L v. Scottsdale Healthcare Corporation Health Plan et al
OPINION AND ORDER - Plaintiff's 7 Motion to Proceed Under Pseudonym is DENIED. Signed by Judge Robert E Jones on 5/6/11. (SAT)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA
SCOTTSDALE HEALTHCARE CORPORATION )
HEALTH PLAN; ET AL.,
Daniel L. Bonnett
Jennifer L. Kroll
Susan J. Martin
MARTIN & BONNETT, P.L.L.C.
1850 N. Central Avenue, Suite 2010
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Attorneys for Plaintiff
Barry D. Halpern
Jefferson R. Hayden
Joseph G. Adams
SNELL & WILMER, L.L.P.
1 Arizona Center
400 E. Van Buren
Phoenix, AZ 85004-2202
Attorneys for Defendants
OPINION AND ORDER
This action is before the court on plaintiff’s motion (# 7) to proceed under pseudonym.
For the following reasons, the motion is denied.
The Ninth Circuit recognizes that a plaintiff’s use of a fictitious name “runs afoul of the
public’s common law right of access to judicial proceedings,” and “Rule 10(a)’s command that
the title of every complaint ‘include the names of all the parties. . . .’” Does I Thru XXIII v.
Advanced Textile Corporation, 214 F.3d 1058, 1067 (9th Cir. 2000)(citations omitted). The
Ninth Circuit does, however, permit parties to proceed anonymously “when special
circumstances justify secrecy.” Id. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit “allow[s] parties to use
pseudonyms in the ‘unusual case’ when nondisclosure of the party’s identity ‘is necessary ... to
protect a person from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment.’” Id. at 1067-68
(ellipses in original; citations omitted).
“The normal presumption in litigation is that parties must use their real names.” Doe v.
Kamehameha Schools/Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, 596 F.3d 1036, 1042 (9th Cir. 2010). As
the court explained in Kamehameha:
This presumption is loosely related to the public’s right to open courts . . . and the
right of private individuals to confront their accusers.
In this circuit, the common law rights of access to the courts and judicial
records are not taken lightly. We recognize that there is a “general right to inspect
and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and
documents.” . . . The “public interest in understanding the judicial process” has
supported our “general history of access.”
Kamehameha, 596 F.3d at 1042-43 (citations omitted). Thus, in the Ninth Circuit, a plaintiff
may preserve his or her anonymity in judicial proceedings “in special circumstances when the
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party’s need for anonymity outweighs prejudice to the opposing party and the public’s interest in
knowing the party’s identity.” Does I thru XXIII, 214 F.3d at 1068. The Ninth Circuit has
identified three situations that might qualify as appropriate for fictitious pleading: (1) where
identification creates the risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm; (2) where anonymity is
needed to “preserve privacy in a matter of sensitive and highly personal nature”; and where
anonymity protects a party from criminal prosecution. Id. (citations omitted).
In this case, plaintiff, a registered nurse, seeks benefits and other relief for alleged
violations of the terms of her employee welfare benefit plan and ERISA. According to plaintiff,
if her name is used in publicly-filed documents, she will “likely [suffer] personal embarrassment
and injury” from disclosure of her medical condition and details of her medical history. Motion
to Proceed Under Pseudonym, p. 2. A review of the cases in which use of a pseudonym has
been permitted, however, reveals that plaintiff’s circumstances do not rise to the level of
“special” or “unusual” that is required to justify anonymity. Disclosure of medical records is part
and parcel of judicial proceedings in many types of litigation, for example, Social Security
administrative reviews, medical malpractice litigation, and, as alleged here, ERISA and welfare
benefits claims. That the medical records might include embarrassing or private information is
3 - OPINION AND ORDER
not unusual and does not justify the secrecy of anonymity. An appropriate protective order can
provide the confidentiality plaintiff seeks.
Consequently, plaintiff’s motion (# 7) is DENIED.
DATED this 6th day of May, 2011.
/s/ Robert E. Jones
ROBERT E. JONES
U.S. District Judge
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