April 16 (Reuters) - In a victory for consumers, a federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered the unsealing of litigation about a product whose use led to the death of an infant.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court judge was wrong to let the product's manufacturer, known in court papers as Company Doe, keep the case brought by the Consumer Product Safety Commission under wraps.
The case was the first legal challenge to the CPSC's implementation of a public database for reports of unsafe products, which had been mandated under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
Three consumer advocacy groups - the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Public Citizen - sought to unseal records of the case and the identity of the manufacturer, but U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams in Greenbelt, Maryland allowed the case to be tried pseudonymously.
Writing for the appeals court, Circuit Judge Henry Floyd said Williams abused his discretion, and that the sealing order "violates the public's right of access" under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"It's the right result," said Scott Michelman, a lawyer for Public Citizen, in an interview. "It's a big victory both for open access to judicial records and for consumers, in terms of the viability of the CPSC database."
Baruch Fellner, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher representing Company Doe, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The appeal is Public Citizen et al v. Company Doe, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 12-2209. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Alison Frankel; editing by Andrew Hay)