749 F.3d 246 (4th Cir. 2014), 12-2209, Company Doe v. Public Citizen

Docket Nº:12-2209
Citation:749 F.3d 246
Opinion Judge:FLOYD, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:COMPANY DOE, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. PUBLIC CITIZEN; CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA; CONSUMERS UNION, Parties-in-Interest - Appellants, And INEZ TENENBAUM, in her official capacity as Chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION, Defendants. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION; AARP; ADVANCE PUBLIC
Attorney:ARGUED: Scott Matthew Michelman, PUBLIC CITIZEN LITIGATION GROUP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. Baruch Abraham Fellner, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Allison M. Zieve, Julie A. Murray, PUBLIC CITIZEN LITIGATION GROUP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants....
Judge Panel:Before FLOYD, Circuit Judge, and HAMILTON and DAVIS, Senior Circuit Judges. Judge Floyd wrote the opinion, in which Senior Judge Davis joined. Senior Judge Hamilton wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. HAMILTON, Senior Circuit Judge, concurring in the judgment. HAMILTON, Senior Ci...
Case Date:April 16, 2014
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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749 F.3d 246 (4th Cir. 2014)

COMPANY DOE, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

PUBLIC CITIZEN; CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA; CONSUMERS UNION, Parties-in-Interest - Appellants,

And

INEZ TENENBAUM, in her official capacity as Chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION, Defendants.

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION; AARP; ADVANCE PUBLICATIONS, INCORPORATED; BLOOMBERG, INCORPORATED; DOW JONES AND COMPANY, INCORPORATED; GANNETT COMPANY, INCORPORATED; THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY; NPR, INCORPORATED; THE REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS; TRIBUNE COMPANY; WP COMPANY LLC, d/b/a the Washington Post, Amici Supporting Appellants,

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MANUFACTURERS; THE AMERICAN COATINGS ASSOCIATION; THE ASSOCIATION OF HOME APPLIANCE MANUFACTURERS; THE MANUFACTURERS ALLIANCE FOR PRODUCTIVITY AND INNOVATION; THE RECREATIONAL OFF-HIGHWAY VEHICLE ASSOCIATION; THE SPECIALTY VEHICLE INSTITUTE OF AMERICA, Amici Supporting Appellee

No. 12-2209

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

April 16, 2014

Argued October 31, 2013

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. (8:11-cv-02958-AW). Alexander Williams, Jr., District Judge.

ARGUED: Scott Matthew Michelman, PUBLIC CITIZEN LITIGATION GROUP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants.

Baruch Abraham Fellner, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

ON BRIEF: Allison M. Zieve, Julie A. Murray, PUBLIC CITIZEN LITIGATION GROUP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants.

Thomas M. Johnson, Jr., Amanda C. Machin, GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Ben Wizner, Brian M. Hauss, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, New York, New York, for Amicus Curiae American Civil Liberties Union Foundation.

Julie Nepveu, AARP FOUNDATION LITIGATION, Michael Schuster, AARP, Washington, D.C., for Amicus Curiae AARP. Cary Silverman, SHOOK, HARDY & BACON L.L.P., Washington, D.C., for Amici Curiae National Association of Manufacturers, American Coatings Association, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, and Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.

Leslie Moylan, Washington, D.C., Robert D. Balin, Edward J. Davis, Eric Feder, DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE LLP, New York, New York, for Amici Curiae Media Organizations.

Before FLOYD, Circuit Judge, and HAMILTON and DAVIS, Senior Circuit Judges. Judge Floyd wrote the opinion, in which Senior Judge Davis joined. Senior Judge Hamilton wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. HAMILTON, Senior Circuit Judge, concurring in the judgment.

OPINION

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FLOYD, Circuit Judge.

This appeal presents numerous issues relating to transparency in federal courts and the public's constitutional and common-law rights of access to judicial records and documents. The plaintiff in the underlying proceedings, known to the public only as " Company Doe," filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act to enjoin the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (the Commission) from publishing in its online, publicly accessible database a " report of harm" that attributes the death of an infant to a product manufactured and sold by Company Doe. The case generated ample media attention, for this was the first legal challenge to the implementation of the Commission's newly minted database mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. Regrettably, the district court allowed the entire litigation--from filing to judgment--to occur behind closed doors, keeping all documents filed in the case under seal, not even reflected on the public docket. As a result, neither the press nor the public was able to monitor the litigation as it unfolded.

