Uncategorized

The Fourth Circuit hands down a win for public access to court records

In a decision released today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond held that the public and press right of access to court records trumps a corporation’s desire to keep quiet complaints about one of its products — regardless of whether those complaints are inaccurate or unfounded.

“Public access serves to promote trustworthiness of the judicial process, to curb judicial abuses, and to provide the public with a more complete understanding of the judicial system, including a better perception of fairness,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Henry F. Floyd in Public Citizen v. Company Doe.

The court reversed a lower court ruling and ordered the unsealing of the entire record of a case that originated from an effort by a manufacturer to prevent the Consumer Product Safety Commission from publishing a negative report about one of the company’s products.

As described in an earlier NC Policy Watch story about the lower court proceedings:

In October, a manufacturer sued the CPSC to stop the agency from posting a negative report about one of its products. At the same time, the company asked to proceed under a pseudonym and to have the entire case litigated under seal. Consumer groups and the media objected to both requests, claiming that the public had a right to know the identity of the company and the facts underlying the case.

The court didn’t rule on that objection until July 2012, by which time the case had been secretly and fully litigated.  [The lower court judge] held that the subject report was inaccurate and should be withheld; that the company could litigate as “Company Doe”; that the case could proceed under seal; and that the objecting groups could not overturn his seal order.  He also found that the potential harm to the company’s reputation outweighed the right of access to judicial records and justified his decisions in the case.

The advocacy group Public Citizen, one of the organizations leading the charge for disclosure, called the decision “a resounding victory for both the First Amendment right of access to court records and for consumers.”

Not only will the decision stand as a bulwark against the type of secret litigation that occurred in this case, it will also help ensure the efficacy of the CPSC database by preventing companies from litigating challenges to individual CPSC reports through years of secret litigation — a practice that, if permitted, would have undermined the goal of providing timely information to consumers through the database.

The identity of Company Doe will be disclosed once the case is sent back to district court.

Read the full decision here.

 

 

 

 

Check Also

State Supreme Court rules retroactive application of teacher tenure repeal is unconstitutional

The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

The UNC Board of Governors is holding its last meeting of 2017 Friday, where the latest of its many [...]

Just south of Candler off the Pisgah Highway is a lovely piece of property on Little Piney Mountain [...]

Veteran North Carolina education policy expert Kris Nordstrom has authored a new and vitally importa [...]

When Joni Robbins, a section chief in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, closes bidding next [...]

“All speech is free, but some speech is more free than others.” This seems to be the motto of the cu [...]

Trumpists prepare to raze another vital common good law It’s hard to keep up these days with the flo [...]

The post That’s how ‘Humbug’ is done appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

The solid citizens of Johnston County, N.C. – in a fateful quirk of geography – for several years ha [...]

Featured | Special Projects

NC Budget 2017
The maze of the NC Budget is complex. Follow the stories to follow the money.
Read more


NC Redistricting 2017
New map, new districts, new lawmakers. Here’s what you need to know about gerrymandering in NC.
Read more