The Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the constitutional presumption of access applies to civil or criminal court dockets. However, federal appellate courts have generally recognized that the right does attach.
The Second Circuit, for example, explained that “the press and public possess a qualified First Amendment right of access to docket sheets” in part because “the 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.” Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 86, 93 (2d Cir. 2004); see also Mangiafico v. Blumenthal, 471 F.3d 391, 398 (2d Cir. 2006) (recognizing that "docket sheets are public records of which the court could take judicial notice"); Nunez v. Pachman, 578 F.3d 228, 230 (3d Cir. 2009) (noting that a New Jersey statute requires “expungement of a criminal record from all public documents, including police blotters and court dockets”).
Additionally, federal court dockets are publicly available through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (“PACER”) service.
The Tenth Circuit recognizes a “qualified First Amendment right of access to docket sheets.” United States v. Mendoza, 698 F.3d 1303, 1306 (10th Cir. 2012). The Court states that “dockets are open to public inspection” and there has been a “long pedigree” that “dockets are public records.” Id.
The Eleventh Circuit has not held outright that the First Amendment or common law right of access extends to trial dockets. However, in Wilson v. American Motors Corp., the Eleventh Circuit applied the standard set out in Newman v. Graddick, where the Eleventh Circuit held that denial of access to trial records is only warranted where "denial is necessitated by a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to that interest." 759 F.2d 1568, 1571 (11th Cir. 1985) (citing Newman v. Graddick, 696 F.2d 796, 802 (11th Cir. 1983)). Under this standard, the court found nothing in the record to support sealing the record, reversed the district court's sealing of the records, and thereby ordered disclosure of the record, which included the docket. Wilson, 759 F.2d at 1570-572.
A district court more recently applied this analysis in Keemar v. AVCO Corp., where, upon finding insufficient grounds to overcome the public's right to access the documents, directed that the documents be unsealed and filed in the public docket. No. 6:06-cv-448-Orl-22DAB., 2007 WL 2696571, *3 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 11, 2007); see also Chicago Tribune Co. v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 263 F.3d 1304, 1311 (11th Cir. 2001).
No reported First Circuit cases identified.
The Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the constitutional presumption of access applies to civil or criminal court dockets. However, the Second Circuit has recognized that the right does attach, with one ruling that “the press and public possess a qualified First Amendment right of access to docket sheets” in part because “the 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.” Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 86 (2d Cir. 2004).
In United States v. Criden, the Third Circuit addressed the public’s right to access pre-trial hearings in the criminal context, but noted, in dicta, that judicial dockets are available to the public. 675 F.2d 550, 554 (3d Cir. 1982).
In Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, 527 F.3d 358, 371 (3d Cir. 2008), a civil case, the Third Circuit upheld without discussion a district court decision to seal all records filed in a civil lawsuit in which a Jane Doe plaintiff claimed she was fired because she had an abortion. Subsequently, however, the Third Circuit released a “Notice to the Bar” stating that appellate court dockets may not be sealed.
Third Circuit Clerk of Court, Notice to the Bar (Nov. 4, 2008), https://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/sites/ca3/files/Dockets%20in%20the%20Court%20of%20Appeals.pdf.
Court dockets are available online. One must obtain access via PACER by completing the on-line PACER Registration Form. A login and password can then be retrieved on-line if a credit card is provided or sent by U.S. mail to the address provided on the registration form. The PACER system will contain all unsealed documents filed with the court.
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).
The pubic enjoys a First Amendment right of access to newly filed civil complaints, even before judicial action is taken in the case. This right requires courts to make newly filed civil complaints available to the public as expeditiously as possible. See Courthouse News Serv. v. Schaefer, 2 F.4th 318, 325–29 (4th Cir. 2021).
The Fifth Circuit “repeatedly refuse[s] to  characterize the public access presumption as ‘strong’ or require a strong showing of proof.” Vantage Health Plan v. Willis-Knighton Med. Ctr., 913 F.3d 443, 448–50 (5th Cir. 2019) (citing United States v. Sealed Search Warrants, 868 F.3d 385, 393–95 (5th Cir. 2017); Sec. & Exch. Comm’n v. Van Waeyenberghe, 990 F.2d 845, 848 n.4 (5th Cir. 1993); Belo Broad. Corp. v. Clark, 654 F.2d 423, 433–34 (5th Cir. 1981)). Instead, “the decision to seal or unseal records is to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Id. (citing Sealed Search Warrants, 868 F.3d at 390).
