The Volokh Conspiracy

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Court Refuses to Order Redaction of Filings That Reveal Litigant's Past Pseudonymous Lawsuits

A California trial court so ruled, and the California Court of Appeal just upheld that decision.


From today's decision in Luo v. County of L.A. (note that this is the same Luo from Luo v. Volokh), written by Justice John Segal and joined by Justices Gonzalo Martinez and Gail Ruderman Feuer:

Xingfei Luo brought this action against the County of Los Angeles under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). In an opposition to a motion by Luo for sanctions, the County listed other lawsuits Luo had filed using a pseudonym. Seven months later, Luo filed an ex parte application for an order redacting the list of lawsuits from the County's opposition and the trial court's order denying the motion for sanctions. Luo appeals from the trial court's order denying her ex parte application. We affirm….

Luo had actually largely prevailed on her underlying demand for various records on crime statistics, but lost as to the redaction, and the appellate court concluded that the trial court didn't abuse its discretion on that score:

First, substantial evidence supported the trial court's implied finding there was no overriding interest supporting redaction that overcame the right of public access to the documents…. Luo argues it is "self-evident" she has a "right of privacy" in her "personal information." The issue, however, is not just whether Luo has a right of privacy, but whether she has an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the documents, as rule 2.550(d)(1) requires. And there is no evidence in the record Luo had an overriding interest.

Second, even if Luo had an overriding interest in preventing disclosure of her prior lawsuits, substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding there was no substantial probability that interest would be prejudiced if the record was not sealed. In the trial court Luo claimed the unredacted case names caused a "threat of violence," but the trial court found that contention was "speculation." On appeal Luo argues disclosure of "sensitive matters … caused threats and harassment to her," but the only evidence she cites is her redacted declaration, the unredacted portion of which contains no information about threats, violence, or harassment.

Luo argues disclosing her true name in this case would render the orders in other cases that allowed her to use a pseudonym "meaningless and void." She contends the trial court "exceed[ed] its jurisdiction" in denying her application. But Luo cites no authority for the proposition another court's decision to allow her to proceed under a pseudonym exempts her from the requirements of rule 2.550 in this case. And even if the disclosure of Luo's prior cases allowed someone to discover her identity, such a disclosure would not, without more, establish that Luo had an overriding interest in preventing the disclosure, that the overriding interest overcame the right of public access, or that there was a substantial probability the disclosure would prejudice Luo.

That the documents Luo seeks to redact were publicly available in the court's records for seven months before she filed her ex parte application to redact them undermines her claim disclosure of her other cases would prejudice her. The trial court could reasonably infer from Luo's delay in seeking relief that public disclosure of the information did not prejudice her. Luo argues redaction is necessary to "protect[ ] her privacy rights moving forward," but as discussed, she did not provide any facts to show she would be prejudiced in the future, as rule 2.550(d)(3) requires….

Erin R. Dunkerly and David C. Moore (Collins & Collins) represent the County.