Co. v. Citizen, No. 12–2209.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtFLOYD
Citation749 F.3d 246
Docket NumberNo. 12–2209.
Decision Date16 April 2014
PartiesCompany 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 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, Inc orporated; 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.

749 F.3d 246

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 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, Inc orporated; 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.

Argued: Oct. 31, 2013.
Decided: April 16, 2014.


[749 F.3d 252]


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.


Vacated in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions by published opinion.
Judge FLOYD wrote the opinion, in which Senior Judge DAVIS joined. Senior Judge HAMILTON wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment.

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

[749 F.3d 253]

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. SeeH.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. See15 U.S.C. § 2055a. One such minimum requirement is that the harm described in

[749 F.3d 254]

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 the report, Company Doe filed suit to enjoin the Commission from including the report of harm in the database.

Company Doe filed with its complaint a motion to litigate the case under seal and to proceed under a pseudonym. It claimed that exposing the content of the challenged report of harm through court documents would vitiate the very relief it sought to obtain by filing suit. Disclosure of its identity as well as any...

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444 practice notes
  • Jones v. Lowe's Cos., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17-CV-00140-KDB-DSC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
    • August 29, 2019
    ...of documents based upon unsubstantiated or speculative claims of harm, let alone harm to a company's reputation." Doe v. Pub. Citizen , 749 F.3d 246, 270 (4th Cir. 2014).With these principles in mind, the Court turns to each contested exhibit.(i) Excerpts from the Robert Niblock deposition ......
  • W. Va. State Police v. J.H., No. 19-0741
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 29, 2021
    ...to the case and be aggrieved by the judgment." Syl. pt. 1, Williamson v. Hays , 25 W. Va. 609, 609 (1885). See also Doe v. Pub. Citizen , 749 F.3d 246, 257 (4th Cir. 2014) ("As a general rule, only named parties to the case in the district court and those permitted to intervene may appeal a......
  • Courthouse News Serv. v. N.M. Admin. Office of Courts, CIV 21-0710 JB/LF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • October 8, 2021
    ...complaints available “‘as expeditiously as possible.'” Courthouse News Serv. v. Schaefer, 2 F. 4th at 328 (quoting Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 273 (4th Cir. 2014)). While the Court agrees with the Fourth Circuit that neither “inconsequential delays” nor delays caused by “extraordin......
  • Courthouse News Serv. v. Yamasaki, Case No. SACV 17–00126 AG (KESx)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • May 9, 2018
    ...and the press in contemporaneous access only after determining that a right of access attaches. See, e.g. , Co. Doe v. Pub. Citizen , 749 F.3d 246, 272 (4th Cir. 2014) ; Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. , 435 F.3d 110, 126 (2d Cir. 2006) ; Cal. First Amendment Coal. , 299 F.3d at 871, 877 ; Grove Fre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
444 cases
  • Jones v. Lowe's Cos., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17-CV-00140-KDB-DSC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Western District of North Carolina
    • August 29, 2019
    ...of documents based upon unsubstantiated or speculative claims of harm, let alone harm to a company's reputation." Doe v. Pub. Citizen , 749 F.3d 246, 270 (4th Cir. 2014).With these principles in mind, the Court turns to each contested exhibit.(i) Excerpts from the Robert Niblock deposition ......
  • W. Va. State Police v. J.H., No. 19-0741
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 29, 2021
    ...to the case and be aggrieved by the judgment." Syl. pt. 1, Williamson v. Hays , 25 W. Va. 609, 609 (1885). See also Doe v. Pub. Citizen , 749 F.3d 246, 257 (4th Cir. 2014) ("As a general rule, only named parties to the case in the district court and those permitted to intervene may appeal a......
  • Courthouse News Serv. v. N.M. Admin. Office of Courts, CIV 21-0710 JB/LF
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • October 8, 2021
    ...complaints available “‘as expeditiously as possible.'” Courthouse News Serv. v. Schaefer, 2 F. 4th at 328 (quoting Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 273 (4th Cir. 2014)). While the Court agrees with the Fourth Circuit that neither “inconsequential delays” nor delays caused by “extraordin......
  • Courthouse News Serv. v. Yamasaki, Case No. SACV 17–00126 AG (KESx)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • May 9, 2018
    ...and the press in contemporaneous access only after determining that a right of access attaches. See, e.g. , Co. Doe v. Pub. Citizen , 749 F.3d 246, 272 (4th Cir. 2014) ; Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. , 435 F.3d 110, 126 (2d Cir. 2006) ; Cal. First Amendment Coal. , 299 F.3d at 871, 877 ; Grove Fre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • National Security and Access, a Structural Perspective
    • United States
    • Journal of National Security Law & Policy Nbr. 11-3, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...the right of access attached to habeas corpus cases as they were a genus of civil proceedings. 188. See, e.g., Co. Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 269 (4th Cir. 2014) (civil proceedings); Cal. First Amendment Coal. v. Woodford, 299 F.3d 868, 877 (9th Cir. 2002) (executions); United State......

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