Parties often stipulate to protective orders under which a producing party is given the right to designate appropriate documents to be treated as "confidential." However, as the court held in Del Campo v. American Corrective Counseling Services, Inc., No. C-01-21151 JW (PVT) (N.D. Cal. Nov. 5, 2007), the designating party must bear the responsibility for determining which documents truly are appropriate for confidential treatment.
The particular order at issue in Del Campo included a specific provision requiring each designating party to “take care to limit any such designations to specific material that qualifies under the appropriate standards,” and noted that indiscriminate designations “expose the Designating Party to possible sanctions.” The court found that the defendants produced thousands of documents with a blanket confidentiality designation in violation of the order, including obviously public documents such as law review articles and Web pages, and then failed to support their designations when challenged. The court ordered defendants to pay plaintiff’s attorney’s fees for challenging the over-designation.
The protective order here made the court's job a little easier because the court needed to look no further than the wording of the order to find violations. It seems likely, however, that even if a protective order lacked an express term concerning over-designation, a court easily could find violation of a protective order that merely permitted designation as "confidential" if the documents challenged clearly were not appropriate for confidential treatment.