The Sixth Circuit has held that sealing of a civil court docket is subject to the same First Amendment right of access as other civil court records. Rudd v. John Deere Constr. & Forestry Co., 834 F.3d 589, 593 (6th Cir. 2016); see also Tri-County Wholesale Distribs. V. Wine Grp., Inc., 565 F. App’x 477, 489 (6th Cir. 2012) (Gwin, J., concurring and dissenting in part) (“constitutional standards apply not only to courtroom proceedings, but to dockets, pleadings, and documents attached to pleadings” (citations omitted)).
Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 26.2 governs “Sealed Documents” and provides, in part, that “[t]he court may on written motion and for good cause shown enter an order directing that the docket entry for a sealed document show only that a sealed document was filed without any notation indicating its nature. . . .” Id., subd. (f).
There appears to be no Eighth Circuit case law discussing the right of access to civil court dockets.
There do not appear to be any Alabama cases that specifically address the right to access court dockets, but the general presumption of openness should be applicable.
Docket information is available online via the state’s “Alacourt” system. Users may subscribe for an annual fee to Alacourt generally (https://v2.alacourt.com), or they may choose to access docket information related to a single case through the state’s “Just One Look” system, for a substantially reduced fee (https://pa.alacourt.com). Docket information may also be obtained from the clerk of the court in which the case is pending.
The ability of the public and press to inspect docket sheets is a critical component to providing meaningful access to civil proceedings. The docket sheet provides onlookers an overview of the court proceedings and allows them to ascertain the parties to the case, the materials that have been filed, and the trial judge's decisions. See United States v. Ochoa–Vasquez, 428 F.3d 1015, 1029 n.15 (11th Cir. 2005). Access to docket sheets therefore enhances the appearance of fairness and enlightens the public both to the procedures the district court utilized to adjudicate the claims before it and to the materials it relied upon in reaching its determinations. In this respect, “docket sheets provide a kind of index to judicial proceedings and documents, and endow the public and press with the capacity to exercise their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Hartford Courant Co. [v. Pellegrino], 380 F.3d  at 93 [(2nd Cir.)] . . . [T]here is 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.
Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 268 (4th Cir. 2014).
The general right of access applies to all Alaska state court records, regardless of the manner of creation, method of collection, form of storage, or the form in which the record is maintained. Alaska Admin. R. 37.5(d)(2). If a court record, or portion thereof, is excluded from public access, there must be a publicly accessible indication of the fact of exclusion but not the content of the exclusion except for records that are confidential (as opposed to sealed), according to Admin. R. 37.5(d)(3). However, Administrative Rule 40 requires the clerk of court to list a case on the public case index even though the case file has been sealed or made confidential under this rule—unless it comes within one of the specified exceptions noted below—and the public index must be made available to the public in electronic form except as limited by Admin. R. 37.8. Only the presiding judge of the judicial district has the power to remove a party’s name from the public case index, and this action may be taken only in very limited circumstances, and as specified in the administrative rules. Admin. R. 40(b) and (c). A more detailed discussion of the rules governing the public case index is found in subsection VI.I below (Access to civil court records/Other civil court records issues).
The Supreme Court of Arkansas adopted a policy that grants public access to court records, including all court records, including the register of action and docket sheets, available to the public during business hours established by the court. Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order No. 19. The Administrative Order also said that “[c]ourts should endeavor” to make information, including dockets, available by remote access “when available in electronic form.” Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order No. 19(V)(A)(3).
California appellate courts have not expressly decided whether the constitutional presumption of access applies to civil court dockets. However, given the strong presumption of openness associated with civil proceedings and records in California, the presumption of access is likely to be applied to the contents of docket sheets, which could be closed only if the requirements of California Rules of Court, Rules 20550 and 2.551 were met. See. e.g., Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court, 6 Cal. App. 4th 106, 111, 7 Cal. Rptr. 2d 841 (1992) (holding that the press had a right to inspect the clerk’s “rough minute” books of a trial court; First Amendment provides “broad access rights to judicial hearings and records ... both in criminal and civil cases”).
