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Company Doe v. Public Citizen (formerly Company Doe v. Tenenbaum and CPSC)

Topic(s): Consumer Justice
Open Court Proceedings and Challenges to Protective Orders


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Pursuant to congressional mandate, since March 2011 the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has maintained an electronic database of reports of harm associated with consumer products. This database serves a crucial function in helping alert consumers to dangerous products.

In the fall of 2011, a company calling itself “Company Doe” sued the CPSC to keep a report about one of its products out of the database. At the same time, the company filed a motion to seal the case and to litigate under a pseudonym. Public Citizen, on behalf of itself, Consumers Union, and Consumer Federation of America, filed objections to the seal.

A year later, in October 2012, the district court released a decision granting Company Doe’s motion to seal crucial portions of the case and to litigate under a pseudonym. The decision also granted judgment to Company Doe on the basis of litigation that had been conducted entirely under seal. Crucial portions of the decision are blacked out in the version released to the public.

On behalf of the three consumer groups, we appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Fourth Circuit, to challenge the order sealing the case and allowing the plaintiff to proceed under a pseudonym. In a decision issued in April 2014, the appellate court held that the district court’s sealing order violated the public’s right of access under the First Amendment and that the court abused its discretion in allowing Company Doe to proceed under a pseudonym. The appellate court reversed the district court’s sealing and pseudonymity orders and remanded the case with instructions for the district court to unseal the record in its entirety. In June 2014, the district court ordered the entire record in the case, including the district court’s opinion, unsealed. The court also amended the caption to name the plaintiff, “The Ergo Baby Carrier Inc."

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