The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is asking a District of Columbia federal judge to keep recent filings and proceedings in litigation surrounding a fatal June 2009 Metro rail crash under seal.
Metro, in a brief (PDF) filed yesterday with U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, outlined its opposition to a request by plaintiffs' counsel to unseal court documents filed under seal by Metro and its co-defendants since February. The filings are "replete with references to confidential settlement communications of the defendants-only mediation," Metro wrote.
Earlier this month, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs moved to unseal the filings, arguing that the plaintiffs were being unfairly kept out of the loop.
The June 22, 2009 crash of two Red Line trains at the Fort Totten station in Northeast Washington killed nine people and wounded dozens more. The victims and their families filed civil wrongful death and personal injury claims in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Metro and a group of private corporations that supplied rail system equipment.
The bulk of the cases, including seven of the nine wrongful death lawsuits, settled. Four cases – two wrongful death and two personal injury – are still pending. Starting in February, the defendants received court permission to file briefs under seal.
The documents, according to subsequent filings and statements made in court, relate to settlement talks with plaintiffs as well as a dispute among the defendants. Walton acknowledged at a hearing that “a problem” had come up among them, but the details are unknown. On March 13, Patrick Regan of Washington’s Regan, Zambri & Long – a lead counsel for plaintiffs in one of the wrongful death cases – moved to unseal (PDF) those documents.
Regan wrote that not having access to those filings “seriously prejudiced” his client.
Metro, in its response brief filed yesterday, argued that unsealing the documents would fly in the face of longstanding precedent on the confidentiality of settlement negotiations.
“Unsealing the record would undermine the Court’s previous ruling, prejudice the positions of the parties, and irreparably damage this Circuit’s long held position that mediation communications are confidential,” Metro wrote.
The three corporation co-defendants, Alstom Signaling Inc., Ansaldo STS USA and ARINC Inc., have not filed a response to the motion to unseal to date.
Attorneys involved in the case have declined to comment on proceedings. Walton put a gag order in place on Feb. 16, finding that statements made by plaintiffs and their attorneys to the media had “poisoned” the potential jury pool.
The two wrongful death trials are scheduled for the fall. The two personal injury trials are on hold as Walton weighs motions for summary judgment filed by Alstom, Ansaldo and ARINC; the three private co-defendants want to place any liability for the crash with Metro alone.