In addition, California recognizes a presumption of access to all public records, which presumably would extend to dockets. See, e.g., Sander v. State Bar of California, 58 Cal. 4th 300, 304, 314 P.3d 488, 165 Cal. Rptr. 3d 250 (2013) (“under the common law right of public access, there is a sufficient public interest in the information contained in the admissions database such that the State Bar is required to provide access to it if the information can be provided in a form that protects the privacy of applicants and if no countervailing interest outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure”).
The Colorado Judicial Department’s Public Access to Court Records policy (“Public Access Policy”) (pdf) defines “court record” to include any “index, calendar, docket, [and] register of actions . . . related to a judicial proceeding.” (See Section 3.03(a)(3).) The Public Access Policy generally permits public access to court records. (Section 4.10.)
State law recognizes that “every case filed in the superior court shall be identified as existing in the records of the court by docket number and by the names of the parties, and this information shall be available to the public,” Conn. R. Super. Ct. § 7-4a, unless a statute or sealing order provides otherwise. Additionally, the First Amendment provides the same qualified right to inspect court dockets (listings of cases and parties) as it does to inspect things filed with the courts. Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 91 (2d Cir. 2004).
In state cases, parties may not proceed under pseudonyms in civil matters unless they demonstrate that theirs is the “rare case where the nature of the issue litigated and the interest of the parties demand it and no harm can be done to the public interest.” Buxton v. Ullman, 147 Conn. 48, 60, 156 A.2d 508, 515 (1959). Nowadays, that inquiry is phrased as whether the person seeking anonymity “has a substantial privacy right which outweighs the customary . . . presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.” Doe v. Connecticut Bar Examining Comm., 263 Conn. 39, 69-70, 818 A.2d 14, 34 (2003) (internal quotation omitted). The state courts have found such an outweighing, for example, where a plaintiff with a medical condition making childbearing dangerous challenged the state’s then-existing prohibition on contraception, Buxton v. Ullman, 147 Conn. 48, 52–53, 156 A.2d 508, 511 (1959), where the plaintiff alleged to have been sexually assaulted by clergy as a child, Doe v. Diocese Corp., 43 Conn. Supp. 152, 161, 647 A.2d 1067, 1072 (Super. Ct. 1994), and where an indigent person in need of abortion services challenged the state Medicaid program’s restriction of funding for such services. Doe v. Maher, 40 Conn. Supp. 394, 395, 515 A.2d 134, 135 (Super. Ct. 1986).
In federal cases, parties generally may not proceed under pseudonyms unless, among other things, the case (1) involves matters that are “highly sensitive and of a personal nature,” (2) “poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to the . . . party seeking to proceed anonymously or even more critically, to innocent non-parties,” (3) presents other harms, particularly where they would “be incurred as a result of the disclosure of the plaintiff's identity,” (4) involve a particularly vulnerable party seeking to hide his or her identity, (5) where the suit challenges the actions of private parties or the government, (6) the parties’ identities have thus far been kept confidential, or (7) where no suitable alternatives to secrecy exist. Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 189–90 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
Generally, dockets of all civil proceedings are accessible via the PACER system. However, on occasion a court may grant anonymity to the parties. See United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448, 1464 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (it is within the discretion of the district court to grant the “rare dispensation” of anonymity) (quoting James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993)); see also John Doe Co. v. Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau, 321 F.R.D. 31, 33 (D.D.C. 2017) (granting company’s request to proceed under a pseudonym while seeking to enjoin the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from publicizing its investigation of the company). But see Sandberg v. Vincent, 319 F. Supp. 3d 422 (D.D.C. 2018) (denying alleged sexual assault victim’s request to proceed under a pseudonym). Notwithstanding the rare exception, disclosure of parties' identities furthers the public interest in knowing the facts surrounding judicial proceedings. Qualls v. Rumsfeld, 228 F.R.D. 8, 10 (D.D.C. 2005). The court will generally weigh the following considerations to determine whether a party should be permitted to proceed anonymously:
 [W]hether the justification asserted by the requesting party is merely to avoid the annoyance and criticism that may attend any litigation or is to preserve privacy in a matter of sensitive and highly personal nature;  whether identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to the requesting party or even more critically, to innocent non-parties;  the ages of the persons whose privacy interests are sought to be protected;  whether the action is against a governmental or private party; and, relatedly,  the risk of unfairness to the opposing party from allowing an action against it to proceed anonymously.
