In an opinion Tuesday, Judge Furman ruled that the complaint in an “international saga” of fraud in the art world must be filed publicly and without redactions, even though it contained sensitive information about transactions facilitated by the international auction house Sotheby’s.
Plaintiffs hired an art dealer to assist in purchasing a world-class art collection, and the dealer allegedly defrauded them of approximately $1 billion by purchasing the artworks himself and re-selling them to plaintiffs at inflated prices. Plaintiffs claim that Sotheyby’s aided and abetted the fraud. Sotheby’s sought to keep certain portions of the complaint under seal, but Judge Furman held that confidentiality concerns were insufficient because the information at issue went to the very heart of the case:
[T]he Court holds first that the Amended Complaint must be filed publicly in unredacted form. As an initial matter, the Amended Complaint is plainly “a judicial document subject to a presumption of access.” Thus, Sotheby’s must demonstrate that redaction is “essential to preserve higher values.” It fails to do so. That “[e]ach redaction discloses private information about art transactions that Sotheby’s … facilitated …, the details of which it is obligated to keep confidential,” does not, without more, justify redaction. And, although courts may be hesitant to require disclosure of confidential pricing information, when, as here, “[t]he details of the working relationship and arrangement between the parties lie at the very heart of the litigation,” and those details revolve around allegedly inflated prices, courts will not generally seal the allegations and evidence about that relationship. In such situations, the public cannot “have confidence in the [Court’s] administration of justice” without being able to see the specific allegations underlying the case.