In a longstanding dispute over a fundamental First Amendment right to access public records, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Houston Forward Times (“Media Intervenors”) have prevailed for a third time. On March 15, 2023, the San Antonio Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s order and rendered judgment denying an amended motion to seal 14 trial exhibits in the case of Title Source, Inc. v. HouseCanary, Inc.
Representing the Media Intervenors, a Jackson Walker team including Chip Babcock, Amanda Crouch, and Joshua Romero successfully argued that HouseCanary has failed to apply the correct legal standard in attempting to seal court records that contain alleged trade secrets.
In April 2021, the Texas Supreme Court stated that the procedures of Texas Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 76a guaranteeing access to court records was not displaced by the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (TUTSA). This was an important decision reaffirming the court’s commitment to open records. The Supreme Court then remanded the case to the trial court to allow HouseCanary to file a new motion under the correct standard.
On December 10, 2021, the trial court granted HouseCanary’s amended motion and sealed the trial exhibits in their entirety, to which Title Source and the Media Intervenors filed this appeal to the San Antonio Court of Appeals.
In the recently issued opinion, the appeals court stated that
- HouseCanary did not present or cite any testimony or evidence regarding whether the exhibits containing the alleged trade secrets could be redacted while still protecting its interest;
- Sealing all 14 exhibits was not the least restrictive means to protect HouseCanary’s asserted interest, especially since HouseCanary no longer sought protection for two of the exhibits or approximately 44 pages in the 12 remaining exhibits; and
- HouseCanary failed to carry its burden under Rule 76a to show that sealing the entirety of the 14 exhibits in question was “the least restrictive means to protect its asserted interest.”
Finally, the appeals court wrote: “HouseCanary asserted below that the only way to protect its alleged trade secrets was to permanently seal all fourteen exhibits in their entirety. HouseCanary did not present any evidence to support that assertion and, as HouseCanary now recognizes, the exhibits themselves do not support that assertion.”
With the trial court’s sealing order reversed and HouseCanary’s amended motion to seal denied, the Texas court system has again shown that members of the press can rely on the strength of the First Amendment to protect court openness and access to public records.
The case is Title Source, Inc., Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Houston Forward Times v. HouseCanary, Inc. f/k/a Canary Analytics, Inc. For more information about the suit, visit the following articles:
- Jackson Walker: “Texas Supreme Court Upholds Appellate Win for Media on Sealing of Evidence in $740 Million Trade Secret Dispute”
- Law360: “Texas Justices Kick Back Dispute Over Trade Secret Sealing” (subscription required)
- The Texas Lawbook: “SCOTX Preserves 30-Year-Old Trade Secrets Rule” (subscription required)
- Southeast Texas Record: “Texas Supreme Court affirms ruling reversing sealing order in appeal over HouseCanary trade secrets”
Meet Our Team
Charles L. Babcock is a nationally recognized trial and appellate attorney. Chip’s practice experience includes bet-the-company litigation, First Amendment litigation, commercial litigation, intellectual property litigation, government investigations, media litigation, and appellate litigation. In addition to receiving the Ronald D. Secrest Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award from the Texas Bar Foundation, Chip has been named a “25 Greatest Texas Lawyer of the Past Quarter Century” by Texas Lawyer and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
Amanda N. Crouch argued the case in the San Antonio Court of appeals for the Reporter’s Committee in the first instance. She is a zealous advocate for her clients who has achieved success before juries, judges, arbitrators and appellate courts across Texas. Amanda’s practice is set apart by her ability to find creative solutions and strategies to resolving her client’s disputes. She has been essential in securing favorable results on a range of matters, including contract disputes, collection matters, personal injury defense, probate litigation, First Amendment and media litigation and defending claims on behalf of cities and counties. Amanda was named “Up-and-Coming 100 in Litigation: General Commercial” by Chambers USA in 2022 and “Up-and-Coming 50: Women Texas Rising Stars” by Super Lawyers in 2021 and 2022.
Joshua A. Romero was on brief in both the San Antonio Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court. He is a trial and appellate lawyer who has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in state and federal courts across the country in complex commercial litigation and First Amendment litigation. Josh has successfully tried cases ranging from multimillion-dollar corporate disputes and consumer fraud cases to construction cases. In 2015, he assisted his clients in obtaining the largest settlement in Texas and the fourth largest settlement in the United States, as featured in the National Law Journal.
For more information about Jackson Walker’s experience handling trial and appellate litigation related to First Amendment and media law, intellectual property, and trade secrets, visit our Trial & Appellate Litigation practice page.