Sandberg v. Vincent, 319 F. Supp. 3d 422, 426 (D.D.C. 2018).
District of Columbia
In deciding whether to unseal sealed case dockets, D.C. courts apply the familiar Hubbard factors: namely, (1) the need for public access to the documents at issue; (2) the extent to which the public had access to the documents prior to the sealing order; (3) the fact that a party has objected to disclosure and the identity of that party; (4) the strength of the property and privacy interests asserted; (5) the possibility of prejudice to those opposing disclosure; and (6) the purposes for which the documents were introduced. United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 317-22 (D.C. Cir. 1981); see also Guttenberg v. Emery, 26 F. Supp. 3d 88, 92-97 (D.D.C. 2014) (declining to seal docket and other case materials, citing Hubbard factors); Friedman v. Sebelius, 672 F. Supp. 2d 54 (D.D.C. 2009) (unsealing case docket after granting defendants’ motion to dismiss (citing Hubbard factors)).
Dockets are a type of judicial record encompassed by Barron and Florida’s constitutional right of access to court records. Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420 specifies the process for closing court records and addresses dockets. “Court records” are defined to include “the contents of the court file, including the progress docket and other similar records generated to document activity in a case . . .” Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.420(b)(1)(A). The Barron and Lewis (426 So. 2d 1 (Fla. 1982)) tests again substantively govern any closure motions related to dockets. However, the court may not make confidential the case number, docket number, or other number used by the clerk’s office to identify the case file. Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.420(e)(1). This docket provision was added to address “super sealing” problems involving closed case files and completely sealed dockets.
Dockets are publicly available in Georgia. Georgia has no single statewide system for electronically accessing court dockets but many courts—including the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and many trial courts—do provide such access online via their own website or that of an authorized private vendor.
Under Illinois law, the public has the right to view all dockets required to be kept by clerks of the court and therefore deemed public records. 705 Ill. Comp. Stat. 105/16(6) (West 2021). In 2000, however, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the right of access granted by the statute is not absolute. Skolnick v. Altheimer & Gray, 191 Ill.2d at 231, 730 N.E.2d at 16, 246 Ill. Dec. at 336.
Under Administrative Rule 9(e)(4), courts “should endeavor” to make “[c]alendars or dockets of Court proceedings, including case numbers and captions, date and time of hearings, and location of hearings” and chronological case summaries remotely accessible to the public. Indiana uses the Odyssey case management system, which allows the public to search cases by case numbers, party names, or attorneys: https://public.courts.in.gov/mycase/#/vw/Search.
In Iowa, dockets are public records maintained by the clerk of court. See Iowa Code Chapter 22 (2018). Dockets may be found at the clerk of court’s office or online on Iowa’s electronic docket. See Iowa Courts Online Search, http://www.iowacourts.state.ia.us. Copies of complete court documents are currently not available online and only available in the clerk of court’s office.
Further, the Eighth Circuit has stated that case dockets are public records. In re Search Warrant for Secretarial Area Outside Office of Thomas Gunn, 855 F.2d 569, 575 (8th Cir. 1988) (citing United States v. Criden, 675 F.2d 550, 559 (3d Cir. 1982)). One rationale behind public dockets including motions to close a proceeding or seal documents is that the docket may serve as notice to the public and the press. Id. If motions are docketed in advance of a hearing, the docket itself can “afford the public and the press an opportunity to present objections to the motion.” Id. Further, the court held, “[t]he fact that a closure or sealing order has been entered must itself be noted on the court’s docket, absent extraordinary circumstances.” Id.
