiwan,” and the Taiwan Relations Act “gave no indication that existing or future agreements with the newly recognized China would be binding upon Taiwan.” Id. at 1146. Indeed, the Executive Branch had expressly stated its position, which was entitled to substantial deference, that the Warsaw Convention did not bind Taiwan. Id. at 1146- 47. Thus, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Warsaw Convention does not apply to Taiwan.

Other courts in the Ninth Circuit have followed Mingtai Fire without criticism. See, e.g., Am. IC Exch., Inc. v. Fed. Express Corp., 185 F.3d 865, 1999 WL 391000, at *l (9th Cir. 1999) (memorandum disposition) (“Taiwan is not bound by the Warsaw Convention …. “); In re Extradition of Coe, 261 F. Supp. 2d 1203, 1209 (C.D. Cal. 2003); In re Air Crash at Taipei, 211 F.R.D. 374, 380 (C.D. Cal 2002) (holding that Taiwan is not party to the International Civil Aviation Organization, and citing Mingtai Fire’s holding on the Warsaw Convention as precedent).

Because the Second Circuit has not addressed Taiwan’s status under the Warsaw Convention, this court is guided by the reasoning of other courts that have addressed the issue. The court finds persuasive the Ninth Circuit’s thorough discussion and explanation of why Taiwan is not bound by the Warsaw Convention. Mingtai Fire, 177 F.3d at 1145-47. The court knows of no reason to believe that the Executive Branch has changed its position that Taiwan is not bound by China’s accession to the Warsaw Convention. See Br. for the United States as Amicus Curiae, Mingtai Fire, 177 F.3d at 142 (No. 98-15088), available at https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/65731.pdf. In addition, the court notes that Taiwan has not considered itself bound by the Warsaw convention. See Coordination Council for N. Am. Affairs v. Nw. Airlines, 891 F. Supp. 4, 8 (D.D.C. 1995).

For the foregoing reasons, in this court’s view, Taiwan is not bound by the Warsaw Convention.

Allianz Global Risks US Ins. Co. v. Latam Cargo USA, LLC, et al., (E.D.N.Y Mar. 31, 2018) 16-CV-6217 (NGG) (ST).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: March 12, 2018

Judge Ross Dismisses Personal Injury Claim against Airline as time-barred under Montreal Convention

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

District Judge Allyne R. Ross recently dismissed a personal injury case against Pakistan International Airlines, holding that the time limitations under the Montreal Convention is not subject to tolling under New York law – even if New York law might otherwise apply to calculating the time period. Mughal v. Pakistan Int’l Airlines, 14-cv-2505 (E.D.N.Y Feb. 28, 2018) (ARR) (SMG).

Plaintiff claimed that he slipped and fell in the airline’s transit lounge during a stopover in Lahore, Pakistan. The action is governed by the Montreal Convention, which is the modern successor to the Warsaw Convention governing liability for injuries to passengers during international commercial flights, as well as during embarking or disembarking.

The action was brought after the two year period for bringing such claims under the Montreal Convention. However, plaintiff argued that plaintiff’s brain injury tolled the time limitation under New York’s tolling statutes. The Court, however, held that the time limitation under the Montreal Convention is not subject to tolling, even if New York law would otherwise apply to calculation of the limitations period.

Article 35 of the Montreal Convention provides that “[t]he right to damages shall be extinguished if an action is not brought within a period of two years, reckoned from the date of arrival at the destination, or the date on which the aircraft ought to have arrive, or from the date on which the carriage stopped.” Article 35 further specifies that “[t]he method of calculating that period shall be determined by the law of the court sei[z]ed of the case.” Under New York Law, an action is commenced by filing of a summons and complaint. See N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 304(a). Plaintiff does not contest that he filed his initial complaint more than two years after his transportation ended. See Pl.’s Opp’n 1. Rather, plaintiff contends that the limitations period should be tolled because he had a brain injury that, he argues, provides grounds to extend the statute of limitations under New York law. See id. (citing N.Y. C.P.L.R. §§ 208, 1201).

