Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Doe v. Rider University

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 7, 2018

JOHN DOE Plaintiff,
v.
RIDER UNIVERSITY Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE TONIANNE J. BONGIOVANNI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff John Doe's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym against Defendant Rider University (“Defendant” or the “University”). (Docket Entry No. 4). Plaintiff requests that the Court allow him to proceed under the pseudonym “John Doe” in order to protect his privacy and reputational interests. (Pl. Br. at 1; Docket Entry No. 5). He also requests that the Court permit him to use a pseudonym to protect the identities of the female complainants from the underlying disciplinary proceeding as well as the identity of a male student involved in the incident that gave rise to the underlying disciplinary proceeding. (Id.) Plaintiff asks that these individuals be respectively referred to as “Jane Roe, ” “Jane Roe 2, ” and “Joe Doe.” (Id.) Defendant filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym, opposing only the use of a pseudonym by Plaintiff. (Docket Entry No. 27). Plaintiff then filed a Reply Brief in Further Support of his Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym. (Docket Entry No. 28). The Court has fully reviewed and considered all arguments made in support of and in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion. The Court considers Plaintiff's Motion without oral argument pursuant to L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the reasons set forth more fully below, Plaintiff's Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Specifically, the Motion is granted as to the use of a pseudonym for the non-parties: “Jane Roe, ” “Jane Roe 2, ” and “Joe Doe, ” but denied as to Plaintiff himself.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         On August 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant alleging breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, promissory estoppel and reliance, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et. seq., and entitlement to a declaratory judgment. (See, generally, Pl. Cmplt.; Docket Entry No. 1). Shortly thereafter, on August 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym. On September 23, 2016, the Court entered a Stipulation and Consent Order extending Defendant's time to Answer or otherwise respond to Plaintiff's Complaint to December 10, 2016 and also adjourning the return date for Plaintiff's Motion for Permission to Proceed Under a Pseudonym until December 19, 2016. (Docket Entry No. 8).

         In order to accommodate the parties' mediation efforts, the return date for Plaintiff's Motion was again adjourned until February 21, 2017. (Stipulation and Order of 1/18/2017; Docket Entry No. 15). Plaintiff's Motion was later terminated when the matter was stayed to afford the parties additional time to resolve the case. (Letter Order of 1/27/2017; Docket Entry No. 16). Unfortunately, a resolution could not be reached and a schedule was set. (Stipulation and Consent Order of 2/1/2017; Docket Entry No. 17). While briefing on Plaintiff's Motion remained ongoing, Plaintiff's counsel gave a statement about Plaintiff's case to the press. (See Ex. A to Stio Decl. at 4-5; Docket Entry No. 27-2). Defendant filed its opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym on April 3, 2017. (Docket Entry No. 27). Plaintiff filed his reply in further support of the Motion on April 10, 2017. (Docket Entry No. 28). Plaintiff's Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym was officially relisted on February 23, 2018. (Text Order of 2/23/2018; Docket Entry No. 40).

         This case arises out of a disciplinary hearing conducted by Defendant in which the University found Plaintiff responsible for sexually assaulting Jane Doe. Plaintiff is alleging harm caused by what he claims was an unfair disciplinary process. (Pl. Cmplt. ¶¶ 1-15). The pertinent events leading up to the disciplinary hearing are as follows: Plaintiff and Joe Doe encountered Jane Doe and Jane Doe 2 in the boys' restroom at Poyda Residence Hall during the early morning hours of October 18, 2015. (Id. ¶ 20). Both girls had clearly been drinking. (Id. ¶ 22). They agreed to go to Joe Doe's dorm room upon being invited by Plaintiff and Joe Doe. (Id. ¶ 23). While in Joe Doe's room, the girls and boys engaged in sexual conduct. (Id. ¶¶ 24-27). The nature of this encounter was the subject of the underlying disciplinary proceedings. (Pl. Br. at 2). At the disciplinary hearing, the University found Plaintiff guilty of sexual assault on Jane Doe and he was expelled. (Id. at 3). As previously noted, Plaintiff initiated this litigation in order to address the University's alleged flawed disciplinary process.

         Given the nature of the underlying disciplinary proceeding, the purpose of Plaintiff's lawsuit, and a desire to protect the identities of not only Plaintiff, but also Jane Doe, Jane Doe 2 and Joe Doe, Plaintiff filed in the instant Motion for Permission to Proceed under a Pseudonym.

         II. Legal Standard

         An essential element of the United States' judicial system is that judicial proceedings are to be conducted in public. See, e.g., Doe v. Megless, 654 F.3d 404, 408 (3d Cir. 2011). Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. (“Rule”) 10(a), the parties to a lawsuit must identify themselves by name in their pleadings. Rule 10(a) (stating, “[t]he title of the complaint must name all the parties”); see Megless, 654 F.3d at 408 (citing Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 322 (11th Cir. 1992)). It is from this Rule that courts derive the principle that it is proper to conduct judicial proceedings in public. Doe. v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wis., 112 F.3d 869, 872 (7th Cir. 2011). Indeed, identifying the litigants is an essential element of public proceedings. Id. “Use of a pseudonym runs afoul of the public's common law right of access to judicial proceedings.” Does I Thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1067 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Nevertheless, litigants may seek an exception to the general requirement of open litigation by filing a motion to proceed under a pseudonym. Though the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not specifically authorize the use of a pseudonym by litigants, courts have allowed parties to proceed anonymously in exceptional circumstances. See, e.g., Megless, 654 F.3d at 408; S. Methodist. Univ. Ass'n. of Women Law Students v. Wynne & Jaffe, 599 F.2d 707, 712 (5th Cir. 1979).

         Courts must exercise their discretion to determine when exceptional circumstances outweigh the strong public interest in open litigation. Exceptional circumstances justify the use of a pseudonym when a reasonable fear of severe harm outweighs the strong public interest in open litigation. However, a litigant's fears of embarrassment or economic harm, no matter how well-founded, do not generally warrant use of a pseudonym. Megless, 654 F.3d at 408.

         To justify the use of a pseudonym, the moving party must show both (1) fear of severe harm and (2) that the fear of severe harm is reasonable. Id. (quoting Doe v. Kamehameha Sch./Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, 596 F.3d 1036, 1043 (9th Cir. 2010)). Examples of cases where courts have allowed parties to proceed under a pseudonym include those involving “‘abortion, birth control, transsexuality, mental illness, welfare rights of illegitimate children, AIDS, and homosexuality.'” Id. (quoting Doe v. Borough of Morrisville, 130 F.R.D. 612, 614 (E.D.Pa. 1990)).

         Courts employ a balancing test to determine whether a reasonable fear of severe harm outweighs the public interest in open litigation. Specifically, as set forth in Megless, 654 F.3d at 409, the Court uses the balancing test laid out in Doe v. Provident Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 176 F.R.D. 464, 468 (E.D.Pa. 1977) (the “Provident Life” test). According to the Provident Life test, the Court first considers the following factors that support the use of a pseudonym:

(1) the extent to which the identity of the litigant has been kept confidential; (2) the bases upon which disclosure is feared or sought to be avoided, and the substantiality of these bases; (3) the magnitude of the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the litigant's identity; (4) whether, 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) the undesirability of an outcome adverse to the pseudonymous party and attributable to his refusal to ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.