Dockets are among records presumed to be open in civil cases. A presumption of openness applies to court records, regardless of whether they are criminal or civil, under the Kansas Open Records Act, 45-215 et seq., as implemented by the Kansas Judicial Branch. See Kansas Judicial Branch, Administrative Order No. 156, Administration of the Kansas Open Records Act, http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/supreme-court/administrative-orders/Admin-order-156.pdf.
Civil dockets in Kentucky state courts are open to public inspection at the clerk’s office both in the hard-copy files and on computer terminals. Civil dockets are generally open to the public and are available at the court clerk’s office in hard copy and on computer terminals. Court dockets, in limited format, may also be accessed online at http://kcoj.kycourts.net/dockets. Dockets of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and Kentucky Supreme Court are available on the Court of Justice website, http://courts.ky.gov/Pages/legal.aspx.
Such records should be accessible through a Public Records request, or simply by going to the clerk’s office (or the judge’s chambers) and requesting the record.
This page on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website provides addresses and telephone numbers for all clerks of court as well as links to those clerk’s offices that have websites: https://www.laclerksofcourt.org/clerks-of-court.
Some courts, typically in rural areas, do not even have websites. Clerk’s offices in urban areas, such as those in Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Covington and Gretna, do have websites with access to court records. Typically, minimal or no information is available for free, and full access, sometimes including images of documents, is available only with a paid subscription.
Any civil docket can be accessed by contacting the clerk of the court in which the case is pending. The clerk of each court is obligated to maintain the docket in every civil case. M. R. Civ. P. 79(a). The courts do not maintain any public online or electronic system, but the clerk’s office has access to a computer database.
In extraordinary circumstances, a docket may be sealed. Administrative Order JB-05-20 (A. 5-09), “Public Information and Confidentiality” explains, “In some limited circumstances, all information about a case may be impounded, specific information within a case, such as the identity of a party, or the fact that an impoundment motion was made and granted may be impounded or sealed.” Id. § II(H)(2) n.3.
The Maine Rules of Civil Procedure provide for the filing of a motion to impound or seal documents or other materials. M. R. Civ. P. 79(b)(1). Upon the filing of a motion, the clerk is obligated to separate such materials from the publicly available file and keep them impounded or sealed pending the court’s adjudication of the motion. Id. The Rule does not address the standard for determining whether to grant a request to impound or seal. There are no reported cases interpreting the rule.
Although no Maryland state court has decided the issue, the Fourth Circuit has found a constitutional right of access to docket sheets. Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 268 (4th Cir. 2014) (noting a right of access to civil docket sheets). Maryland state courts have, however, recognized the importance of docket sheets in enforcing the public’s right of access. Baltimore Sun Co. v. Colbert, 593 A.2d 224, 229 (Md. 1991) (“[F]or the public to be able to assert [its right to attend pretrial proceedings] in a meaningful fashion, the motion must be docketed in advance of the time of the hearing to provide notice to afford an opportunity to oppose the closure motion, as well as to present alternatives to closure.”); id. at 305–06 (“[A]s with a motion to close a courtroom, a motion to seal [pleadings in a pretrial motion] should be docketed reasonably in advance of the request, if practicable.”). Docket entries regarding convictions that have been “expunged” may be sealed or destroyed. See Md. Rules 4-501, et seq.
(Electronic access to Maryland court dockets is available online at http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us.)
Case files and dockets are generally public records. Massachusetts courts maintain a webpage with links and resources pertaining to dockets and court calendars. See also Boston College Law Library, Dockets and Court Filings Research (providing information about online docket access for all levels of Massachusetts courts).
Although Minnesota courts have not addressed this issue, the Eighth Circuit has held that case dockets are public records. In re Search Warrant for Secretarial Area Outside Office of Gunn, 855 F.2d 569, 570 (8th Cir. 1988). Case dockets for all Minnesota state and federal courts are typically available online.
Some, but not all, Mississippi trial courts maintain their own websites or provide web access through a private vendor. Some of these sites include docket information. For cases on appeal, the docket of the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals is available online at https://courts.ms.gov/. The site provides a docket entry noting each filing, order and opinion in each case. The docket is searchable by party name, attorney name, and case number.
