Court Again Denies Motion by Jeld-Wen and Masonite to Redact Info on Pricing

December 15th, 2020 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor

In class action lawsuits alleging they conspired to fix prices, defendants Jeld-Wen Inc. and Masonite Corp. asked the court to seal up evidence, arguing that information could harm them competitively going forward. That request was shot down last week by United States District Judge John A. Gibney Jr., who, in an opinion dated December 10, 2020, said, “In other words, the defendants want to maintain a competitive advantage by hiding evidence of price fixing.”

On February 21, 2020, plaintiffs moved to certify classes, supporting their motions with “lengthy reports from expert witnesses,” the court document stated, at the same time designating some information as “confidential” under a protective order, moving the court to seal aspects of the filing. “To the defendants’ chagrin,” Judge Gibney said, “the reports contained a great deal of information about the operation of the defendants’ businesses, including historic pricing information.”

Jeld-Wen and Masonite announced August 31, 2020, they had reached settlement agreements, offering to pay $28 million each to plaintiffs and a settlement class. Meanwhile, “Both groups contend that Jeld-Wen’s and Masonite’s anti-competitive conduct drove up the prices they paid for [interior molded door skins],” the recent court document said.

The court later approved omnibus stipulations, setting a deadline of October 16, 2020 for parties to file omnibus motions to seal. “In the court’s view, however, the October 16, 2020 deadline did not control the February 21 motions to seal,” the Judge’s recent opinion stated, which became “ripe” in March 2020, he said. The court denied motions to seal on September 3, 2020, at the same time setting deadlines for filing unredacted versions of documents. The potential disclosure of that unredacted, confidential information—particularly relating to pricing—“rankled Jeld-Wen and Masonite,” the Judge suggested, leading them to appeal the order.

The court has since stayed enforcement of its September 3 order, leaving the defendants to “continue to request the court to revisit” its order, the Judge’s opinion said, adding that, after appealing the court’s decision not to seal historic pricing information, officials for Jeld-Wen and Masonite “now suggest, however, that the court can and should render an indicative ruling on their motion to reconsider the decision they have appealed.” As a result, in addition to a potential indicative ruling, the court was faced with several issues, Judge Gibney said.

According to the recent published opinion, a second issue involves a potential intervention by a group asking the court to allow them to appear in the case, joining an argument for holding information under seal.

Both companies also requested that the court provide preliminary approval for the related settlements, certifying them as class actions, allowing parties to notify the class of proposed settlements.

In his opinion, Judge Gibney said the court will issue an indicative ruling, denying motions to reconsider its September 3 order, further requiring that both companies resubmit proposed orders that preliminarily approve the settlement, while making the expert reports publicly available as part of settlement notices. The information that the defendants seek to keep private will have “continued usefulness in the judicial process,” the Judge said, making reports public records protected by the First Amendment. “Commercial embarrassment does not go far in justifying secrecy in the courts,” he said.

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