Doe v. Hartford Fire Insurance Company Employee Income Protection Plan

Filing 7

ORDER signed by District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller on 9/11/2017: Based on the intensely private facts at issue here and the absence of a compelling interest in exposing plaintiff's identity, the court DISCHARGES its 3 Order to Show Cause and GRANTS Plaintiff's Request for Leave to proceed anonymously. (Donati, J)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 No. 2:17-cv-01714-KJM-EFB JANE DOE, 12 Plaintiff, 13 14 15 v. ORDER HARTFORD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY EMPLOYEE INCOME PROTECTION PLAN, 16 Defendants. 17 18 Plaintiff sues her former employer for terminating her long-term disability 19 20 benefits. Because the case involves personal medical information, plaintiff now requests leave to 21 proceed under the fictitious “Jane Doe” name. Request, Sept. 5, 2017, ECF No. 6. As explained 22 below, the case involves intensely personal medical details regarding the in-vitro conception of 23 and gestational surrogacy of her son. The court therefore finds sufficient cause to GRANT 24 plaintiff’s request. 25 //// 26 //// 27 //// 28 //// 1 1 I. 2 BACKGROUND In her complaint, plaintiff requested to proceed as “Jane Doe.” Compl., Aug. 17, 3 2017, ECF No. 1. Finding no express justification for the request, the court ordered plaintiff to 4 show cause. Min. Order, Aug. 29, 2017, ECF No. 3. Her timely response outlines the basis for 5 her request. Response, Sept. 5, 2017, ECF No. 4. Plaintiff seeks anonymity because this case 6 will publicize private medical details about the conception and gestation of her minor son. 7 Id. at 1. Plaintiff previously had a medically necessary hysterectomy, which she alleges obliged 8 her and her husband to have their son through in-vitro fertilization and gestational surrogacy. Id. 9 These facts, though ostensibly irrelevant to her long-term disability benefits based on orthopedic 10 and neurological conditions unrelated to infertility, are relevant here because defendants deny the 11 hysterectomy drove plaintiff’s conception decision. Id. This suit, therefore, will expose 12 plaintiff’s private medical records related to these intimate subjects. 13 II. 14 DISCUSSION Courts assess requests to proceed anonymously using a three-factor balancing test. 15 See Does I thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1068 (9th Cir. 2000). The test 16 weighs plaintiff’s need for anonymity against any prejudice such anonymity would pose to the 17 defendant and to the public interest. Id. 18 Anonymity is allowed when necessary “to preserve privacy in a matter of sensitive 19 and highly personal nature.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted). Although the Ninth 20 Circuit has yet to confront a factually analogous anonymity request, Advanced Textile cites 21 several persuasive examples of the types of privacy concerns warranting anonymity. Id. (citing 22 James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 241 (4th Cir. 1993) (holding district judge abused discretion in 23 denying plaintiff’s request to sue anonymously because case would reveal to “particularly 24 vulnerable pre-adolescen[ts]” that their conception was by artificial insemination and that 25 “James” was not their biological father); Doe v. United Services Life Ins. Co., 123 F.R.D. 437 26 (S.D.N.Y. 1988) (allowing plaintiff to sue insurance company anonymously to protect against 27 identification as homosexual); Doe v. Deschamps, 64 F.R.D. 652, 653 (D. Mont. 1974) 28 (permitting plaintiff in abortion suit to use pseudonym based on pregnancy’s personal nature)); 2 1 but see Doe v. Hallock, 119 F.R.D. 640 (S.D. Miss. 1987) (anonymity not warranted in sexual 2 discrimination and harassment suit against private parties where no privacy interest beyond 3 personal embarrassment identified). The decision is committed to the trial court’s sound 4 discretion. Advanced Textile, 214 F.3d at 1069 (finding district court abused its discretion by 5 denying anonymity request without considering nonresident foreign workers’ vulnerability to 6 retaliation should their identities be exposed). 7 The facts here warrant anonymity. Shielding plaintiff’s identity will prevent 8 unwarranted publication of details related to a woman’s infertility and a minor child’s conception 9 and gestation. Anonymity will not prejudice defendants because they know plaintiff’s identity. 10 Tying plaintiff’s identity to the facts of this case advances no compelling public interest. Rather, 11 the public has a greater interest in this case proceeding to the merits; denying anonymity could 12 drive plaintiff to abandon this case to protect her family’s privacy, thus hindering the public 13 interest. See id. at 1073 (noting this concern). 14 Based on the intensely private facts at issue here and the absence of a compelling 15 interest in exposing plaintiff’s identity, the court DISCHARGES its order to show cause and 16 GRANTS plaintiff’s request for leave to proceed anonymously. 17 IT IS SO ORDERED. 18 This resolves ECF Nos. 3, 6. 19 DATED: September 11, 2017. 20 21 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 3

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?