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 thirteen 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. On
August 21, 2019, the Court granted eight of those individual
plaintiffs leave to proceed using pseudonyms. See
ECF No. 2. On September 10, 2019, Plaintiffs amended their
complaint, adding as plaintiffs five new individuals. Those
individuals, each an asylum applicant or the minor child of
an applicant currently in the United States, have moved for
leave to proceed using pseudonyms on similar grounds. And
they further request that the declarations they filed under
seal in support of that motion remain sealed. Defendants do
not oppose Plaintiffs' motion. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court will grant it.
individual plaintiffs are five persons from three different
countries seeking asylum in the United States. They are
comprised of four adults and one minor, all of whom entered
the United States at the southern border after July 16, 2019.
Each individual, 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 new 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. 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, 931 F.3d 92,
96 (D.C. Cir. 2019) (internal citations omitted) (quoting
Wash. Legal Found. v. U.S. Sentencing Comm'n, 89
F.3d 897, 899 (D.C. Cir. 1996)).
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, 931 F.3d at 96. 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, 931
F.3d at 97. 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, 931 F.3d at 97
(quoting Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537
F.3d 185, 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 “sensitive and highly
personal” information, such that their names should not
be exposed to the public. ECF No. 24 (“Pl.'s
Mot.”) at 1 (quoting Chao, 587 F.Supp.2d at
99). Furthermore, they explain that their identities are
particularly sensitive because they “face a significant
risk of ...