Court allows media to intervene to unseal documents in lottery winner’s case

From the order of Judge John Woodcock (D. Me.) Me.) Doe v. SmithSigmund A. Harriman and Alexandra A. Schutz of PretiFlaherty and I are representing the media, and my student Timon Amirani has worked on our motion. Note that our motion to unseal remains pending.

Over the plaintiff’s objection, the Court grants a motion to intervene filed by a trust representing a network of independent news and media outlets to seek to unseal docket entries and potentially to depseudonymize the plaintiff depending on the contents of the filings if unsealed….

John Doe, a pseudonym acting in this Court, filed a civil case on November 14, 2023 against Sara Smith (another pseudonym), claiming that she had breached the Non-Disclosure Agreement, causing damages to the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff sought equitable relief including an injunction. In the complaint, Mr. Doe claims that he won the Maine State Lottery and that Ms. Smith was the mother of his daughter. He also alleges that Ms. Smith signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement in order to “promote John Doe’s safety and security.” [herself], and the daughter of the couple” and avoid “the irreparable injury of allowing media or the general public to discover this information, Inter aliaJohn Doe, his physical location, and his assets.” Mr. Doe filed several motions to seal documents filed in this case based on his view that the revelation of his name will cause him irreparable harm, and the Court has granted those motions….

Maine Trust for Local News filed a motion for intervention on February 20, 2024 to file motions for the unsealing of documents currently docketed and possibly to depseudonymize this case in the future. Maine Trust describes its self in its motion as a “network of independent news outlets and media outlets serving Maine’s entire state,” a description that the Court accepts. [Note that despite the court’s admirable caution in its description, there’s little controversy about the Maine Trust’s role; it includes, among others, the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, as well as many other smaller mainstream publications. -EV]

On the same date, the Maine Trust submitted a motion to unseal documents in four docket entry. Sara Smith responded quickly on February 21, 2024 and stated that she did not object to Maine Trust’s motion to intervene, but that she also objected to several motions to seal made by John Doe. On March 6, 2024, John Doe filed his opposition to Maine Trust’s motion to intervene….

The Court has concluded that the motion to intervene by Maine Trust falls under the permissive intervention provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(b), not the right to intervene provisions of Federal Rule. Preliminarily the Court concludes Maine Trust’s motion for intervention falls under the permissive interventions provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (b), and not the intervention of rights provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (a).

This provision requires that a proposed intervenor show that “(1) it moved to intervene timely; (2) it has a property or transaction interest that forms the basis for the ongoing suit; and (3) that the disposition threatens to create an impediment in its ability to defend itself.[] Its interest, and (4) no party currently exists that adequately represents its interests.” …

“When a party moves to intervene for a limited reason and does not wish to become a part of the litigation, a nexus requirement is relaxed.[s]pecificity, e.g. It is not necessary for the claim of the intervenors to be based on the same legal theory used in the main action. …

[1.] Maine Trust notes that, in terms of timeliness, “press entities and other parties seeking access to court records can intervene to unseal records even when they are not in court.” After judgmentMaine Trust cites several sources to support its position Public Citizen v. Liggett Group, Inc. (1st Cir. 1988). The Court finds Public Citizen instructive. In Public Citizen, … the First Circuit quoted with approval [an earlier decision’s] “Observation that”[t]o the extent [a right of access] It exists today as sure as it did a century ago for the records of court cases.[t] “Does for lawsuits that are in the early stages.”

Based on Public CitizenThe Court is not sure if the normal timeliness requirements are applicable when the media seeks to intervene in order to assert their right to public access to court records. Nevertheless, even if the requirement of timeliness does apply, the Court still finds that Maine Trust’s motion to intervene in the case is timely.

Ms. Smith answered the complaint on December 19, 2023. Mr. Doe had filed the lawsuit in November 2023. Mr. Doe points to a news item published by the Portland Press Herald on November 20, 2023. Maine Trust could have filed an application to depseudonymize this lawsuit at that time. Maine Trust was unaware that the lawsuit could be contentious at that time.

Maine Trust could not have known how much future filings would be protected. Maine Trust notes that Ms. Smith did not seal her documents until January 19, 2024. Ms. Smith first publicly filed a sanction motion on February 7, 2020. After Mr. Doe submitted an emergency motion to seal on that date, the Court granted that motion on February 7. 2024. Maine Trust dates the date it became aware that the parties were not going to protect its interest in open-access to January 19, 2024 when Ms. Smith started to file her documents with a seal. Whichever date is used, January 19, 2024 or February 7, 2024, the Court concludes that Maine Trust’s February 20, 2024 motion to intervene is timely….

[2.] The Court is skeptical about Mr. Doe’s contention that granting Maine Trust’s motion to intervene will delay the case…. The current discovery deadline is August 27, 2024 and a notice of intent to file dispositive motions is not due until September 6, 2024—both several months away…. The Court’s decision to grant the motion to intervene should allow the Maine Trust motion to unseal to proceed in its normal course. There is no reason for Maine Trust to cause delays.

Maine Trust has suggested that it may depseudonymize Plaintiff if it learns more about the docket entries after they are unsealed. Maine The Court does not conclude that granting the motion to intervene will delay these proceedings. Accordingly, the Court does not conclude that granting the motion to intervene will delay these proceedings….

[3.] Mr. Doe points out that Ms. Smith opposes sealing and therefore argues Ms. Smith can adequately represent Maine Trust’s interest. Ms. Smith, however, represents her own personal interest. Maine Trust, on the other hand, “seek” to achieve.[s] To vindicate [its] This interest is not currently represented. [either] ” “[T]His consideration weighs heavily in favor of granting and not denying intervention.” …

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