Plaintiff’s argument fails as a matter of law, because the Montreal Convention’s two-year time bar is a condition precedent to bringing suit and is not subject to tolling. Ireland, 20 F. Supp. 3d at 345 (holding that “the limitation provision in Article 35 creates a condition precedent to suit, rather than a statute of limitations, and is therefore not subject to tolling”); Mateo, 847 F. Supp. 2d at 387 (“This limitations period ‘constitutes a condition precedent—an absolute bar—to bringing suit.’” (quoting American Home Assur. Co. v. Kuehne & Nagel (AG & Co.) KG, 544 F. Supp. 2d 261, 263 (S.D.N.Y. 2008))); see also Fishman by Fishman v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 132 F.3d 138, 143 (2d Cir. 1998) (holding that the two-year time limitation in Article 29 of the Warsaw Convention was a “condition precedent to suit . . . that is often deemed not subject to tolling”).

Mughal v. Pakistan Int’l Airlines, 14-cv-2505 (E.D.N.Y Feb. 28, 2018) (ARR) (SMG).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: March 5, 2018

Judge Korman Grants Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Action to Enforce Settlement of Prior Federal ERISA Lawsuit

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

It is often advisable when a case is settled to have the same court retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement in the event of a breach. However, as illustrated in a decision last week by District Judge Edward R. Korman*, the enforcement of a settlement agreement is a new federal action that must have its own jurisdictional basis, and even a stipulation by the parties that the court will retain jurisdiction will not create jurisdiction if it was not “So-Ordered” by the court at the time of the dismissal of the original action. Masino v. Persico Contracting & Trucking, Inc., 11-CV-4596 (E.D.N.Y Feb. 28, 2018) (ERK) (ST).

The underlying dispute in this case involved a federal ERISA action to collect allegedly delinquent contributions owed under a collective bargaining agreement. In 2010, the parties entered into a written settlement agreement that required a $350,000 payment. Once the court in the original action was notified of the settlement, the court closed the action. The parties subsequently filed a stipulation of dismissal that provided that “[t]his Court retains jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement between the parties.” But the stipulation was neither signed nor “So Ordered” by the court.

In 2011, the plaintiffs sued for breach of the settlement agreement, for the amounts due under the settlement and previously owed as contributions. Plaintiffs also added defendants under an ERISA alter ego theory.

In 2015, after the discovery was apparently completed, defendants moved to dismiss for lack of the subject matter jurisdiction in that the action was a mere breach of contract claim by non-diverse parties, and it was no longer an ERISA action that would have provided federal question jurisdiction. The Court agreed, holding in the first instance that the alter ego claims are theories of recovery, not independent causes of action, and that the underlying action on the alter ego claim is the enforcement of the settlement agreement. Given that the enforcement of the settlement agreement was a non-diverse state law action, there was no subject matter jurisdiction despite the fact that the amount in dispute was originally based on an ERISA claim.

