We've blogged previously about Public Citizen's fight for consumers and against court secrecy in the "Company Doe" case. As you'll recall, this is a case that
was litigated before the district court in secret, with secret facts, secret proceedings and a
secret plaintiff. A company sued
the Consumer Product Safety Commission to keep a complaint about one of
the company's product out of the terrific product safety database the CPSC created to help consumers learn about product hazards, pursuant to the Consumer Product Safety Information Act. When it filed its suit, the company also
moved to seal the case and proceed under a pseudonym. A year later, the
district court granted the seal and pseudonym, along with summary
judgment for the company; as it turns out, the court had been holding
hearings with no public knowledge or participation for months. The court's 73-page redacted decision contains large blocks of blacked-out text that at times make it nearly unreadable. (Sample analysis from the opinion: “[T]he report states that [REDACTED]. But the report does not indicate how [REDACTED] is connected to [REDACTED].”) Public Citizen, along with our allies Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, intervened to pursue the public right of access and get the seal lifted.
Today we filed our opening appellate brief in the Fourth Circuit — but it wasn't an easy road to get there. Initially, the CPSC had also appealed but last week decided to drop that appeal. In response, Company Doe filed an eleventh-hour motion with the court of appeals to have the case stayed so that it could return to district court and engage in procedural wrangling there. We called Doe's delaying tactics for what they were, and the court of appeals denied the stay one day later.
We're heartened the case is going forward. This case is critical for both the public's right of access to court proceedings and the effectiveness of the CPSC database — if any company can delay the posting of an unfavorable report to the database by suing the CPSC and then getting to court to shield the company from adverse publicity by sealing the case, more secret litigation will ensue and entries could be kept out of the database for years.