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United States v. Glens Falls Newspapers

United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit
160 F.3d 853 (2d Cir. 1998)


From 1958 to 1968, the Caputo/Moreau landfill in the Town of Moreau, New York (the Town) (defendant) was used for disposing of industrial waste by General Electric Company (GE) (defendant) and others. As a result, the aquifer beneath the landfill became contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued the Town for access to the site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, & Liability Act (Superfund) § 104(e)(3), 42 U.S.C. §§9604(e)(3), (5). The EPA also sued GE, alleging that it was potentially responsible for the pollution. The Town was deemed an indispensable party defendant in that case. The State of New York was granted intervention as a plaintiff. Litigation dragged on for nine years, during which time the parties attempted to negotiate a settlement that would resolve all of the issues associated with provision of public water to affected residents and remediating the landfill site. Any settlement will be complicated and expensive. The parties were afraid that public disclosure of potential settlement options would chill negotiations and asked the district court to issue a confidentiality order on consent. The parties argued the request was justified under the court’s general powers to manage its caseload and Local Rule 5.7 of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, which provides that settlement statements do not go into the public case file. The district court granted the request and issued the consent order. The Post Star sought access to the settlement documents using New York’s freedom of information law in state court, but was denied based on the consent order. The Post Star then attempted to intervene in the original suit in federal court to have the consent order rescinded. The district court denied the motion to intervene, concluding that any right of the public to access settlement negotiations was minor, if it existed at all, and completely outweighed by the strong public policy favoring settlement of disputes. The Post Star appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Brieant, J.)

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