In Plaintiffs’ Third Claim for Relief, they allege that by failing to pay them the amount agreed to under the Settlement Agreement, “Persico Contracting is in breach of the settlement agreement and owes the Plaintiff $350,000.” (Compl. ¶ 58.) Plaintiff has alleged a simple contract claim. Contract disputes are generally determined under state law, not federal law. See Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc., 396 F.3d at 138–39 (state law applicable to determine “contract action” for reimbursement of insurance benefits); Becker, 454 F. Supp. at 870 (state law applicable to enforce contract to provide services to children and families eligible for Social Security benefits); Rosenberg v. Inner City Broadcasting Corp., 99 Civ. 9579, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13192, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 30, 2001) (applying New York law to enforce settlement agreement); Arthur v. U.S. Merchandise Inc., NO 05-CV-0958, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63885, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2007) (applying New York law to enforce settlement agreement). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Third Claim for Relief does not arise under federal law. See Empire Healthchoice Assurance, Inc., 396 F.3d at 138 (affirming dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction where plaintiff’s only sought reimbursement of health benefits pursuant to healthcare plan established under Federal Employees Health Benefits Act); Becker, 454 F. Supp. at 868–70 (dismissing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction a breach of contract suit to provide services under the Social Security Act).
. . .
“[A] district court [does] not have jurisdiction to enforce a settlement, after a case had been dismissed, where the court had not manifested an intent to retain jurisdiction or made the agreement part of its order of dismissal.” Scelsa v. City Univ. of New York, 76 F.3d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1996) (affirming lower court dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction where court had not expressly retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement); State Street House, Inc. v. New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 75 Fed. App’x 807, 810 (2d Cir. 2003). As the Second Circuit has explained, “the Supreme Court [has] held that enforcement of a settlement agreement is more than just a continuation or renewal of the dismissed suit, and hence requires its own basis for jurisdiction.” Scelsa, 76 F.3d at 40 (quoting Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 378) (internal quotation marks omitted). “In the absence of such an independent basis for jurisdiction, a federal court has jurisdiction to enforce a settlement agreement only if the dismissal order specifically reserves such authority or the order incorporates the terms of the settlement.” Id. (citing Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 381). A district court’s retention of jurisdiction must be express; “[t]he judge’s mere awareness and approval of the terms of the settlement agreement do not suffice to make them part of his order.” Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 381. Otherwise, “enforcement of a settlement agreement is for the state courts.” Scelsa, 76 F.3d at 40 (citing Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 381). Here, neither the dismissal order in the 2008 nor the 2010 Litigation made any mention of retaining jurisdiction for any reason; nor was there any mention of incorporating the Settlement Agreement or any term therein into the dismissal order. (08-cv-3561 (E.D.N.Y.); 10-cv-1648 (E.D.N.Y.), ECF No. 24.) The Stipulation of Dismissal in the 2008 Litigation provided for Judge Azrack to So Order it; but she did not do so. (Stip. and Order of Dismissal 2, 08-cv-3561 (E.D.N.Y.), ECF No. 45.) Accordingly, the terms of the Stipulation, including the provision that “[t]his Court retains jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement between the parties[,]” (Stip. and Order of Dismissal ¶ 2, 08-cv-3561 (E.D.N.Y.), ECF No. 45), were not incorporated into the dismissal order. And the presence of that provision does not create jurisdiction because subject matter jurisdiction cannot be created by agreement, consent, or any other act of a party. Ins. Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982). The Court has to expressly retain jurisdiction. The Court did not do so here.

Masino v. Persico Contracting & Trucking, Inc., 11-CV-4596 (E.D.N.Y Feb. 28, 2018) (ERK) (ST).

*Judge Korman noted that the case was reassigned to him after the recent passing of Judge Sandra L. Townes, and that he received the initial draft of the decision from Judge Towne’s Chambers.

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: February 20, 2018

Judge Bianco Dismisses Action For Improper Venue Based On Forum Selection Clause That designated “The Courts Of The State Of New York” As Venue

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

A recent decision by District Judge Joseph F. Bianco offers a reminder that the right to exercise federal jurisdiction can be contractually waived in a forum selection clause. (Wiest Int’l, GMBH v. Zobel, 17-CV-6722 (E.D.N.Y Feb. 6, 2018) (JFB) (GRB)).

Forum selection clauses – typically not the focus of great attention when parties negotiate an agreement – can result in a waiver of the right to bring an action in federal court. These clauses often are drafted to restrict venue geographically, e.g., requiring lawsuits to be maintained in the “courts within the State of . . .” – which could include both federal and state courts within that location. But such clauses can also be drafted to restrict venue to a specific state court, as occurred in this case.

In this action for breach of an operating agreement and other claims, defendant moved to dismiss for improper venue based on a forum selection clause that read as follows: “The parties and members designate the courts of the State of New York, County of Suffolk as the venue to resolve any disputes that may arise among them[.]” (Emphasis added).

