Trans Union Dispute Training Guide and Dispute Procedures

David A. Szwak

Trans Union Dispute Training Guide and Dispute Procedures

Postby David A. Szwak » Mon Oct 17, 2005 11:20 am

Zahran v. Trans Union Corp.
Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2002 WestLaw 31010822

A. Trans Union Dispute Training Guide and Dispute Procedures
Courts have used the Restatement of Torts definition of "trade secret" when deciding whether certain business information should be covered under Rule 26(c)(7). See e.g., Cook Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp., 206 F.R.D. 244, 248 (S.D.Ill.2001); DDS, Inc. V. Lucas Aerospace Power Transmission Corp., 182 F.R.D. 1, 4 (N.D.N.Y.1998); Grundberg v. Upjohn Co., 137 F.R.D. 372, 393 (D.Utah 1991). Pursuant to Section 757 of the Restatement of Torts, "[a] trade secret may consist of any formula, pattern, device or compilation of information which is used in one's business, and which gives him an opportunity to obtain an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it." Restatement of Torts § 757 cmt. b (1939).
Trans Union asserts that the contents of Paragraphs 234 through 251 consist of "restatements and characterizations of various Trans Union contractual, policy, and procedural provisions." (Trans Union's Mem. Supp. Mot. Filing Under Seal at 1-2.) Apparently, Trans Union seeks a protective order and filing under seal of these "restatements and characterizations," as well as the materials which the Zahrans reference within those paragraphs, including portions of the Dispute Training Guide. (Id. at 2, n. 1.) Trans Union argues that Paragraphs 234 through 251 contain trade secrets and other confidential business information. (Id. at 2-3.)
[1] Trans Union asserts that its Consumer Relations Division policies and procedures, including the Dispute Training Guide, are proprietary and were developed internally at significant expense over a period of many years. (Id. at 3-4.) Trans Union argues that it would be disadvantaged if competitors gained access to the Dispute Training Guide or had knowledge of its consumer relations systems and departments. (Id. at 4.) Trans Union asserts that competitors could duplicate its business methods without incurring any expense. (Id.) Further, Trans Union argues that a person who somehow gains unauthorized access to the system could alter the consumer credit database using the information contained in the Dispute Training Guide, thereby compromising the "integrity and security" of the database. (Id. at 5-6.)
*3 The Court is not convinced that the information contained or referenced in Paragraphs 234 through 251, including certain parts of the Dispute Training Guide, is the type of information contemplated by Rule 26(c)(7) as a trade secret or commercial information. The statements in Paragraphs 234 trough 251 do nothing more than state certain of Trans Union's general procedures for resolving errors in credit reports and Trans Union's alleged failure to follow its protocol in the Zahrans' case. (See generally, Pl's State. of Facts 234- 251.) The Court does not see how the Zahrans' assertions in these disputed paragraphs divulge any Trans Union trade secrets, and to the extent that Paragraphs 234 through 251 refer to certain documents, the Court finds that these documents are undeserving of a protective order, as further explained below.
In all actuality, the portions of the Dispute Training Manual included in the Zahrans' exhibits, which outline procedures for consumer relations personnel to handle consumer credit disputes, are not rocket science. In the case at bar, the Court is not faced with the disclosure of the actual computer software used to design Trans Union's consumer credit database or the decision-making process that determines how or why certain information is placed on an individual's credit report in the first place. Here, the Court is only confronted with the data entry of consumer information, complaints, definitions and instructions on how to access consumer dispute history or similar screens. The Court concludes that the function commands, keystrokes, data entry instructions, and general computer codes in the Dispute Training Guide are not a "formula, pattern, device or compilation of information" that gives Trans Union an advantage over competitors. The Court does not see how a competitor will be advantaged if information relating to which keystrokes access which screens in the database is disclosed or if information about which departments handle various consumer inquiries becomes public knowledge.
Finally, even if the Dispute Training Guide or Trans Union's other policies and procedures were trade secrets, Trans Union has not shown the Court good cause as to why a protective order is the appropriate remedy. As mentioned above, the Court does not find that Trans Union would be competitively disadvantaged if the information was accessed by competitors. The process which determines how or why certain information is inserted into an individual's credit report and becomes part of a credit report retains its secrecy and has not been disclosed.
[2] Trans Union's hypothetical hacker scenario does not convince the Court that Trans Union has good cause to protect its alleged trade secret. Once the hackers gain access, the integrity and security of Trans Union's system is already compromised. The Court declines to grant a protective order because of the remote possibility that someone could hack into the database and alter information, possibly using the information gleaned from the Dispute Training Guide. Certainly, someone sophisticated enough to hack into a computer network or server has the ability to wreak havoc with or without knowing that a particular keystroke or computer command accesses a person's credit dispute history. The hackers can accomplish this feat by simply pressing random keys on the keyboard. The argument that the Dispute Training Guide must be filed under seal, because hackers could use the information in the Training Guide and compromise the system is specious. As mentioned previously, the assignment of commands to certain keys is not a "formula" that the Court deems worthy of secrecy in litigation.
*4 The Court does not find that Trans Union's dispute resolution procedures, including the Dispute Training Guide, contain trade secrets or confidential commercial information to justify a protective order or filing under seal. Neither has Trans Union adequately established how it would be commercially disadvantaged if the information was disclosed.

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