Records not available online can be viewed or copied in the office of the Clerk of the Mississippi Supreme Court, which maintains Supreme Court and Court of Appeals case files. Records may be viewed in the clerk’s office or copied. The clerk’s office may require advance notice of a request to view or copy a file. The telephone number is 601-359-3694. Because of limited space, older files are transferred to the state Department of Archives and History. Those records should be obtained directly from Archives and History.
Missouri Court Operating Rule 2 establishes that docket entries in civil cases are publicly available.
Court dockets are public records. State ex rel. Newby v. Elsworth, 61 Neb. 444, 85 N.W. 439 (1901). Docket information can be accessed through the clerk of the court. Docket information can also be accessed on line through the “JUSTICE” system available on the State of Nebraska’s official web service. See www.nebraska.gov/faqs/justice. JUSTICE can be accessed via a subscription or via a one-time search fee of $15.
The Nevada Rules for Sealing and Redacting Court Records provide:
“Under no circumstances shall the court seal an entire court file. An order entered under these rules must, at a minimum, require that the following information is available for public viewing on court indices: (i) the case number(s) or docket code(s) or number(s); (ii) the date that the action was commenced; (iii) the names of the parties, counsel of record, and the assigned judge; (iv) the notation “case sealed”; (v) the case type and cause(s) of action, which may be obtained from the Civil Cover Sheet; (vi) the order to seal and written findings supporting the order; and (vii) the identity of the party or other person who filed the motion to seal.”
SRCR 3(5)(c) (emphasis added).
The right of access, discussed in “Overcoming a presumption of openness” above, applies to dockets.
For purposes of Rule 1-079 NMRA, “‘court record’ means all or any portion of a document, paper, exhibit, transcript, or other material filed or lodged with the court, and the register of actions and docket entries used by the court to document the activity in a case.” (emphasis added). As such, no portion of the docket shall be sealed except by court order. Id. Even where statutory carve-outs to the presumption exist, “the docket number and case type for the categories of cases listed in this paragraph shall not be sealed without a court order.” Id.
Under New York’s Uniform Justice Court Act § 2019-a, “[t]he records and dockets of the court except as otherwise provided by law shall be at reasonable times open for inspection to the public . . . .”
Moreover, courts are reluctant to completely seal the entire record, including the docket. In Landberg v National Enterprises, No. 0103104/2006, 2007 WL 2176343, at *4 (Sup. Ct. July 06, 2007), the court explained that where “a less drastic remedy than wholesale sealing of the record can achieve the purported goals of a party seeking sealing, i.e., the sealing of only certain exhibits or affidavits, then the Court should only grant such a partial scaling. If the parties seek renewal of this application in order to satisfy the criteria identified by the Court, they should also explain why partial sealing is inadequate.”
All dockets are public record in North Dakota. Certain identifying information for hearings which are closed to the public may be redacted or omitted, as required by statute or rule.
The Ohio Rules of Superintendence classify dockets as court records. Sup.R. 44(B)–(C)(1). “Court records are presumed open to public access.” Sup.R. 45. The rules provide for a method to view dockets through direct and remote access. Sup.R. 45(B)–(C). The court shall restrict public access, however, when “the presumption of allowing public access is outweighed by a higher interest.” Sup.R. 45(E)(2).
Dockets in all state civil, criminal, and appellate cases are readily available to the public through the Oklahoma State Courts Network, www.oscn.net.
ORS 7.130 provides that “[w]henever requested, the clerk or court administrator shall furnish to any person a certified copy of any portion of the records or files in the custody of the clerk or court administrator.” Records include registers. ORS 7.010.
The register is a record wherein the clerk or court administrator shall enter, by its title, every action, suit or proceeding commenced in, or transferred or appealed to, the court, according to the date of its commencement, transfer or appeal. Thereafter, the clerk or court administrator shall note therein all the following:
(1) The date of any filing of any document.
(2) The date of making, filing and entry of any order, judgment, ruling or other direction of the court in or concerning such action, suit or proceeding.
(3) Any other information required by statute, court order or rule.
Oregon provides online access to dockets via the Oregon Judicial Case Information Network (OJCIN). OJCIN is accessible at: https://www.courts.oregon.gov/services/online/Pages/ojcin.aspx. Access to OJCIN is subscription-based.
