JOHN DOE v. LUND'S FISHERIES, INC. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER granting 7 Motion To Proceed under Pseudonym. ORDERED that the Plaintiff shall be referred to as John Doe throughout the course of this case. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider on 11/16/2020. (rtm, )
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[Doc. No. 7]
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil No. 20-11306 (NLH/JS)
LUND’S FISHERIES, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on the “Motion to Proceed
Under Pseudonym” (“motion”) [Doc. No. 7] filed by plaintiff John
Doe. No opposition was filed by defendants. The Court exercises
its discretion to decide plaintiff’s motion without oral argument.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78; L. Civ. R. 78.1. For the reasons to be
discussed, plaintiff’s motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff John Doe filed this action on August 25, 2020
various claims under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104. See Compl.
[Doc. No. 1]. On October 2, 2020, the Court granted plaintiff leave
to file an amended complaint to add defendant Mnt. Vernon, L.L.C.
See Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 9]. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that
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“while working as a Jones Act seaman, and assigned to the vessel
Brianna Louise, a scallop fishing vessel,” plaintiff “was drugged,
beaten, and raped by [other] crew members aboard the [vessel].”
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7-9. Plaintiff further alleges that after the attack,
plaintiff “was forced to remain on the vessel for several days”
while “in constant fear for his safety.” Id. ¶ 10. As a result,
plaintiff contends he “was seriously injured, scarred, humiliated,
embarrassed, and traumatized” by defendants’ acts, omissions, and
the unseaworthiness of their vessel. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff now seeks
to recover monetary damages under the Jones Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30104
and general maritime law, 28 U.S.C. § 1333. Id. ¶¶ 13-42.
In the pending motion, plaintiff contends the allegations
stem from a sexual assault in which plaintiff “was subjected to an
hurtful, and outrageous that plaintiff must sue under the pseudonym
‘John Doe’ to avoid further harm and embarrassment.” Mot. at 3.
plaintiff reasonably fears serious harm, and would be vulnerable
to such harm, were his identity disclosed to the public. Id.
Plaintiff asserts being forced to proceed under his real name
would: (1) stigmatize plaintiff in the community and in his career,
(2) harm plaintiff’s reputation, and (3) potentially aggravate his
medical condition. Id. at 3-5. Plaintiff further asserts he may
not pursue his claims if the motion is denied. Id. at 4. As such,
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plaintiff requests to proceed under a pseudonym in this action to
protect his identity from public disclosure. Id. at 5.
In order to preserve the presumptively public nature of
“requires parties to a lawsuit to [expressly] identify themselves
in their respective pleadings.” Doe v. Megless, 654 F.3d 404, 408
(3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1197 (2012). Identifying
parties to the proceeding is an important dimension of publicness,
as the people have a right to know who is using their courts. Id.
(citing Doe v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield United, 112 F.3d 869, 872
(7th Cir. 1997)). Notwithstanding this requirement, courts have
recognized that a party may proceed by way of pseudonym under
limited circumstances. See, e.g., Doe v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, Inc.,
527 F.3d 358, 371 n.2 (3d Cir. 2008); Doe v. Oshrin, 299 F.R.D.
100 (D.N.J. 2014) (allowing plaintiff, an alleged victim of child
pornography, to proceed anonymously).
Since “[a] plaintiff’s use of a pseudonym ‘runs afoul of the
public’s common law right of access to judicial proceedings,’” the
mere allegation a litigant may suffer embarrassment or economic
harm will not suffice. Megless, 654 F.3d at 408 (citation omitted).
Instead, a plaintiff must establish “both (1) a fear of severe
harm, and (2) that the fear of severe harm is reasonable.” Id.
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“litigant’s reasonable fear of severe harm outweighs the public’s
interest in open judicial proceedings.” Id. In connection with
this inquiry, the Third Circuit has endorsed a non-exhaustive,
multi-factored balancing test which weighs the competing interests
in favor of anonymity against those that adhere to the traditional
rule of openness. Id. (citing Doe v. Provident Life & Acc. Ins.
Co., 176 F.R.D. 464, 467 (E.D. Pa. 1997)). The factors in favor of
(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
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.
Id. (quoting Provident Life, 176 F.R.D. at 467-68). Whereas factors
disfavoring 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
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Id. To reiterate, this “list of factors is not comprehensive, and
 trial courts ‘will always be required to consider those [other]
factors which the facts of the particular case implicate.’” Id.
(quoting Provident Life, 176 F.R.D. at 468). The decision of
whether to allow a plaintiff to proceed anonymously rests within
the sound discretion of the court. See Oshrin, 299 F.R.D. 100, 103
(D.N.J. 2014) (citing Doe v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 237
F.R.D. 545, 548 (D.N.J. 2006)).
Here, the Court finds plaintiff’s motion and the allegations
set forth in plaintiff’s amended complaint sufficiently support
his request to proceed anonymously. Upon an application of the
applicable factors, the Court also finds plaintiff’s interest in
information. First, the Court finds that plaintiff has maintained
the confidentiality of his identity to date. Plaintiff’s identity
is not disclosed in any of the pleadings, motions, and/or exhibits
in this action. See, e.g., Compl. [Doc. No. 1]; Mot. [Doc. No. 7];
Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 9]. Therefore, the Court concludes that the
first factor weighs in favor of anonymity.
The second factor considers the bases upon which disclosure
is feared or sought to be avoided, and the substantiality of these
bases. Here, the Court finds that plaintiff’s motion demonstrates
substantial grounds to support his fear of public disclosure.
