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First Amendment

‘Company Doe’ can’t keep its identity secret in litigation, 4th Circuit rules

Posted Apr 18, 2014 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has ordered a district court to unseal a case filed by a company that sued to block public release of information tying one of its products to an infant’s death.

The Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that sealing of the case violates the public’s right of access under the First Amendment, report the National Law Journal and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

The company was identified only as “Company Doe,” and the sealed case was initially kept off the public docket. It became public when a federal court released a memorandum opinion “with sweeping redactions to virtually all the facts, expert testimony and evidence supporting its decision,” the 4th Circuit said in its opinion (PDF).

Company Doe was represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The company had sued to stop the Consumer Product Safety Commission from releasing an incident report regarding the infant’s death, arguing that it was inaccurate. The federal judge that allowed the secrecy sided with the company and ordered the CPSC not to publish the “materially inaccurate” complaint.

Gibson Dunn partner Baruch Fellner issued a statement to the NLJ and the Law Blog noting the judge’s decision on the merits of its suit. "If the name of Company Doe is revealed, both media and the public will readily understand that these false and misleading reports harm a company that has a perfect record of product safety,” Fellner said.

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