There is a right of access to case dockets under both the First Amendment and the common law. See Commonwealth v. Curley, 189 A.3d 467, 472-75 (Pa. Super. 2018); see also, e.g., Milton Hershey Sch. v. Pa. Human Relations Comm’n, 226 A.3d 117, 130 (Pa. Commw. 2020) (granting newspaper’s request to unseal docket). Before sealing any portion of a docket, the court must make “individualized, specific, particularized findings” with respect to each docket entry. See Curley, 189 A.3d at 473 (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/CaseSearch (last visited June 28, 2021).
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 governed by the Electronic Case Record Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, available at https://www.pacourts.us/public-records/public-records-policies (last visited Aug. 27, 2021).
The Rhode Island Courts have not addressed the extent to which civil dockets are subject to public access.
The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-10 et. seq., protects rights of access to court dockets (also known as “rosters”), and all completed rosters are available through each county’s public index website. A link to each county public index webpage can be found at https://www.sccourts.org/clerks/roster_map.cfm.
Civil case filing statements that include identification information are closed. S.D. Codified Laws § 15-6-5(h).
Tennessee courts have not expressly indicated that the constitutional presumption of access applies to court dockets. However, there is a strong presumption of openness for access to civil judicial records in Tennessee. E.g., Autin v. Goetz, 524 S.W.3d 617, (629 (Tenn. Ct. App., 2017) (“Judicial proceedings and judicial records are … presumptively open” (citations omitted). Court dockets would also be a public record under Tennessee law and would be presumptively open unless an exemption applies.
While no published Texas court opinion has expressly recognized a public right of access to court dockets, the general presumption of access to judicial records in civil cases should apply with equal force to court dockets. Cf. Davenport v. Garcia, 834 S.W.2d 4, 23–24 (Tex. 1992); In Interest of M.A.M., No. 05-14-00040-CV, 2015 WL 5863833, at *4 (Tex. App.—Dallas Oct. 8, 2015), reh’g overruled (Nov. 30, 2015) and review denied (Feb. 26, 2016) (mem. op.) (citing Times Herald Printing Co. v. Jones, 717 S.W.2d 933, 936 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1986), vacated and dismissed on other grounds, 730 S.W.2d 648 (Tex. 1987) (per curiam); Ashpole v. Millard, 778 S.W.2d 169, 170 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1989, no pet.)). However, Texas courts do not recognize a “paramount right to immediate access to court records.” Oryon Techs., Inc. v. Marcus, 429 S.W.3d 762, 764 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, no pet.) (citing Dallas Morning News v. Fifth Court of Appeals, 842 S.W.2d 655, 659 (Tex. 1992)).
To seal or otherwise limit the distribution of court records, courts must identify “a specific, serious and substantial interest which clearly outweighs” the general presumption of openness and any adverse consequences that sealing the document would have. Tex. R. Civ. P. 76a(1). Further, there must be no less restrictive means of adequately protecting the identified interest available. See id. at 76a(1)(b).
The presumptive right of access to court records under federal, state, and common law applies equally to dockets in civil proceedings. See Lafferty v. Bigelow, No. 2:07-CV-322 (D. Utah Jan. 9, 2014) (granting media intervenors’ motion to unseal records and to disclose unrecorded docket entries); see also United States v. McVeigh, 119 F.3d 806, 811 (10th Cir. 1997) (“It is clearly established that court documents are covered by a common law right of access. Under that doctrine, judicial documents are presumptively available to the public, but may be sealed if the right to access is outweighed by the interests favoring nondisclosure.”); Soc’y of Prof’l Journalists v. Briggs, 675 F. Supp. 1308, 1310 (D. Utah 1987) (“This court agrees and holds that there is a constitutional right of access to public documents.”); DUCivR 5-2(a) (“The records of the court are presumptively open to the public.”); State v. Archuleta, 857 P.2d 234 (Utah 1993) (First Amendment right of access to court records filed in connection with preliminary hearing); Utah Code § 63G-2-301(2)(f) (“judicial records” are presumptively public under GRAMA); Utah Code Jud. Admin. 4-202.02(1) (“Court records are public unless otherwise classified by this rule.”).
