United States District Court, D. New Jersey
HONORABLE TONIANNE J. BONGIOVANNI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE
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.
Background and Procedural History
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).
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).
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
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.
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).
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).
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.
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)).
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