United States District Court, District of Columbia
I.A. et al, Plaintiffs,
WILLIAM BARR et al, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
in this action are eight individuals and one organization
seeking to challenge the interim final rule "Asylum
Eligibility and Procedural Modifications," 84 Fed. Reg.
33, 829, issued on July 16, 2019, by the Attorney General and
the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. The individual
plaintiffs, each an asylum applicant or the minor child of an
applicant currently in the United States, seek leave to
proceed using pseudonyms and to file their proposed complaint
accordingly. They further seek leave to file under seal the
accompanying declarations in support of their motion for
leave to proceed pseudonymously. Defendants do not oppose
Plaintiffs' motion. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court will grant it.
individual plaintiffs are eight persons from five different
countries seeking asylum in the United States. They are
comprised of five adults and three minors, all of whom
entered the United States at the southern border on or after
July 16, 2019. Each individual adult plaintiff and the one
unaccompanied minor plaintiff, in an accompanying declaration
filed under seal, represents that he or she is fleeing
threats of severe violence or death, and they all state that
they would fear for their own safety and that of their
families if their names were disclosed as a result of their
participation in this lawsuit. Accordingly, Plaintiffs seek
leave of Court for the individual plaintiffs to proceed
pseudonymously. And they further request that the individual
plaintiffs' declarations describing in more detail the
grounds for their request remain under seal. As already
noted, Defendants do not oppose Plaintiffs' motion.
a complaint must state the names of the parties and the
address of the plaintiff. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a);
LCvR 5.1(c)(1); LCvR 11.1. The public's interest "in
knowing the names of.. . litigants" is critical because
"disclosing the parties' identities furthers
openness of judicial proceedings." Doe v. Pub.
Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 273 (4th Cir. 2014); see also
Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597
(1978) ("[T]he courts of this country recognize a
general right to inspect and copy public records and
documents, including judicial records and documents."
(footnotes omitted)). The Federal Rules thus promote a
"presumption in favor of disclosure [of litigants'
identities], which stems from the 'general public
interest in the openness . of governmental processes,'
and, more specifically, from the tradition of open judicial
proceedings." In re Sealed Case, No. 17-1212,
2019 WL 3367999, at *3 (D.C. Cir. July 26, 2019) (internal
citations omitted) (quoting Wash. Legal Found, v. U.S.
Sentencing Comm'n, 89 F.3d897, 899 (D.C. Cir.
courts have, in special circumstances, permitted a party to
"proceed anonymously" when a court determines the
need for "the plaintiffs anonymity" outweighs
"the public interest in open proceedings" and
considers the "fairness to the defendant."
Nat'l, Ass'n of Waterfront Emp'rs v.
Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d 90, 99 (D.D.C. 2008). The D.C.
Circuit has instructed that "the appropriate way to
determine whether a litigant may proceed anonymously is to
balance the litigant's legitimate interest in anonymity
against countervailing interests in full disclosure."
In re Sealed Case, 2019 WL 3367999, at *3. When
weighing those concerns, five factors, initially drawn from
James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993),
serve as "guideposts from which a court ought to begin
its analysis." In re Sealed Case, 2019 WL
3367999, at *4. These five factors are:
 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;  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.
Id. (citing James, 6 F.3d at 238). And when
the individual in question is a minor, Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 5.2(a) provides that any filing presumptively may
only include the minor's initials. See also LCvR
5.4(f)(2) ("If the involvement of a minor child must be
mentioned, only the initials of that child should be
whether to grant the "rare dispensation" of
anonymity is within the discretion of the district court,
provided that the court "inquire into the circumstances
of [the] particular case." United States v.
Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d 1448, 1464 (D.C. Cir. 1995)
(quoting James, 6 F.3d at 238). This is not "a
wooden exercise of ticking . . . boxes," but rather a
case-specific approach that should "take into account
other factors relevant to the particular" circumstances.
In re Sealed Case, 2019 WL 3367999, at *4 (quoting
Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3dl85,
190 (2d Cir. 2008)).
D.C. Circuit has also instructed that, as a general matter,
courts are to apply an analogous set of factors when
determining whether court filings should be sealed from
public view. See United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d
293, 317-22 (D.C. Cir. 1980). Those include: (1) the need for
public access to the documents at issue; (2) the extent of
previous public access to the documents; (3) the fact that
someone has objected to disclosure, and the identity of that
person; (4) the strength of any property and privacy
interests asserted; (5) the possibility of prejudice to those
opposing disclosure; and (6) the purposes for which the
documents were introduced during the judicial proceedings.
consideration of Plaintiffs' motion and the supporting
declarations, the Court finds that they have met their burden
of showing that their privacy interests outweigh the
public's presumptive and substantial interest in knowing
the details of this litigation. Furthermore, the Court
concludes that the declarations submitted in support of
Plaintiffs' motion should remain under seal.
individual plaintiffs maintain that the facts underlying
their claims involve "highly sensitive and
personal" information, such that their names should not
be exposed to the public. Plaintiffs' Unopposed Motion
for Leave to Proceed Under Pseudonyms and to File Supporting
Exhibits Under Seal ("Pl.'s Mot.") at 3.
Furthermore, they explain that their identities are
particularly sensitive because publicly disclosing their