GateHouse Media and Fayetteville Observer Win 2-Year Battle to Unseal Files in Abuse Case

Originally published by The Media Law Resource Center, October, 2019.

By Jonathan E. Buchan

On September 13, 2019, the two-year battle by GateHouse Media and The Fayetteville Observer to unseal a North Carolina state court civil file ended with the court-ordered unsealing of every document in the file, redacting only the identities of the three juvenile plaintiffs who had brought claims of sexual abuse against a politically prominent North Carolina car dealership owner.

The unsealed “Confidential Settlement Agreement” revealed that the defendant Michael Lallier and/or his related businesses had paid $1.9 million to settle the case. It also revealed that the plaintiffs, through their guardians ad litem and families, had agreed that the settlement could be revealed to the prosecutor in the South Carolina criminal case in which Lallier has been charged with felony sexual misconduct with one of the three minor plaintiffs in the civil case. That minor plaintiff and his family agreed in an affidavit made part of the settlement agreement that they would “not challenge or object to the Solicitor’s decision to resolve” that criminal case “in whatever way the Solicitor deems appropriate.”

The criminal case, brought in September, 2016, is still pending in the South
Carolina trial court. The unsealed civil complaint and amended complaint
disclosed the minors’ detailed allegations against Lallier.

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