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Roe v. Doe

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 23, 2019

JANE ROE, Plaintiff,
JOHN DOE, Defendant.



         Defendant “John Doe” moves, once again, for an order permitting him to proceed in this action under pseudonym-this time with the consent of Plaintiff “Jane Roe, ” and asking that she be granted a pseudonym as well. Defendant also requests retroactive sealing or an alternative treatment of prior proceedings in this matter that would similarly advance the parties' confidentiality interests.

         When the Court denied Defendant's first attempt to proceed under pseudonym, the Court recognized its discretion but found that Defendant had not satisfied a five-factor test that sister courts in this Circuit often apply to such requests. See Mem. Op., ECF No. 15. Defendant now raises several new or previously undisclosed developments that may affect the exercise of the Court's discretion, including the Court's application of the relevant test.

         Upon consideration of Defendant's brief, the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, in an exercise of its discretion the Court shall GRANT Defendant's [23] Consent Motion to Proceed Under Pseudonym.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On several prior occasions, the Court has discussed Plaintiff's allegations and the subsequent proceedings in this matter. See Mem. Op., ECF No. 15, at 2; Mem. Op., ECF No. 19, at 1-3. As Defendant summarizes, “[t]he allegations in this matter involve an incident of sexual intercourse between [Plaintiff] and [Defendant] that the former alleged was nonconsensual and the latter maintains was fully consensual.” Consent Motion to Proceed Under Pseudonym, ECF No. 23 (“Def.'s Mot.”), at 7 (citing Compl, ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 33-41). Of note now, Plaintiff's only remaining claim against Defendant is for sexual assault and battery; the Court dismissed her claim for negligence and gross negligence. Mem. Op., ECF No. 19.


         “Although it is within the discretion of the district court to grant the ‘rare dispensation' of anonymity against the world (but not the plaintiff), even in that situation the court has ‘a judicial duty to inquire into the circumstances of particular cases to determine whether the dispensation is warranted.'” United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448, 1464 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993)). The D.C. Circuit has indicated that district courts considering requests for pseudonyms should evaluate both the likelihood of any unfairness to the non-movant and the presumption of transparency vis-à-vis the public. Id. (citing S. Methodist Univ. Ass'n of Women Law Students v. Wynne & Jaffe, 599 F.2d 707, 713 (5th Cir. 1979); Doe v. Stegall, 653 F.2d 180, 186 (5th Cir. 1981) (“customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings”)).

         The D.C. Circuit's Microsoft ruling made clear, at the least, “that courts must be prepared to thoroughly analyze motions that would permit parties to remain anonymous throughout the course of litigation.” Doe v. Teti, No. 1:15-mc-01380, 2015 WL 6689862, at *1 n.1 (D.D.C. Oct. 19, 2015) (citing Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448). In the absence of a detailed standard from the D.C. Circuit, courts in this Circuit have often deployed the following test articulated in the Fourth Circuit's James decision, which the Microsoft Court cited approvingly:

[1] [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; [2] whether identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to the requesting party or even more critically, to innocent non-parties; [3] the ages of the persons whose privacy interests are sought to be protected; [4] whether the action is against a governmental or private party; and, relatedly, [5] the risk of unfairness to the opposing party from allowing an action against it to proceed anonymously.

James, 6 F.3d at 238; see also, e.g., Yacovelli v. Moeser, No. 02-596, 2004 WL 1144183, at *6 (M.D. N.C. May 20, 2004) (quoting James, 6 F.3d at 238); Nat'l Ass'n of Waterfront Emp'rs v. Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d 90, 99 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Yacovelli, No. 02-596, 2004 WL 1144183, at *6-*8); Roe v. Bernabei & Wachtel PLLC, 85 F.Supp.3d 89, 96 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d at 99). “No single factor is necessarily determinative; a court ‘should carefully review all the circumstances of a given case and then decide whether the customary practice of disclosing the [movant's] identity should yield' to the [movant's] request for anonymity.” Teti, No. 1:15-mc-01380, 2015 WL 6689862, at *2 (quoting Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 323 (11th Cir. 1992) (discussing Fifth Circuit's standard in Stegall)).

         “Pseudonymous litigation is for the unusual or critical case, and it is the litigant seeking to proceed under pseudonym that bears the burden to demonstrate a legitimate basis for proceeding in that manner.” Qualls v. Rumsfeld, 228 F.R.D. 8, 13 (D.D.C. 2005).


         Defendant does not contest the Court's decision to apply the James test to his previous motion to proceed under pseudonym. Rather, he argues that several developments should affect the outcome of that test. Defendant also takes the opportunity to argue that the Court misapplied several of the James factors in the first instance. Rather than revisiting James in toto, however, ...

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