Civil dockets are publicly available in Vermont. Vermont Courts Online provides docket chronologies for civil and small claims cases in the civil division of all units of the Vermont Superior Court. See VT Courts Online, https://secure.vermont.gov/vtcdas/user. Vermont Courts Online does not allow online access to family division cases, see 12 V.S.A. § 5, nor does it currently allow for retrieval of the pleadings and orders listed on any dockets.
In Virginia, circuit court clerks are required to maintain dockets. See Va. Code § 8.01-331. Thus, dockets are presumptively open to the public. See Va. Code § 8.01-208(B) (“records that are maintained” by circuit court clerks are presumptively open to the public); Shenandoah Pub. House, Inc. v. Fanning, 235 Va. 253, 262 n.3, 368 S.E.2d 253, 257 n.3 (1988) (referencing “docket entries” as a type of judicial records to which the presumption of access applies) (dicta).
The Fourth Circuit has squarely acknowledged the public’s presumptive right of access under the First Amendment to docket entries.
The ability of the public and press to inspect docket sheets is a critical component to providing meaningful access to [judicial] proceedings. The docket sheet provides onlookers an overview of the court proceedings and allows them to ascertain the parties to the case, the materials that have been filed, and the trial judge’s decisions. Access to docket sheets therefore enhances the appearance of fairness and enlightens the public both to the procedures the district court utilized to adjudicate the claims before it and to the materials it relied upon in reaching its determinations. In this respect, docket sheets provide a kind of index to judicial proceedings and documents, and endow the public and press with the capacity to exercise their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 268–69 (4th Cir. 2014) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also In re U.S. for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 2703(D), 707 F.3d 283, 295 (4th Cir. 2013) (“Docket sheets exist to provide a map of proceedings in the underlying case, ensuring meaningful access to criminal proceedings.”) (internal quotations omitted); 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)). Therefore, “the information contained on a docket sheet is material that is presumptively open to public inspection.” In re State–Record Co., 917 F.2d 124, 129 (4th Cir.1990) (per curiam).
Court dockets are subject to the constitutional right of access. State v. Richardson, 177 Wn.2d 351, 360, 302 P.3d 156 (2013) (the “presumption that court records are open would be meaningless if court dockets could be sealed without justification”).
Court docket sheets fall within the scope of the “full and complete information regarding the operation and affairs of the judicial system,” covered by Rule 10.04(a) of the West Virginia Trial Court Rules to which the press and public are entitled. W. Va. Trial Ct. R. 10.04(a), http://www.courtswv.gov/legal-community/court-rules/trial-court/chapter-1.html#rule10.04. While there are no West Virginia cases or laws discussing the status of court docket sheets, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 268 (4th Cir. 2014) held that docket sheets in civil cases fall within the constitutional right of access:
The Eleventh Circuit has squarely held that a district court's maintenance of a sealed docket sheet violates the public and press's First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings, United States v. Valenti, 987 F.2d 708, 715 (11th Cir. 1993), and the Second Circuit has extended the First Amendment right of public access to docket sheets for civil proceedings, Hartford Courant Co., 380 F.3d at 96; . . . see also United States v. Mendoza, 698 F.3d 1303, 1307 (10th Cir. 2012) (noting that ‘dockets are generally public documents’ and collecting cases). We join the Second Circuit and hold that the public and press’ First Amendment qualified right of access to civil proceedings extends to docket sheets.
The ability of the public and press to inspect docket sheets is a critical component to providing meaningful access to civil proceedings. The docket sheet provides onlookers an overview of the court proceedings and allows them to ascertain the parties to the case, the materials that have been filed, and the trial judge's decisions. See United States v. Ochoa–Vasquez, 428 F.3d 1015, 1029 n. 15 (11th Cir. 2005). Access to docket sheets therefore enhances the appearance of fairness and enlightens the public both to the procedures the district court utilized to adjudicate the claims before it and to the materials it relied upon in reaching its determinations. In this respect, ‘docket sheets provide a kind of index to judicial proceedings and documents, and endow the public and press with the capacity to exercise their rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.’ Hartford Courant Co., 380 F.3d at 93.