United States District Court, District of Columbia
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge
Plaintiffs' Motion to Proceed Anonymously
M.W. and N.W., on behalf of their minor son, J.W., move to
proceed anonymously in this Individuals with Disabilities in
Education Act (“IDEA”) case. See
Pls.' Mot. Proceed Anonymously, ECF No. 2. Plaintiffs
claim that the disclosure of their full names and their
address would indirectly impact their son's privacy
interests because J.W.'s identity is inherently linked to
his parents' identities. See Pls.' Mem. P.
& A. Supp. Mot. Proceed Anonymously, ECF No. 2
[hereinafter Pls.' Mem. Supp.]. The District of Columbia
agreed not to oppose Plaintiffs' motion, but disagrees
that permitting Plaintiffs to proceed anonymously is legally
supportable in this case. Def.'s Notice Clarif., ECF No.
8; see Def.'s Opp'n Pls.' Mot.
Anonymously, ECF No. 7 [hereinafter Def.'s Opp'n].
After weighing the competing interests involved, the Court
will grant Plaintiffs' motion to proceed anonymously.
are the parents of J.W., a nine-year-old student as of March
2016. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. J.W. has been diagnosed
with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but his parents allege that he
should also be diagnosed with Specific Learning Disorders in
reading, math, and writing and receive special education
services consistent with that additional diagnosis.
Id. ¶¶ 7, 28, 30. On March 28, 2016,
Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against the District alleging
that the District of Columbia Public Schools
(“DCPS”) failed to provide J.W. with the free and
appropriate public education (“FAPE”) required by
the IDEA. Id. ¶¶ 1, 132-35. A Hearing
Officer denied all of the relief Plaintiffs sought, and
Plaintiffs therefore also challenge the Hearing Officer's
determination. Id. ¶¶ 1, 136-38.
same time that they filed their Complaint, Plaintiffs filed a
motion to proceed anonymously, requesting that all parties
refer to them using only their initials (M.W. and N.W.), and
that all parties redact Plaintiffs' address in all
filings and pleadings. See Pls.' Mem. Supp.
¶ 9. In support of their motion, Plaintiffs claim that
“[m]aintaining the confidentiality of this information
would be in the best interest of the student.”
Id. ¶ 6. Although Plaintiffs' motion states
that the District “indicated that it will not oppose
this motion, ” id. ¶ 10, after the Court
issued a minute order on May 23, 2016 directing the District
to state its position on the motion, the District filed an
opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to proceed anonymously,
see generally Def.'s Opp'n. In its
opposition, the District claims that allowing Plaintiffs to
proceed anonymously “is not the appropriate decision in
balancing the traditional interest of ensuring public access
to judicial documents with the minor student's interest
in privacy.” Id. at 1. The District later
clarified its position, explaining that, while the District
agreed to not oppose Plaintiffs' motion, it disagrees
with Plaintiffs' legal analysis. Def.'s Notice
Clarif. at 1.
the defining characteristics of American judicial proceedings
is the right of public access. See Nixon v. Warner
Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978) (“It
is clear that the courts of this country recognize a general
right to inspect and copy public records and documents,
including judicial records and documents.” (footnotes
omitted)). In furtherance of this public interest, the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint
include the names of all the parties, Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a);
accord D.D.C. Local Civ. R. 5.1(c)(1) (same), and
that all civil actions be “prosecuted in the name of
the real party in interest, ” see Fed. R. Civ.
P. 17. The presumption of public access may be overcome,
however, “by an overriding interest based on findings
that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is
narrowly tailored to serve that interest.”
Nat'l Ass'n of Waterfront Emp'rs v.
Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d 90, 98 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting
Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court, 156
F.3d 940, 949 (9th Cir. 1998)).
the D.C. Circuit has not yet delineated a formal test for
determining when a party may proceed anonymously, courts in
this district generally apply the five-factor test set forth
in National Ass'n of Waterfront Employers v.
Chao when weighing the moving party's and the
public's competing interests. See 587 F.Supp.2d
at 99; see also, e.g., Doe v. Cabrera, 307
F.R.D. 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2014); Doe v. Von Eschenbach,
No. 06-2131, 2007 WL 1848013, at *2 (D.D.C. June 27, 2007);
accord James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir.
1993) (considering the same factors). The five factors of the
Chao test include:
(1) whether 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 a sensitive and highly personal nature;
(2) whether identification poses a risk of retaliatory
physical or mental harm to the requesting party or even more