On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civil Action No. 87-1444).
Before: Mansmann and Roth, Circuit Judges, Restani, Judge, U.s. Court of International Trade*fn1
"Final" is a concept that is seemingly simple in definition but endlessly elusive in application. Congress historically has required finality as a prerequisite of federal appellate procedure to "achieve a healthy legal system."*fn2 Cobbledick v. United States, 309 U.S. 323, 326, 84 L. Ed. 783, 60 S. Ct. 540 (1940); McNamara v. Clark, 170 F.2d 118, 119 (3d Cir. 1948). In our federal courts, even though a party contends that an order is final, we do not acquiesce in that Conclusion. We must make our own determination that finality does exist.
The case before us presents the issue of whether we may consider as final, and therefore appealable, a district court order denying a pretrial civil discovery motion to compel production of a settlement agreement. Only if we determine that the order is a final order, may we exercise jurisdiction to review it. The appellants Fukoku Kogyo Co., Ltd., and Hachiro Sato (collectively referred to as "Fukoku") argue that the order is appealable under our holding in Bank of America Nat'l Trust v. Hotel Rittenhouse Associates, 800 F.2d 339 (3d Cir. 1986), which recognizes the common law right of access to judicial records and proceedings. Appellees Enprotech Corp. and C. Itoh & Co. (America) Inc. (collectively referred to as "Enprotech") argue that the district court order is not a final decision under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and, therefore, is not appealable. Because we find that the order is not final, we conclude that we do not have appellate jurisdiction and we will dismiss the appeal.*fn3
Enprotech initiated an action in 1987 for alleged commercial misconduct against Fukoku and defendants William Renda, Sakae Iimuro and FKC America, Inc. (collectively "the former defendants"). On June 20, 1991, Enprotech and the former defendants executed a confidential Settlement Agreement which resolved all claims and disputes between them. The parties to the Agreement prepared a Stipulation and Consent Order requesting that the district court dismiss Enprotech's claims against the former defendants and the counterclaims asserted by the former defendants against Enprotech. On August 6, 1991, the district Judge entered an order granting the parties' stipulation of dismissal, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2).
The order calls for the district court to retain jurisdiction during the term of the Settlement Agreement, which runs to March 31, 1996. The order further provides that "all parties to the confidential Settlement Agreement shall have the right to seek sanctions, costs, or other relief from the court in the event any party fails to comply with the terms and conditions thereof." No such failures have been asserted to date. Moreover, the Settlement Agreement has never been filed with, placed "under seal" by, or otherwise submitted to the district court.
The present case results from an action taken on August 15, 1991. The remaining defendants, Fukoku, served a discovery request upon Enprotech consisting of interrogatories and requests for both the Agreement and other documents relating to the Agreement. Enprotech's counsel advised Fukoku that the terms of the Agreement were confidential and could not be disclosed. Counsel further advised Fukoku that the terms of the Agreement did not relate to or affect Enprotech's dispute with Fukoku; therefore, in Enprotech's view, the discovery request sought information that was irrelevant to Fukoku.
On September 20, 1991, Fukoku filed a Motion to Compel Production of the Settlement Agreement with the magistrate Judge. After hearing oral argument, the magistrate Judge denied Fukoku's motion on November 13, 1991. On December 2, 1991, Fukoku filed a Notice of Objection to the magistrate Judge's order denying the motion to compel production of the settlement documents, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). The district court reviewed the magistrate Judge's order and entered an order and opinion on March 2, 1992, denying Fukoku's motion and affirming the magistrate Judge's order in all respects. Fukoku sought appeal of the district court's order before this Court.
The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey had jurisdiction over this action based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The appellants claim that we have jurisdiction to hear their appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We must now determine whether the district court's affirmance of the magistrate Judge's decision denying public ...