The Court held that such a designation is mandatory and that the language “courts of the State of New York” required that the lawsuit be pursued in state court:

As an initial matter, the parties dispute whether the forum selection clause sets venue in this Court. Specifically, plaintiff asserts that the phrase “courts of the State of New York, County of Suffolk” should be read to include a federal court located in Suffolk County. Well-established precedent forecloses plaintiff’s argument. See, e.g., Dart Mech. Corp. v. Johnson Controls, Inc., No. 13-CV-2941JS WDW, 2013 WL 5937424, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 4, 2013) (“The language, ‘Courts of the State of New York,’ sets venue in New York State courts.”); Phoenix Glob. Ventures, Inc. v. Phoenix Hotel Assocs., Ltd., No. 04–CV– 4991, 2004 WL 2360033, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 19, 2004), aff’d, 422 F.3d 72 (2d Cir. 2005) (“The language, ‘[a]ny proceeding shall be initiated in the courts of the State of New York,’ clearly establishes exclusive jurisdiction in New York state courts.”); Rogen v. Memry Corp., 886 F. Supp. 393, 396 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (“The use of the word ‘of’ and the phrase ‘State of’ is sufficiently specific and unambiguous to require that actions regarding the Agreement be litigated in New York State court.”). Thus, the Court concludes that the forum selection clause does not set venue in this Court.
. . .
Here, the forum selection clause provides that the parties “designate the courts of the State of New York, County of Suffolk as the venue to resolve any disputes” between them. (Pl’s Br. Ex. A at 22 (emphasis added).) The Court concludes that the clause is mandatory because it “designates” a specific venue— state court in Suffolk County—as “the” venue to resolve disputes among them. The mandatory force of the word “designates” and the use of the word “the” before venue support this conclusion. In other words, the forum selection clause conveys the clear intent to confer exclusive jurisdiction on state courts in Suffolk County, and is not broad or general enough to contemplate other venues.

(Wiest Int’l, GMBH v. Zobel, 17-CV-6722 (E.D.N.Y Feb. 6, 2018) (JFB) (GRB)).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: February 16, 2018

Magistrate Judge Orenstein Denies Government Motion to Bar Subpoena Recipient From Disclosing Existence of Subpoena And Directs That Future Requests To Seal Such Motions Be Of Limited Duration

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Magistrate Judge James Orenstein continues his series of influential rulings on electronic surveillance and evidence gathering. (In re Grand Jury Subpoena, 18-MC-0334 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2018) (JO)). In this recent ruling, Magistrate Judge Orenstein denied a government request under the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701, et seq. (the “SCA”) to prohibit the recipient from disclosing the existence of the subpoena for one year because the request was “boilerplate” “formulaic” and “conclusory”. The Court also doubled down on an October 2017 decision that “requested” that the government not seek indefinite sealing of the court records on motions for non-disclosure orders, and rather limits the requests to seal to an initial 90 days. The Court noted that the “request” should now be treated as a “directive.”

The general background: The SCA provides a statutory framework for allowing the government to obtain a court order directing “a provider of electronic communications service or remote computing service” not to disclose to the customer or subscriber the existence of the subpoena. (For example, a subpoena issued to Google for email communications relating to a particular account with an order that it not notify the user of the subpoena.) The SCA allows for delayed notice to the customer for 90 days (with additional 90-day extensions) upon a determination by a court that notice would result in harm, such as, causing the target to flee or destroy evidence.

The structure of the statute would seem to contemplate successive requests by the government for extensions every 90 days. However, the apparent government practice has been to request a one-year delay of notice at the outset – one-year being the maximum under a policy by the Department of Justice. However, on October 2017, Magistrate Judge Orenstein “requested” in a footnote that, in the future, the government’s request to seal the court records of the application for a non-disclosure order should be limited to around 90 days subject to further extensions if needed.

