United States District Court, D. New Jersey
TONIANNE J. BONGIOVANNI United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for a Protective
Order authorizing Plaintiff John Doe
(“Plaintiff”) to proceed under the pseudonym
“John Doe” and to similarly permit Plaintiff to
identify non-parties to this litigation by pseudonym, and to
issue a protective order prohibiting Defendants Princeton
University, et al. (“Defendants”) from publicly
identifying Plaintiff in court filings or otherwise. (Docket
Entry No. 2). In addition to himself, Plaintiff requests the
Court permit him to use a pseudonym to protect the identity
of the complainant from the underlying disciplinary
proceeding (“Alex Roe”), as well as the witnesses
to that proceeding. Plaintiff's motion was filed with the
consent of the Defendants. The Court has fully reviewed and
considered all arguments made in support of Plaintiff's
motion. The Court considers same without oral argument
pursuant to L.Civ.R. 78.1(b). For the reasons set forth more
fully below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED.
Background and Procedural History
brings this action under Title IX of the Education Amendments
Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq.
(“Title IX”), and various state law claims
against Defendants for their actions surrounding the
investigation and subsequent adjudication of Plaintiff's
involvement in sexual assault. (See generally,
Compl.; Docket Entry No. 1). The same day, Plaintiff filed
the instant ex parte motion for permission to
proceed under a pseudonym. (Docket Entry No. 2). Defendants
consent to Plaintiff's appearance by pseudonym and
request for a protective order. (Docket Entry No. 10).
case arises out of a disciplinary hearing conducted by
Defendants in which the Princeton University found Plaintiff
responsible for sexually assaulting another student.
Plaintiff alleges harm caused by what he claims was an unfair
disciplinary process. The pertinent events leading to the
disciplinary proceeding are as follows: Plaintiff and Alex
students at Princeton University, dated on and off for a
two-year period. (See Compl., Docket Entry No. 1 at
¶ 2). On November 4, 2017, Roe alleged that Plaintiff
sexually assaulted Roe in his dorm room. Although Plaintiff
and Roe had attended a party on the evening of November 3,
2017, their accounts of the night diverged once they left the
party. Plaintiff claims that he went back to his room, with
no further contact with Roe. (Id. at ¶ 102).
Roe claimed that Roe went to Plaintiff's dorm room to
retrieve Roe's toothbrush, having left it there the
previous night, and the assault ensued. (Id. at
¶ 117, 120). The nature of this encounter was the
subject of the underlying disciplinary hearing, which
concluded that Plaintiff was guilty of “non-consensual
sexual contact.” (Id. at ¶ 126-29). As a
consequence, Plaintiff's degree was withheld until
January 2019. Plaintiff initiated this litigation in order to
address the University's alleged flawed disciplinary
process, including that his allegations of sexual assault
were not fairly addressed. (Id. at ¶ 92-93).
the nature of the underlying proceeding, the purpose of
Plaintiff's lawsuit, and a desire to protect the
identities of the individuals involved, Plaintiff filed the
instant motion for permission to proceed under a pseudonym.
This Court declined to grant Plaintiff's motion for a
protective order by consent and permitted Plaintiff to submit
supplemental briefing addressing certain cases wherein
plaintiffs either elected to proceed without pseudonyms or
were denied pseudonym status. (Docket Entry No. 13). The
Court specifically requested Plaintiff respond to the
following cases: Doe v. Temple Univ., Docket No.
14-cv-04729, 2014 WL 4375613 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 3, 2014):
Johnson v. Temple Univ. of Commonwealth Sys. of Higher
Educ., Docket No. 12-cv-515, 2013 WL 5298484 (E.D. Pa.
Sept. 19, 2013), reconsideration denied, 2014 WL
3535073 (E.D. Pa. July 17, 2014); Dempsey v. Bucknell
Univ., Docket No. 11-cv-01679, 2012 WL 1569826 (M.D. Pa.
May 3, 2012); Gomes v. Univ. of Me Sys., 365
F.Supp.2d 6 (D. Me. 2005); Fellheimer v. Middlebury
Coll., 869 F.Supp. 238 (D. Vt. 1994); Ruane v.
Shippensburg Univ., 871 A.2d 859 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005);
and Doe v. Rider Univ., Docket No. 16-cv-4882, 2018
WL 3756950 (D.N.J. 2018). Plaintiff submitted the requested
supplemental briefing and the matter is now ripe for
decision. (Docket Entry No. 14).
Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 10 requires
plaintiffs to identify their real names in the Complaint.
“[A] plaintiff's use of a pseudonym ‘runs
afoul of the public's common law right of access to
judicial proceedings.'” Doe v. Megless,
654 F.3d 404, 408 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Does I Thru
XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1067
(9th Cir.2000)). Although the Federal Rules do not explicitly
sanction the use of pseudonyms, courts have allowed
plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously when the plaintiff can
demonstrate (1) “a fear of severe harm” from the
public disclosure of his name and (2) “that the fear of
severe harm is reasonable.” Id. Crucially, a
plaintiff's fear that he may “suffer embarrassment
or economic harm is not enough.” Id. (quoting
Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358,
371 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2008)).
Megless, the Third Circuit adopted the nine-factor
test for the use of pseudonyms that was first articulated in
Doe v. Provident Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 176 F.R.D.
464, 467 (E.D.Pa. 1997) (the “Provident Life”
test). The Megless court noted that this “list
of factors is not comprehensive” and directed courts to
consider the particular circumstances of each case.
Id. at 409-10. The factors that weigh in favor of
granting anonymity include:
(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
pursue the case at the price of being publicly identified;
and (6) whether the party seeking to sue pseudonymously has
illegitimate ulterior motives.
Provident Life, 176 F.R.D. at 467-68. The factors
that weigh against granting anonymity include:
(1) the universal level of public interest in access to the
identities of litigants; (2) whether, because of the subject
matter of this litigation, the status of the litigant as a
public figure, or otherwise, there is a particularly strong
interest in knowing the litigant's identities, beyond the
public's interest which is normally obtained; and (3)
whether the opposition to pseudonym by counsel, the public,
or the press is legitimately motivated.
Id. 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. 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.