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Does v. Mills

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  1. Court Access

Case Number: 1:21-cv-00242-JDL

Court: U.S. District Court, District of Maine

Clients: Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel, Sun Journal

Motion to Intervene Filed: Nov. 10, 2021

Background: In August 2021, a group of healthcare workers in Maine filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine against the governor and senior health officials challenging the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which does not provide religious exemptions. Among other things, the workers sought a preliminary injunction that would halt enforcement of the vaccine mandate. The workers also sought the court’s permission to litigate the case anonymously. The court granted the workers request to proceed under pseudonyms, but reserved the right to revisit the issue should the case proceed beyond the preliminary injunction stage.

In October 2021, the court denied the workers’ request for a preliminary injunction. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the workers’ application for emergency injunctive relief.

As the case continues beyond the preliminary injunction stage, a coalition of local news organizations in Maine, represented by attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and law firm Preti Flaherty LLP, are challenging the workers’ ongoing use of pseudonyms, arguing that permitting the workers to remain anonymous would hinder the news media’s ability to access proceedings and records in this case in violation of the press and the public’s First Amendment and common law right of access to court proceedings and judicial records.

Quote: “Allowing civil litigants to proceed under pseudonyms withholds valuable information from the press and the public about pending litigation and functions as a form of closure of court proceedings and records,” the news outlets’ motion to intervene states. “In addition, if Plaintiffs are permitted to continue to pursue their claims in this matter pseudonymously, this Court will necessarily be asked to take further steps to preserve their anonymity — such as closing the courtroom during a Plaintiff’s testimony — that would further deprive the Media Intervenors of their presumptive rights of access to court proceedings and records in this case.”

Updates: On May 31, 2022, the district court granted the media organizations’ motion to unseal the healthcare workers’ identities. The next day, the workers appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. On June 8, 2022, the district court temporarily stayed the May 31 order requiring the healthcare workers to file an amended complaint. On June 17, 2022, the district court denied the healthcare workers’ motion to stay the court’s May 31 unsealing order and set a July 8 deadline for the workers to file an amended complaint identifying themselves by name. The healthcare workers’ sought an emergency motion to stay the district court order requiring them to disclose their names, but the First Circuit denied it, holding that they “have not established a threat of irreparable harm.” On July 11, 2022, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint naming seven healthcare workers who decided to proceed with the case. 

Filings:

2021-11-10: Motion to intervene and incorporated memorandum of law

2021-12-03: Plaintiffs’ response in opposition to request to intervene

2021-12-08: Proposed intervenors’ reply in support of motion to intervene

2021-12-30: Order on motion to intervene

2022-01-27: Motion to unseal plaintiffs’ identities

2022-02-28: Plaintiffs’ opposition to motion to unseal

2022-03-14: Media intervenors’ reply in support of motion to unseal plaintiffs’ identities

2022-05-31: Order granting motion to unseal plaintiffs’ identities

2022-06-01: Notice of appeal

2022-06-07: Plaintiffs’ motion to stay proceedings

2022-06-08: Media intervenors’ opposition to plaintiffs’ motion to stay proceedings

2022-06-08: Order

2022-06-13: Defendant Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center’s opposition to plaintiffs’ motion to stay proceedings pending interlocutory appeal

2022-06-13: State defendants’ partial opposition to plaintiffs’ motion to stay pending interlocutory appeal and incorporated memorandum of law

2022-06-13: Defendants MaineHealth, General Healthcare of Maine, LLC, Genesis Healthcare, LLC, and MaineGeneral Health’s opposition to plaintiffs’ motion to stay proceedings pending interlocutory appeal

2022-06-15: Plaintiffs’ reply in support of motion to stay proceedings pending interlocutory appeal

2022-06-16: Scheduling order

2022-06-17: Order on motion to stay pending appeal

2022-06-28: Media intervenors’ opposition to plaintiffs’ emergency motion for stay pending appeal

2022-07-07: First Circuit opinion

2022-07-11: First amended verified complaint

2022-07-13: Plaintiffs-appellants’ agreed motion to dismiss appeal