Three months after the district court entered judgment in favor of Company Doe and enjoined the Commission from publishing the challenged report in its online database, the court released its memorandum opinion on the public docket with sweeping redactions to virtually all of the

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facts, expert testimony, and evidence supporting its decision. Much of the record--including the pleadings, the briefing pertaining to Company Doe's motion for injunctive relief, the Commission's motion to dismiss, the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, and numerous residual matters--remains sealed in its entirety.

Three consumer advocacy groups--Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America, and Consumers' Union (collectively Consumer Groups)--filed a post-judgment motion to intervene for the purpose of appealing the district court's sealing order as well as its decision to allow Company Doe to proceed under a pseudonym. The district court, however, neglected to rule on the intervention motion before the period to appeal the underlying judgment expired. Consumer Groups therefore noted their appeal of the district court's sealing and pseudonymity orders as well as the court's " constructive denial" of the motion to intervene. Three months after Consumer Groups filed their notice of appeal, the district court issued an order denying Consumer Groups' motion to intervene.

We hold that Consumer Groups' notice of appeal deprived the district court of jurisdiction to entertain Consumer Groups' motion to intervene, and, therefore, we vacate the district court's order denying intervention. Although Consumer Groups were neither parties to, nor intervenors in, the underlying case before the district court, we nevertheless conclude that they are able to seek appellate review of the district court's sealing and pseudonymity orders because they meet the requirements for nonparty appellate standing and have independent Article III standing to challenge the sealing and pseudonymity orders. As for the merits, we hold that the district court's sealing order violates the public's right of access under the First Amendment and that the district court abused its discretion in allowing Company Doe to litigate pseudonymously. Accordingly, we vacate in part, reverse in part, and remand to the district court with instructions to unseal the case in its entirety.

I.

A.

A brief summary of the relevant statutory and regulatory framework provides the necessary background for this appeal. Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA or the Act) to establish more stringent safety and testing standards for manufacturers of children's products. CPSIA, Pub. L. No. 110-314, 122 Stat. 3016 (2008); 15 U.S.C. § 2051(a)(1). To enhance public access to product safety information, the Act required the Commission, the federal regulatory agency responsible for the implementation and enforcement of the Act, to create and maintain a publicly accessible, Internet database containing " [r]eports of harm" about product safety. 15 U.S.C. § 2055a(a)(1)(A)-(C), (b)(1). The purpose of the database was to provide consumers an avenue to report safety hazards about specific consumer products and to learn of and evaluate the potential dangers posed by products that had entered the stream of commerce. See H.R. Rep. No. 110-501, at 34 (2007).

Recognizing that inaccurate or erroneous information would thwart the intended goals for the database, Congress engrafted into the statute certain safeguards aimed at excluding misleading material. The Act, for example, establishes minimum requirements that reports must meet to be included in the database and provides manufacturers the right to receive notice of a report prior to its publication. See 15 U.S.C. § 2055a. One such minimum requirement is that the harm described in

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the report must " relat[e] to the use of the consumer product." Id. § 2055a(b)(2)(B)(iii). A manufacturer has an opportunity to object to the inclusion of information that it believes to be materially inaccurate or confidential. Id. § 2055a(c)(2). The Commission's promulgated regulations define " materially inaccurate information" as " information that is false or misleading, and which is so substantial and important as to affect a reasonable consumer's decision making about the product." 16 C.F.R. § 1102.26(a)(1). If a manufacturer submits a claim that a report is materially inaccurate and the Commission substantiates the manufacturer's claim, the Commission must either correct the inaccuracy or exclude the materially inaccurate information from the database. 15 U.S.C. § 2055a(c)(4). To avoid delays in making reports available to the public, the Commission is required to publish a report within twenty business days of receipt of the report. Id. § 2055a(c)(1), (c)(3)(A), (c)(4)(A).

B.

The underlying case stems from a report of harm received by the Commission from an unidentified local government agency concerning a product manufactured by Company Doe. Upon transmittal of the report, Company Doe submitted a claim that the report was materially inaccurate, asserting that the Commission should not publish the report in its online database because it contained confusing and contradictory statements that rendered the information materially inaccurate within the meaning of the Act and the Commission's regulations. The Commission attempted to correct the report by redacting certain information that it deemed materially inaccurate, but Company Doe insisted that the report remained unpublishable due to the material inaccuracies. The Commission proposed multiple versions of the report in its endeavor to purge the materially inaccurate information, but the parties ultimately reached an impasse as to whether the report satisfied the requisite criteria to be included in the database. When the Commission signaled its intent to publish...

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