Garfield County lawsuit unsealed

A Garfield County judge has unsealed a 2017 lawsuit because the plaintiff – the meat-packing industry’s largest contract cleaner – no longer opposed public access to the case.

Packers Sanitation Services Inc. had sued a former employee who tried to extort more than $650,000 from the company by falsely claiming that his testing had found salmonella and listeria on equipment at a client’s facility in Enid, according to the lawsuit.

Though OSCN describes the suit as a libel/slander action, the company sued for breach of confidentiality and interference with business contracts.

The company said it had requested the lawsuit be sealed because of concerns that public disclosure of the false allegations would lead the client’s customers to question the safety of its products and “would potentially cause panic in the community as the Enid Plant constituted one of the largest employers in the Enid, Oklahoma, area.”

However, the potential harm from disclosure now is minimal because the former employee’s allegations “have been definitively proven to be false and the emergent concerns associated with the disclosure of the allegations have since subsided,” the company said in court filings on Aug. 2.

Special Judge Jason Seigars had closed not only the lawsuit but also -- contrary to the state Open Records Act -- his order sealing the case.

Under that 2014 amendment to the Open Records Act, a judge sealing a case record must issue a public order that shall:

  • Identify the facts which the court relied upon in entering its order;

  • Make conclusions of law specific enough so that the public is aware of the legal basis for the sealing of the record;

  • Utilize the least restrictive means for achieving confidentiality; [and]

  • Be narrowly tailored so that only the portions of the record subject to confidentiality are sealed and the remainder of the record is kept open. (51 O.S. § 24A.30)

The case is open to the public only because of UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh’s efforts.

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Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications
Mass Communication Law in Oklahoma

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, its board of directors or the commentator’s employer. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.