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F.B. v. East Stroudsburg University

July 7, 2009

F.B., A PSEUDONYM, T.H., A PSEUDONYM, A.R., A PSEUDONYM, D.M., A PSEUDONYM, W.B., A PSEUDONYM AND J.S., A PSEUDONYM, PLAINTIFFS
v.
EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY; ROBERT J. DILLMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRESIDENT OF EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY; ISAAC W. SANDERS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS VICE PRESIDENT FOR UNIVERSITY ADVANCEMENT OF EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY; KENNETH BORLAND, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PROVOST OF EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY; AND VICTORIA L. SANDERS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ASSOCIATE VICE PRESIDENT FOR SPECIAL PROJECTS, DIVERSITY AND EQUITY OF EAST STROUDSBURG UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is Defendant Isaac Sanders' motion for a more definite statement. The matter has been briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that they were sexually assaulted and harassed by Defendant Isaac Sanders when they were students at Defendant East Stroudsburg University (hereinafter "ESU"). (See generally, Doc. 4, Amended Complaint).*fn1 At the time Sanders was the Vice President for University Advancement and served as Executive Director of the ESU Foundation and Director of Alumni Engagement at ESU. (Doc. 4, Amended Complaint, ¶ 18). Plaintiffs brought suit against the defendants pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and 42 U.S.C. § 1986. The complaint identifies plaintiffs with pseudonyms instead of their real names. Defendant Isaac Sanders now moves to have the plaintiffs' identities revealed.*fn2

Jurisdiction

The plaintiffs invoke this court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § § 1331, which provides district courts with original jurisdiction of all actions arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States.*fn3

Discussion

The issue we must decide is whether the plaintiff's can proceed anonymously in this action. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure demand that litigants provide "the names of all the parties." FED. R. CIV. P. 10(a). The public nature of lawsuits and the public interest inherent in court cases make open and transparent proceedings imperative to equitable outcomes. See M.M. v. Zavaras, 139 F.3d 798, 803 (10th Cir. 1998)(explaining that "[l]awsuits are public events. A plaintiff should be permitted to proceed anonymously only in those 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.")(quoting Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 324 (11th Cir. 1992)).

A party's name, however, is not always provided in a lawsuit. Courts have long recognized that the circumstances of a case, particularly where litigants may suffer extreme distress or danger from their participation, may require that plaintiffs proceed without revealing their true names. Those federal courts which have ruled on the propriety of anonymous plaintiffs have held that "a district court must balance the need for anonymity against the general presumption that parties' identities are public information and the risk of unfairness to the opposing party. Does I thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1068 (9th Cir. 2000). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, has noted that "we allow parties to use pseudonyms in the 'unusual case' when nondisclosure of the party's identity 'is necessary . . .to protect a person from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment." Id. at 1067-68 (quoting United States v. Doe, 655 F.2d 920, 922 n.1 (9th Cir. 1981). The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has similarly found that "[f]ederal courts traditionally have recognized that in some cases the general presumption of open trials -including identification of parties and witnesses by their real names -should yield in deference to sufficiently pressing needs for party or witness anonymity." James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 242 (4th Cir. 1993).

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has acknowledged that although not specifically provided for in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures, it is within the district court's discretion to allow a party to proceed anonymously. The court has explained as follows:

We acknowledge that the use of pseudonyms to conceal a plaintiff's identity has no explicit sanction in the federal rules. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has given the practice implicit recognition in two abortion cases, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973), and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 93 S.Ct. 739, 35 L.Ed.2d 201 (1973). Although we have yet to address the issue, the decision whether to allow a plaintiff to proceed anonymously rests within the sound discretion of the court. See Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 323 (11th Cir.1992); Lindsey v. Dayton-Hudson Corp., 592 F.2d 1118, 1125 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 856, 100 S.Ct. 116, 62 L.Ed.2d 75 (1979).

Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358, 371 n.2 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding that the district court had not abused its discretion in allowing a plaintiff to proceed anonymously where she claimed that she was discriminated against in employment due to having an abortion).

The Third Circuit has not articulated a standard for weighing litigants' efforts to proceed anonymously. Federal courts located within the Third Circuit, however, have held that "[i]n determining whether a party may proceed under a pseudonym, the public's right of access should prevail unless the party requesting pseudonymity demonstrates that her interests in privacy or security justify pseudonymity." Doe v. Evans, 202 F.R.D. 173, 175 (E.D. Pa. 2001).

They have also articulated factors weighing in favor and against the use of pseudonyms for plaintiffs. Those factors include: "(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 in knowing the litigant's identities; (5) 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; and (6) whether the party seeking to sue pseudonymously ...


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