No Pseudonymity for Plaintiff Alleging Disability Discrimination
From Doe v. N.M. Bd. of Bar Examiners, decided today by Magistrate Judge Steven C. Yarbrough (D.N.M.):
… Plaintiff filed her complaint under the pseudonym “Jane Doe.” However, proceeding anonymously is not contemplated by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rather, Rule 10(a) requires that the title of a complaint “name all the parties,” and Rule 17(a) prescribes that “[a]n action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.” Nonetheless, the Tenth Circuit has recognized there may be cases in which “exceptional circumstances” warrant permitting a party to proceed anonymously. Femedeer v. Haun (10th Cir. 2000). Accordingly, the Court required Plaintiff to show cause why her full name should not be fully disclosed in public filings with the court….
The public has an “important interest in access to legal proceedings.” Moreover, without a party’s name in the public record, “it is difficult to apply legal principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel.” “Ordinarily, those using the courts must be prepared to accept the public scrutiny that is an inherent part of public trials.” “A plaintiff should not be permitted to proceed under a pseudonym unless the need for anonymity outweighs the public interest in favor of openness.” “Lawsuits are public events. A plaintiff should be permitted to proceed anonymously only in exceptional cases involving matters of a highly sensitive and personal nature, real danger of physical harm, or where the injury litigated against would be incurred as a result of the disclosure of the plaintiff’s identity. The risk that a plaintiff may suffer some embarrassment is not enough.”
In her petition to proceed anonymously, Plaintiff alleges that this case involves matters of a highly sensitive and personal nature because it alleges discrimination based on her disability; accordingly, her medical information will become part of the case. She is concerned that attaching her name to the case will trigger mental and physical stressors and will allow the public (including future employers and clients) access to her medical records. She cites generally to her privacy rights under the ADA and HIPPA.
Plaintiff’s desire for anonymity does not outweigh the public’s interest in open court proceedings. Disclosure of the general nature of a plaintiff’s disability occurs in virtually all ADA and disability discrimination cases. Concern about such generalized disclosure is not an exceptional circumstance that warrants anonymity. See Doe v. Regents of Univ. of New Mexico (D.N.M. Mar. 10, 1999) (finding the plaintiff’s allegations of clinical depression insufficient to allow her to proceed anonymously: “Clinical depression, like any mental illness, may carry with it the perception of a societal stigma; Plaintiff has, however, made no exceptional showing of the need for privacy in this case.”). Likewise, Plaintiff’s speculative concerns about future employment are insufficient to allow her to proceed anonymously.
To be clear, the Court is not requiring Plaintiff to file medical records or other detailed medical information publicly. In her complaints, Plaintiff only generally describes her alleged medical conditions … (mentioning permanent pulmonary disabilities, multiple permanent and terminal disabilities, visual impairment, and chronic pain). As the case proceeds, Plaintiff is welcome to propose a protective order for specific documents and medical records she believes should remain protected and the Court will address any such requests at that time. However, a disability-discrimination plaintiff’s concern that the general nature of her alleged disability will be disclosed as part of her lawsuit does not override the strong presumption in favor of open proceedings and, therefore, does not serve as a basis to proceed anonymously.
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