Plaintiff asserts that disclosure of his identity may result in
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harm to his reputation, aggravation of his medical condition, and
“the possibility that [plaintiff] may not pursue his claim[s] due
to the stigmatization that may result in his community and to his
career.” Mot. at 4. The Court finds plaintiff’s fears compelling,
particularly in light of his status as an alleged victim of sexual
assault. See Doe v. Princeton Univ., C.A. No. 19-7853 (BRM), 2019
WL 5587327, at *4 (D.N.J. Oct. 30, 2019) (finding plaintiff’s
“alleged victim status weigh[ed] this factor in his favor”). As
further detailed below, “victims of sexual assault are a vulnerable
class worthy of protected status.” Id. Therefore, the Court finds
the second factor weighs in favor of anonymity.
interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the litigant’s
identity. The public may have an interest in maintaining the
confidentiality of a litigant’s identity when the litigant belongs
to a particularly vulnerable class, 1 when the subject matter is
highly personal, 2 or when undesirable consequences will flow from
revealing the identity of a litigant. 3 When the public has an
Relevant vulnerable classes include minors, the mentally ill,
and victims of sexual assault. See Oshrin, 299 F.R.D. at 104
(victim of child pornography); Doe v. Evans, 202 F.R.D. 173, 176
(E.D. Pa. 2001) (victim of sexual assault); Provident Life, 176
F.R.D. 464 (litigant suffering from several mental illnesses).
2 Highly personal subject matter includes abortion, religious
beliefs, and other extraordinarily personal areas. See Megless,
654 F.3d at 408.
3 The public has an interest in maintaining the confidentiality of
a litigant’s identity when the consequences of revealing it include
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identity, this factor may favor anonymity. Here, the Court finds
there is a strong public interest to maintain the confidentiality
of plaintiff’s identity due to his status as an alleged victim of
sexual assault and the highly sensitive and personal nature of the
allegations underlying plaintiff’s complaint. See Doe v. Evans,
202 F.R.D. 173, 176 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (finding “the public has an
interest in protecting the identities of sexual assault victims so
that other victims will feel more comfortable suing to vindicate
their rights”). Therefore, the Court concludes the third factor
also weighs in favor of anonymity.
interest, if any, in ascertaining plaintiff’s identity. The Court
does not find a public interest exists in ascertaining plaintiff’s
actual identity. Plaintiff is a private citizen seeking to litigate
private and highly sensitive issues, not a public official for
whom the public possesses a heightened interest. Further, even if
plaintiff’s identity remains confidential, these proceedings will
remain public, thereby preserving any general public interest in
revealing the identities of vulnerable parties, such as children
and victims of crimes. See D.M. v. County of Berks, 929 F. Supp.
2d 390 (E.D. Pa. 2013) (anonymity of litigant required to protect
the identity of children allegedly sexually abused by parent); see
also Princeton Univ., 2019 WL 5587327, at *4 (granting motion to
proceed anonymously based, in part, on plaintiff’s status as a
“victim of sexual assault”).
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the subject matter of this litigation. See Provident Life, 176
F.R.D. at 468 (noting plaintiff’s “use of a pseudonym [would] not
proceedings”); see also Evans, 202 F.R.D. at 176 (finding that
“protecting [plaintiff's] identity [would] not impede the public’s
ability to follow the proceedings”). Therefore, the Court finds
that the fourth factor favors anonymity.
With respect to the fifth factor, the Court considers 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. Here, plaintiff has expressly stated
“the possibility that [plaintiff] may not pursue his claim[s] due
to the stigmatization that may result in his community and to his
career” if plaintiff were not permitted to proceed anonymously.
Mot. at 4. Given the issues at stake in the litigation, the Court
finds this statement credible. Accordingly, the Court finds that
denying plaintiff’s motion may inhibit plaintiff’s willingness to
pursue his claims. See Oshrin, 299 F.R.D. at 104. Therefore, the
Court finds this factor weighs in favor of anonymity.
Next, the Court considers whether there is an illegitimate
ulterior motive underlying the request to proceed anonymously.
Here, plaintiff seeks to protect his privacy interests in the
highly sensitive subject matter giving rise to this litigation.
The Court does not find that plaintiff’s motion is motivated by
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any improper purpose. See Hartford Life, 237 F.R.D. at 550–51
(finding plaintiff had “no illegal or ulterior motives . . . but
merely [sought] to protect his reputation and not aggravate his
medical condition”). Thus, the Court concludes the sixth factor
also weighs in favor anonymity.
Last, the Court finds that the factors disfavoring anonymity
do not support denying plaintiff’s motion. The only factor weighing
against plaintiff’s use of a pseudonym is the public’s general
Hartford Life, 237 F.R.D. at 551 (noting that “this interest exists
in some respect in all litigation and does not outweigh the
strength of the [other] factors”). This factor does not override
the other interests discussed in this Opinion. The remaining
factors to evaluate are not applicable because plaintiff is not a
public figure and the subject matter of this litigation does not
defendants does not oppose the pending motion. See id.
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED this 16th day of November 2020, that
plaintiff’s “Motion to Proceed Under Pseudonym” [Doc. No. 7] is
GRANTED; and it is further
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ORDERED that plaintiff will be referred to as “John Doe”
throughout the course of the litigation.
s/ Joel Schneider
United States Magistrate Judge
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