In this case, the Court first took issue with the government’s description of the subpoena recipient as “a provider of an electronic communication service, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2510(15), and/or a remote comput[ing] service, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2711(2).” The Court rejected this description because in the absence of the recipient being Google or Facebook, it did not provide the Court the ability to determine for itself whether the recipient truly was a “covered service provider” of electronic communication/remote computing services under the statute. As an example of the need for a court to make an independent determination, the Court used the government’s recent position (rejected by a Magistrate Judge in D.C.) that a cruise ship company is a covered service provider because it furnishes Wi-Fi service to its guests. “Such a theory would apply with equal force to many stores, restaurants, schools, and individual homeowners – none of which could plausibly be considered a service provider within the law’s meaning. See id. at 2-3 & n.2. It is thus apparent that the government is willing to read the definitional provisions of the Stored Communications Act so expansively that a court should be wary of accepting at face value a conclusory assertion that the statute applies to a given entity about which no additional information is provided.” (In re Grand Jury Subpoena, 18-MC-0334 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2018) (JO)).

The Court then rejected the factual underpinnings of the government’s request as “conclusory” and “boilerplate” that, if sufficient, would effectively justify a delayed-notice order for every subpoena to a covered service provider:

[T]he government engages in pure speculation about the potential adverse consequences of disclosure. It writes that notice would give the target “an opportunity” to flee and obstruct, and that is undoubtedly true. But it tells me nothing about whether it is reasonable to believe that the target “will” engage in such conduct, which is the question I must answer. Some context would help: if, for example, the target is being investigated on the basis of an anonymous tip for the misdemeanor of fraudulently displaying the emblem of the 4-H clubs, see 18 U.S.C. § 707, I might hesitate to conclude that the target of such an investigation, upon discovering his status, would either embrace the life of a fugitive or risk the far more severe sanctions for obstruction of justice. On the other hand, I would think it entirely likely that the target of a well-predicated murder investigation might make such choices if given the chance. As the record currently stands, I can engage in no such analysis.

Similarly, the government tacitly assumes that in any investigation involving either electronically stored records or electronic communications – which is to say, in essentially every criminal investigation in which a non-disclosure order would potentially be available under Section 2705(b) – a person’s awareness that she is under investigation supports a finding that she will delete or encrypt evidence so as to make it unavailable to law enforcement. Neither experience nor logic supports such a syllogism. It is of course true that the technology that allows a person to store and transmit information electronically also allows such information to be hidden or destroyed (even if it is harder to do so effectively than many targets would suspect or than the government would have me assume). But that truism, without more, does not reasonably support the conclusion that every investigative target will do so if possible.

The risk that persons who learn they are under investigation will engage in obstruction is a real one, but it arises to different degrees in different circumstances. Congress could have chosen to address that risk in blunderbuss fashion by universally prohibiting the recipient of any warrant, order, or subpoena from disclosing its existence, but it plainly chose not to do so. Nor did Congress choose to alleviate that risk either by requiring a non-disclosure order either where obstruction is merely a possibility, or by committing the discretion to secure relief to the executive branch (as it effectively did, by contrast, with respect to pen registers). Instead, it prescribed a more nuanced approach, circumscribing both the persons who could be subjected to silencing, and the circumstances in which a court may (and must) order it.

(In re Grand Jury Subpoena, 18-MC-0334 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2018) (JO)).

Finally, the Court reminded the government that it had ignored the Court’s previous “request” that the application to seal the record of motions for non-disclosure orders be limited initially to 90 days, and that it should now treat the “request” as a “directive”:

I note that the government again, as it did in Google EDNY, seeks to silence a subpoena recipient for an entire year – the maximum permitted under a recent change in Justice Department policy – and seeks to have its Application and proposed order sealed indefinitely, all without explaining the need for those proposed durations. See Google EDNY, I questioned the need in Google EDNY for such a lengthy restriction of the subpoena recipient’s speech and secrecy, ordered the application sealed for 90 days (with a 90-day extension available upon a showing of continued need), and “respectfully request[ed] that in all future sealing requests, the government submit proposed orders with a similar temporal limitation absent a showing of need to do otherwise.” Id. *5 & n.3. I respectfully remind the government of the request it has thus far ignored and invite it to treat the request as a directive in the future; should that prove ineffective, I will consider more effective measures to avoid needless secrecy.

