Roe v. Wayne County Board of Education
ORDER granting Plaintiff's 4 MOTION to File Complaint and Proceed Anonymously or, Alternatively, to Proceed Using Only Her Initials, with additional information requested, as more fully set forth herein; directing the Plaintiff to serve a copy of her motion, her complaint, and this order on the Defendant; in any public filing by the Defendant, the Defendant shall not reveal any identifying information about the Plaintiff and shall use the Plaintiff's pseudonym only. Signed by Judge Robert C. Chambers on 1/12/2017. (cc: counsel of record; any unrepresented parties) (jsa)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17-0094
WAYNE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION,
Plaintiff filed with the Court a motion requesting that she be permitted to file her complaint
and proceed in the case anonymously, or in the alternative, to proceed using only her initials. ECF
No. 4. Until the Court can conduct a further inquiry, Plaintiff’s Motion is GRANTED.
Generally, there is a presumption of openness of judicial proceedings, but the presumption
is not absolute. James v. Jacobs, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993). The Fourth Circuit, having had
the occasion to opine on the circumstances needed to proceed anonymously, imposed a duty on
trial courts to “inquire into the circumstances of particular cases to determine whether the
dispensation is warranted.” James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993). That inquiry
should be guided, although not dictated, by an illustrative list of factors noted in the Fourth
Circuit’s opinion. They are:
whether the justification asserted by the requesting party is merely
to avoid the annoyance and criticism that may attend any litigation
or is to preserve privacy in a matter of sensitive and highly personal
nature; whether identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or
mental harm to the requesting party or even more critically to
innocent non-parties; the ages of the persons whose privacy intersts
are sought to be protected; whether the action is against a
governmental or private party; and relatedly the risk of unfairness to
the opposing party from allowing an action against it proceed
Id. The Fourth Circuit subsequently added an additional factor for trial courts to consider when
faced with a request to proceed anonymously. “[W]hen a party seeks to litigate under pseudonym,
a district court has an independent obligation to ensure that extraordinary circumstances support
such a request by balancing the party’s stated interest in anonymity against the public’s interest in
openness.” Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 273 (4th Cir. 2014).
With only the Complaint and the Plaintiff’s laconic motion before it, the Court does not
believe that it can conduct the type of inquiry required to exercise its discretion. Accordingly, the
Court requests the Plaintiff to provide a more detailed explanation setting out with specificity and
supported by citations to specific cases with similar fact patterns why she must proceed
anonymously. To be clear, the Court is not requesting a more detailed account of the events that
Plaintiff would like to keep private, the Complaint sets out enough detail on that matter, only why,
in light of the Fourth Circuit’s opinions and other similar cases, Plaintiff believes that she should
be able to proceed anonymously. Put another way, what specifically is it about the information she
may have to share during the trial process that make her anonymity necessary?
The Plaintiff shall submit her supplemental briefing on this issue within 14 days of this
order. The Court will permit the Plaintiff to proceed anonymously until it has the opportunity to
review the supplemental briefing and make a conclusive ruling on the matter.
The Court also DIRECTS the Plaintiff to serve a copy of her motion, her complaint, and
this order on the Defendant. In any public filing by the Defendant, the Defendant shall not reveal
any identifying information about the Plaintiff and shall use the Plaintiff’s pseudonym only.
The Court DIRECTS the Clerk to send a copy of this Order to counsel of record and any
January 12, 2017
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