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Doe v. Oshrin

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

May 28, 2014

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
RONALD OSHRIN, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN MARIE DONIO, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Jane Doe's motion to proceed in this litigation by pseudonym. Plaintiff, an alleged victim of child pornography, seeks to pursue anonymously her federal and state tort law claims against Defendant. Defendant does not object to Plaintiff using a pseudonym in publicly available documents and/or oral communications.[1] The Court finds that Plaintiff meets the strong burden necessary to proceed in this action by pseudonym. Consequently, for the reasons that follow, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion.

In this civil suit, Plaintiff specifically seeks to recover monetary damages for the "severe anxiety, mental anguish, embarrassment, and stress" sustained as a result of Defendant Ronald Oshrin's recordation and distribution of pornographic images of Plaintiff (id. at ¶¶ 38-53), and for Defendant's invasion into Plaintiff's privacy. (Id. at ¶¶ 54-65.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant has been convicted of violations of the Child Protection and Obscenity Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2255(a), 2252A(a)(5)(B), and is presently incarcerated in connection with that conviction. Consequently, Plaintiff seeks civil damages pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2255(a)[2], 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(f), [3] and state tort law. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-65.)

In the pending motion, Plaintiff specifically asserts that Defendant surreptitiously "produced" pornographic "video recordings and individual still photographs" of Plaintiff "disrobing, using the shower, or using the toilet." (Brief in Support of Motion to Proceed by Pseudonym (hereinafter, "Pl.'s Br.") [Doc. No. 5-1], 1.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant subsequently disseminated, "intentionally" distributed, and "widely circulated" those images "over the Internet." (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff asserts that she has involuntarily become a "public spectacle of highly personal matters, " and that disclosure of her identity "would exacerbate the pain and embarrassment" that Plaintiff has suffered and will continue to suffer as certain individuals continue to "download, collect and trade [Plaintiff's] images." (Id. at 1, 8.) Plaintiff therefore asserts that her identity, if revealed in this litigation, would "be spread among pedophiles and child molesters" who would conceivably attempt to locate, stalk, and/or revictimize Plaintiff. (Id. at 4-5.) Accordingly, Plaintiff requests permission to proceed in this matter by pseudonym in order to protect her "true identity" from further exploitation and retaliation. (Id. at 6-7; see also Complaint [Doc. No. 1], ¶¶ 11-15.)

In order to preserve the presumptively public nature of judicial proceedings, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a) generally "requires parties to a lawsuit to [expressly] identify themselves in their respective pleadings." Doe v. Megless , 654 F.3d 404, 408 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 10(a)), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1543 (2012). The "public nature of lawsuits" and the "public interest inherent" in the proceedings render "open and transparent proceedings imperative to equitable outcomes." Lozano v. City of Hazleton , 496 F.Supp.2d 477, 505 (M.D. Pa. 2007), aff'd in part, vacated in part by, 724 F.3d 297 (3d Cir. 2013). Notwithstanding this requirement, courts have recognized that a party may, under limited circumstances, proceed by way of pseudonym, particularly where disclosure of the litigant's identity creates a risk of "extreme distress or danger[.]" Id . Proceeding by pseudonym, however, constitutes the "unusual'" exception to the presumptive openness of judicial proceedings. Marcano v. Lombardi, No. 02-2666, 2005 WL 3500063, at *3 (D.N.J. Dec. 20, 2005) (noting that proceeding by pseudonym is "by all accounts, an unusual procedure.'") (citation omitted).

Therefore, because "use of a pseudonym runs afoul of the public's common law right of access to judicial proceedings[, ]'" the mere allegation that a litigant may suffer embarrassment and/or economic harm fails to suffice. Megless , 654 F.3d at 408 (citation omitted); see also Amaya v. State of N.J., No. 10-0915, 2010 WL 4062422, at *5 (D.N.J. Oct. 15, 2010) (noting the "presumption that parties' identities [constitutes] public information"). Rather, a plaintiff must establish "both (1) a fear of severe harm, and (2) that the fear of severe harm is reasonable.'" Megless , 654 F.3d at 408 (citation omitted). Courts must then determine whether the "litigant's reasonable fear of severe harm outweighs the public's interest in open judicial proceedings." Id . In connection with this inquiry, the Third Circuit has endorsed a list of non-exhaustive factors which either favor "anonymity" or adherence to "the traditional rule of openness." Id. at 409 (citing Doe v. Provident Life & Acc. Ins. Co. , 176 F.R.D. 464, 467 (E.D. Pa. 1997)). Specifically, the factors favoring anonymity include:

1. [T]he extent to which the identity of the litigant has been kept confidential;
2. [T]he bases upon which disclosure is feared or sought to be avoided, and the substantiality of these bases;
3. [T]he magnitude of the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the litigant's identity;
4. [W]hether, because of the purely legal nature of the issues presented or otherwise, there is an atypically weak public interest in knowing the litigant's identities;
5. [T]he undesirability of an outcome adverse to the pseudonymous party and attributable to [the party's] refusal to pursue the case at the price of being publicly identified; and
6. [W]hether the party seeking to sue pseudonymously has illegitimate ulterior motives.

Id. at 409 (citation omitted). The factors militating against ...


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