The Fourth Circuit has held that the public has a First Amendment right of access to docket sheets in civil matters. See Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246 (4th Cir. 2014) (noting “a more repugnant aspect to depriving the public and press access to docket sheets: no one can challenge closure of a document or proceeding that is itself a secret.”); see also In re Application of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press To Unseal Criminal Prosecution of Julian Assange, No. 1:18-mc-37, 2019 WL 366869, *3 n.3 (E.D. Va. Jan. 30, 2019) (“[T]he ability of the public and press to attend civil and criminal cases would be merely theoretical if the information provided by docket sheets were inaccessible.”) (quoting Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 93-94 (2d Cir. 2004)); Bankers Tr. Co. v. Mallis, 435 U.S. 381, 384 n.4 (1978) (“[T]he keeping of a civil docket pursuant to Rule 79 fulfills a public recordkeeping function over and above the giving of notice to the losing party that a final decision has been entered against it.”).
The United States has a compelling interest in protecting an ongoing fraud investigation in qui tam actions pursuant to the False Claims Act sufficient to overcome the public’s right of access to the docket. However, after the United States has decided to intervene, a litigant’s bare privacy interest is insufficient to justify continued sealing of a qui tam proceeding and its records. See Am. Civil Liberties Union v. Holder, 673 F.3d 245 (4th Cir. 2011); Under Seal v. Under Seal, 326 F.3d 479 (4th Cir. 2003); United States v. King Pharm., Inc., 806 F. Supp. 2d 833 (D. Md. 2011).
There is a right of access to case dockets under both the First Amendment and the common law. See Commonwealth v. Curley, --- A.3d ----, 2018 Pa. Super. LEXIS 599, at *8-9 (June 4, 2018). Before sealing any portion of a docket, the court must make “individualized, specific, particularized findings” with respect to each docket entry. See id. at *10-11 (trial court erred in failing to make such findings when sealing docket entries).
Effective January 6, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a new policy that governs public access to case records, 204 Pa. Code § 213.81. “Case records,” as defined in the policy, include case dockets. However the policy provides that if a court posts online docket information concerning family court actions and actions governed by the Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, Adult Protective Services Act, and the Older Adult Protective Services Act, those docket entries may include only (1) a party’s name, (2) a party’s address information, (3) counsel of record’s name and address, (4) docket number, (5) entries indicating generally what actions have been taken or are scheduled in a case, (6) court orders and opinions, (7) filing date of the case, and (8) case type.
Dockets for matters pending in the Superior Court, Commonwealth Court or Supreme Court may be accessed online at the web portal for The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania: https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/Appellate.aspx (last visited July 19, 2018).
Many counties also offer electronic access to their Court of Common Pleas dockets for civil cases. Electronic case record information held on these portals is also governed by Electronic Case Record Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, available at http://www.pacourts.us/assets/files/page-1090/file-837.pdf.