Our friends at Public Justice featured a ruling this week that gives all Americans great news in their article, “Same Story, New Ending: Court Overturns Order Sealing Chrysler Defect Records” on January 12, 2016.”
Writer Jennifer Bennett hit the nail on the head: corporations conceal deadly defects. Someone dies and the family files a lawsuit. Corporation settles quietly. Court records are sealed so nobody knows the story. The cycle continues ad nauseum.
This indeed is exactly how GM was able to hide the ignition switch defect for more than a decade.
Perhaps no more, at least not in the Ninth Circuit. Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit held that there is a strong presumption that ANY court record that is “more than tangentially related to the merits of a case” should be open to the public. Also, as part of the ruling in Velasco v. Chrysler, the court rejected Chrysler’s argument that this presumption should only apply to records that result in a final determination on the merits of the case.
This is a HUGE step forward for citizens and consumers everywhere! Corporate America will soon find it increasingly difficult to hide behind sealed court records just because a case settled before a court makes a “final” determination.
As Ms. Bennett points out, Velasco is a classic example of the settle and conceal strategy. In this class action, Chrysler concealed a horrible defect that could cause cars (millions?) to stop without warning while being driven at full speed on the highway. Plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction arguing that the defect was so dangerous that the court should require Chrysler to warn its drivers immediately. District Court denied the motion and sealed most of the plaintiffs’ evidence. Take a moment to read the entire Velasco opinion.
Public Justice intervened on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety to unseal the records. Following several motions and hearings, the Ninth Circuit has changed the game so that corporations cannot simply settle out of disclosure. If corporate America wants records to remain sealed, it will now have to prove there are sufficient compelling reasons for secrecy that supersede the public’s open records presumption .
Many thanks Public Justice for this victory in keeping us all safe from the hidden agendas that override public safety and corporate profit. We at Advocate Capital, Inc. are thankful that someone is proactively working to ensure our safety and demand corporate accountability.
Senior Vice President