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Bonner v. Justia Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 19, 2019

ANDREW K. BONNER, JR., Plaintiff,
JUSTIA INCORPORATED, et al, Defendants.


          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on two motions and one application: (1) a motion to dismiss the amended complaint; filed by Defendant Justia, Inc. ("Justia"), (2) an application by Plaintiff requesting that the order on the motion to dismiss not "be reported, copied, distributed shared, or by any other means used by anyone or any website," which the Court construes as a motion to seal; and (3) a motion by Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California who seeks to intervene in opposition to Plaintiffs motion to seal.

         Factual and Procedural History

          The Court previously dismissed the original complaint on a Rule 12 basis and this motion is to dismiss an amended complaint naming Justia, Inc., as the sole defendant. (ECF No. 23).

         For context, the Plaintiff was a litigant in an underlying state court case. Bonner v. Cumberland Reg'l High Sch. Dist., 2017 WL 2774081 (N. J. App. Div. June 27, 2017). In that case', the Appellate Division issued an opinion. Plaintiff seems to believe the opinion is his persona property. In this action, Plaintiff is apparently seeking to seal the opinion in the Appellate Division matter. The original federal complaint references a New Jersey state court action in which ho alleged he was bullied and harassed "while he was a student at Cumberland Regional High School." Id. Plaintiffs school concluded his claims were unfounded, which led to the Appellate Division's opinion. The trial court granted summary judgment, and the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed. Plaintiff then commenced this case on other grounds. Plaintiff claims, "There was a theft and embezzlement of [his] property"; without any supporting facts. (Id. at 3). He merely claims, "Justia Inc. stole my property in order to deprive me of it as well as damaged other property belonging to me." (Id.). Plaintiff justified the lack of facts, stating that he "wishes to not disclose more in this document and instead will make things clear in the exhibits, trial testimony, and briefing." (Id.). Plaintiff seeks damages for "emotional distress, depression, change in emotional behavior, intimidation, improper disclosure, legal abuse syndrome, anger, victimization, [and] scapegoating." (Id. at 4). Plaintiff seeks "a jury trial so the jury can fully consider all of the facts set out in the case." (Id.).

         Although not alleged in the amended complaint, according to Justia's brief, it is a provider of free online legal information. Justia obtained Bonner's opinion from the online repository of New Jersey case law maintained by Rutgers University. Justia posted the Appellate Division Opinion on its website for the public to access for free.

         In addition to being a law professor, Mr. Volokh is currently writing a law review article about individuals attempting to have opinions taken down from the internet. He also writes an online blog about internet takedown litigation. Further, Professor Volokh has identified several cases in which courts have permitted an interested party like himself to file similar motions to intervene pro se. See, e.g., In re Application to Unseal 98-cr-1101(ILG), 891 F.Supp.2d 296, 297-98 (E.D.N.Y. 2012); FTC v. OSF Healthcare Sys., 2012 WL 1144620, at 1 (N.D. Ill. April 5, 2012); In re Sealed Search Warrants Issued June 4 and 5, 2008, 2008 WL 5667021 (N.D.N.Y. 2008). Professor Volokh has also cited cases in which he has intervened pro se to oppose a motion to seal or to file a motion to unseal. See Furtado v. Henderson, 2018 WL 6521914 (D. Mass. Nov. 26, 2018); Barrow v. Living Word Church, No. 3:15-CV-341 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 16, 2016); Doe v. Does, No. 1:16-CV-7359 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 11, 2019); Parson v. Farley, 352 F.Supp.3d 1141, 1147 (N.D. Okla. 2018). Volokh articulated that he has an interest in intervening in this action because he is writing a law review article related to the subject matter of this litigation. (See Brief of Eugene Volokh, ECF No. 33 at 3).

         Legal Analysis

         Motion to Intervene

         "Any interested person may move to intervene pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(b) before the return date of any motion to seal or otherwise restrict public access or to obtain public access to materials or judicial proceedings filed under seal." L. Civ. R. 5.3(c)(5). The Third Circuit has "routinely found, as have other courts, that third parties have standing to challenge protective orders and confidentiality orders in an effort to obtain access to information or judicial proceedings." Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). "[T]he procedural device of permissive intervention is appropriately used to enable a litigant who was not an original party to an action to challenge protective or confidentiality orders entered in that action." Id. at 778.

         Professor Volokh's motion to intervene pro se is more like an application to appear as amicus curiae, as he has special knowledge of this area of law. As such, Professor Volokh is allowed to file a brief and argue the merits of the motion to seal.

         Application to Seal

         Plaintiff seeks to prevent the Appellate Division Opinion from being "reported, copied, distributed, shared, or by any other means used by anyone or any website." (ECF No. 26). "[T]he courts of this country recognize a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents." Nixon v. Warner Comm., Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). The Third Circuit has recognized "that the public and the press possess a First Amendment and a common law right of access to civil proceedings; indeed, there is a presumption that these proceedings will be open." Publicker Industries, Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1071 (3dCir. 1984). However, "the trial court may limit this right . . . when an important countervailing interest is shown." Id.

         More specifically, there is "a presumption that 'all materials and judicial proceedings are matters of public record and shall not be sealed.'" Novo Nordisk A/S v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC, 2008 WL 323611 at 2 (D.N.J. Feb. 4, 1008) (quoting L. Civ. R. 5.3, comment 2). The party seeking to seal "has the burden of establishing 'good cause' with respect to each document that it seeks to seal." Id. A party seeking to seal must support such ...

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