Alleged Panama Papers Leaker Still May Not Sue in Federal Court While Hiding His Name from the Court
From Doe v. Federal Republic of Germany, decided yesterday by Magistrate Judge Gary Stein (S.D.N.Y.):
In brief, Plaintiff, the individual who allegedly leaked the “Panama Papers,” claims that Defendants, the Federal Republic of Germany (“Germany”) and the Bundeskriminalamt of Germany (“BKA”), failed to pay sums due under a contract whereby Plaintiff provided them with access to the Panama Papers for use in identifying tax fraud and other financial offenses.
In addition to allegations regarding Defendants’ purported breach of contract, Plaintiff, in his Complaint and other filings, raises concerns for his safety if his identity were to become public. Plaintiff avers that should his identity become known, his “life would be in immediate peril” and he “would likely be killed.” Plaintiff specifically references a 2017 docudrama aired by Russian news channel RT, which he calls “an explicit and credible death threat” against him.
In a motion filed simultaneously with the Complaint, Plaintiff explains that the Russian Federation, Chinese Communist Party, and Saudi government—the leaders of which were implicated by the Panama Papers leak—”are known for their repressive regimes,” including “extralegal murders and kidnappings.” Plaintiff references several instances of alleged extralegal violence undertaken by Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia on foreign soil (none of which were connected to the Panama Papers), as well as the murders of a Maltese and a Slovak journalist who exposed official corruption in their countries (who allegedly did make use of the Panama Papers). From these assertions, Plaintiff concludes that “[i]t is likely [he] would be treated in similar fashion by such state actors.” He avers, based on the Russian docudrama, that “President Putin wants [him] dead.” Plaintiff further maintains that “identification of [his] true identity would immediately expose dozens of individuals to likely physical harm.”
Based on these safety concerns, Plaintiff filed [a] motion … for leave to proceed under a pseudonym…. [In October, t]he Court … denied, with leave to renew, Plaintiff’s motion to proceed pseudonymously. The October Order noted that Plaintiff filed this action after failing to comply with an order entered by Chief Judge Boasberg in a substantially identical action filed by Plaintiff in federal court in the District of Columbia (the “D.C. Action”) directing him to provide his identity under seal to the court…. The Court concluded that, under the Second Circuit’s decision in Publicola v. Lomenzo (2d Cir. 2022), as well as other authorities, any litigant seeking to avail themselves of this forum must provide identifying information to the court, even if they are granted leave to proceed pseudonymously….
Plaintiff still has not provided his identity to the Court or indicated his willingness to do so. Nonetheless, he filed the current Motion claiming that, despite the Court’s prior rulings, … Plaintiff should be relieved of the requirement to
provide his identity under seal to the Court….
No, said the magistrate judge:
Plaintiff must divulge his identity to the Court if he wishes to proceed with this litigation. The Second Circuit has held that parties cannot shield their identities from the court. See Publicola (finding that a pro se appellant’s “refusal to disclose his identity to the court” warranted dismissal of his case)
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