(In re Grand Jury Subpoena, 18-MC-0334 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2018) (JO)).

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Posted: February 7, 2018

Magistrate Judge Pollak Denies Motion To File Reply Under Seal Explaining That The Requirements To File Under Seal Are More Exacting Than Confidentiality Under A Discovery Protective Order

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner

Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak recently denied a plaintiff’s motion to file her reply under seal despite a confidentiality stipulation and order requiring that documents designated as confidential be filed under seal. (Martinez v. City of New York, 16 CV 79 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 26, 2018) (AMD)(CLP)). The Court explained that the nature of what is confidential under a discovery protective order is quite different than the requirements for a document to be filed under seal. In the confidentiality stipulation in this particular case, the burden of filing the motion to seal confidential documents was imposed on the party wishing to use the documents in court.

The court order does not spell out the nature of the documents and the party that claimed confidentiality, but the general scenario is quite familiar to civil litigators: Documents are produced in discovery with confidentiality designations – often using broad designations with the consent of the parties – and the receiving party then wishes to use them in submissions to the court.

(Practitioner Tip: This type of stipulation, which requires the receiving party to move to seal, provides little incentive to the producing party to avoid a motion to file under seal, even where the nature of the information is only marginally confidential. The New York State Commercial Division has attempted to resolve this issue by allowing parties to temporarily file redacted copies of the filing which are to be replaced with unredacted copies within 7 days unless the producing party moves to seal the documents.)

The Court in Martinez explained:

[T]he decision to allow documents to be filed under seal in connection with motions and court proceedings is a wholly separate inquiry governed by a different standard than whether to maintain documents disclosed in discovery in confidence.” Johnson v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 16 CV 3919, 2017 WL 5197143, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 9, 2017). To determine whether it is appropriate to allow documents to be filed under seal, courts engage in a two-part inquiry.

First, the court decides how strong a presumption of access a document deserves with reference to its role in the judicial process. Next, the court will “balance the weight of that presumption, if any, with competing interests, namely, the private interests and concerns of judicial efficiency and law enforcement, to determine whether or not to seal a document.” Cumberland Packing Corp. v. Monsanto Co., 184 F.R.D. 504, 506 (E.D.N.Y. 1999).

A “judicial document” is one that is presented to the Court and “relevant to the performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process.” United States v. Amodeo (“Amodeo I”) , 44 F.3d 141, 145 (2d Cir. 1995). Such documents are presumptively subject to public inspection and thus not properly sealed. See id. at 146. The presumption of access that attends judicial documents stems both from the common law tradition and from the Constitution: “[a]s the exercise of Article III [judicial] powers is a formal act of government, it should be subject to public scrutiny absent exceptional circumstances.” Cumberland Packing Corp. v. Monsanto Co. , 184 F.R.D. at 505.

In contrast to judicial documents, “[d]ocuments that play no role in the performance of Article III functions . . . lie entirely beyond the presumption’s reach . . . and stand on a different footing than a motion filed by a party seeking action by the court or . . . any other document which is presented to the court to invoke its powers or affect its decisions.” United States v. Amodeo (“Amodeo II”) , 71 F.3d 1044, 1050 (2d Cir. 1995) (emphasis added) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

The Court has reviewed plaintiff’s Reply and has determined that good cause to file the Reply under seal is lacking. The Reply was presented to the Court in connection with a motion for sanctions that resulted in this Court’s Recommendation that dispositive sanctions be imposed on the defendants. (See generally 1/25/2018 Report and Recommendation, ECF No. 100). The document is therefore subject to the presumption of public access. No party has offered, and the Court is unable to discern, any competing interests, let alone interests that would defeat the public’s presumptive right of access.

(Martinez v. City of New York, 16 CV 79 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 26, 2018) (AMD)(CLP)).

The Court then directed plaintiff to file her reply on the public docket and directed either party to inform the Court if the exhibits related to the briefing that had been filed under seal “should be unsealed under the analysis provided in the order.”

Posted by Solomon N. Klein, Litigation Partner