Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Date Filed: Dec. 15, 2021
Update: On April 25, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued an opinion reversing the district court’s dismissal of the news organizations’ complaint and remanding for further proceedings.
Background: In March 2021, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court amended its Rules of Electronic Court Systems so that public access to newly filed civil complaints is delayed while the court clerk completes an administrative review. The RECS do not specify a time period for completion of the administrative review process.
Courthouse News Service, which covers civil litigation in state and federal courts, and other Maine-based media entities filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, challenging the amendments as unconstitutional to the extent they violate the public’s presumptive right to inspect court records under the First Amendment. Although the district court recognized a qualified First Amendment right of access to civil complaints, it concluded — based primarily on information provided in defendants’ affidavits — that the RECS do not deprive the public of contemporaneous access.
The media outlets then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Our Position: The First Circuit should reverse the district court’s order dismissing the media outlets’ complaint.
- Timely access to newly filed civil complaints benefits the public and the press.
- The First Amendment requires contemporaneous access to civil complaints.
Quote: “Robust, accurate news reporting requires timely access to civil complaints. Because freshness and speed are key aspects of the news business, delays of even a day can result in a complete denial of meaningful access, both for reporters and for the members of the public who rely on the press for information. Prompt access to civil complaints ensures that the public learns about important cases while they are still newsworthy, promotes accuracy in reporting, and leads to more meaningful public debate about those cases.”
Related: The Reporters Committee has previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Courthouse News Service lawsuits successfully challenging court system rules delaying access to newly filed civil complaints, including in Courthouse News Service v. Schaefer and Courthouse News Service v. Planet.