The Center for Auto Safety urged a California judge to unseal records in a case that accused Chrysler of concealing safety defects.
The Center for Auto Safety urged a California judge to unseal records in a case that accused Chrysler of concealing safety defects. (Diego M. Radzinschi)

Chrysler Group LLC’s battle with the Center for Auto Safety to keep sealed certain documents relating to an alleged defect in several vehicle models ended Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the automaker’s appeal.

In FCA US v. Center for Auto Safety, the company had asked the justices whether the “good cause” necessary to place discovery documents under a protective order was sufficient to keep them sealed.

“While FCA US is disappointed that the Supreme Court declined review, we look forward to presenting our case in the district court,” a Chrysler spokesman said.

In November 2013, several car owners sued Chrysler over the alleged power-system defect. Concerned that thousands of drivers might experience power-system failures, they sought a preliminary injunction ordering Chrysler to warn customers. Almost all of the evidence submitted by the car owners in support of the motion was sealed, as was evidence in opposition offered by Chrysler.

When the district court denied the motion, the Center for Auto Safety moved to intervene in the suit to seek the unsealing of the documents associated with the preliminary injunction motion.

The district court refused again to unseal the documents, saying that the “compelling reasons” standard that ordinarily applies to court records does not apply to nondispositive motions, so preliminary-injunction motions may be sealed under a lower “good cause” standard.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed. The appeals court said the public’s right to access court records extends to preliminary injunctions and those records can only be sealed for compelling reasons.

In June, the Center for Auto Safety noted on its website that the Ninth Circuit’s decision was cited by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego when he unsealed documents in the Trump University real estate school lawsuit.

Chrysler’s petition, filed by Thomas Dupree of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, had drawn support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Legal Foundation and other business groups. The Center for Auto Safety was represented in the high court by Leslie Bailey and Jennifer Bennett of Public Justice in Oakland.

Update: This story was updated with comment from FCA Group.