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B.L. v. Zong

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 17, 2017

B.L., Plaintiff
v.
REBECCA AMBER ZONG, et al., Defendants

          Mariani Judge

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Factual Background

         This case comes before us for consideration of a motion filed by the plaintiff, B.L., for leave of court to continue to proceed under a pseudonym in this litigation. (Doc. 53.) On July 30, 2015, the plaintiff, a state inmate acting through counsel, filed this civil complaint under the pseudonym, B.L., against an array of correctional defendants. (Doc. 1.) The well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint described in great detail a pattern of alleged sexual predation committed by a female Correctional Officer, Amber Zong, targeting the plaintiff. Thus, B.L. alleges that Zong, acting under color of law, coerced the plaintiff to engage in involuntary sex acts while incarcerated. (Id.) These allegations are described at great length in the complaint, and it appears that Zong was criminally prosecuted and fired as a result of these acts. Commonwealth v. Zong, CP-14-CR-0002168-2014.[1]

         B.L.'s complaint provides an extensive and graphic factual narrative describing a progressive pattern of sexual predation which he alleges he was subjected to by defendant Zong, beginning in the Fall of 2013. (Id., ¶¶25-74.) According to B.L. this conduct began with inappropriate comments, and then over time escalated to demands that B.L. engage in sexually explicit activity, up to and including sexual intercourse. (Id.) B.L. alleges that the conduct was coerced and involuntary on his part, and that Zong compelled him to engage in this sexual activity by threatening to falsely report sexual misconduct on his part. (Id.) B.L. also specifically avers that this sexual conduct violated the tenets of his Roman Catholic faith, and insists that he raised these faith-based objections repeatedly to Zong, who nonetheless used her position as a correctional officer to cajole, threaten and coerce him to engage in these acts, knowing them to be contrary to his religious beliefs. (Id.) B.L. alleges that he was also required to engage in this sexually explicit conduct in a variety of venues inside the prison, including the prison chapel. (Id.) Further, according to B.L., Zong deterred him from exercising his right to report abuse by threatening to make false reports to prison officials regarding his sexual conduct as disciplinary matters. (Id.) While these specific allegations form the gravamen of the claims against defendant Zong, B.L. also named an array of additional correctional defendants, and makes specific allegations of misconduct against these officials. Thus, B.L. alleges that numerous correctional supervisors and co-workers were specifically aware of Zong's sexual misconduct towards B.L., but took no steps to curtail that conduct, or intervene. (Id., ¶¶80-89.) Instead, B.L. alleges that prison officials allowed the conduct to persist, and in some instances actually exchanged visual depictions of this conduct through cell phones or social media, engaging in voyeurism instead of responding to the conduct. (Id.) Indeed, B.L. specifically alleges that a number of correctional defendants indulged in a lottery speculating on the frequency of this activity, and gambling on its duration before it was detected. (Id.)

         The defendants initially moved to dismiss this complaint, arguing in part that the complaint should be dismissed due to B.L.'s failure to comply with Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which generally provides that: “[t]he title of the complaint must name all the parties. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10. We recommended that the court deny the motion to dismiss on these grounds, but direct the plaintiff to comply with the procedure mandated by Rule 10, and seek leave of court before proceeding under a pseudonym. The district court adopted this recommendation, and the plaintiff subsequently moved to proceed under a pseudonym. (Doc. 53.) This motion is now fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 54,, 60 and 68.), and is, therefore, ripe for resolution.

         For the reasons set forth below, the motion to proceed under a pseudonym is denied.

         II. Discussion

         As a general matter Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that: “[t]he title of the complaint must name all the parties . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10. Rule 10 embodies a principle which is central to our system of justice, a presumption in favor of transparency. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly observed:

“[O]ne of the essential qualities of a Court of Justice [is] that its proceedings should be public.” Daubney v. Cooper, 109 Eng. Rep. 438, 441 (K.B. 1829); Nixon v. Warner Cmmc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 598-99, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 55 L.Ed.2d 570 (1978). Rule 10(a) requires parties to a lawsuit to identify themselves in their respective pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a); Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 322 (11th Cir.1992). Courts have explained that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a) illustrates “the principle that judicial proceedings, civil as well as criminal, are to be conducted in public.” Doe v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield United, 112 F.3d 869, 872 (7th Cir.1997). “Identifying the parties to the proceeding is an important dimension of publicness. The people have a right to know who is using their courts.” Blue Cross, 112 F.3d at 872; Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a). And, defendants have a right to confront their accusers. See S. Methodist Univ. Ass'n of Women Law Students v. Wynne & Jaffe, 599 F.2d 707, 713 (5th Cir.1979). A plaintiff's use of a pseudonym “runs afoul of the public's common law right of access to judicial proceedings.” Does I Thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1067 (9th Cir.2000).

Doe v. Megless, 654 F.3d 404, 408 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Consistent with these guiding principles, decisions regarding whether to allow a party to proceed under a pseudonym are consigned to the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion. Doe v. Megless, 654 F.3d 404, 407 (3d Cir. 2011). The exercise of this discretion is guided, however, by certain basic principles. At the outset, ”[O]ne of the essential qualities of a Court of Justice [is] that its proceedings should be public.” Doe v. Megless, 654 F.3d 404, 408 (3d Cir. 2011). “ A plaintiff's use of a pseudonym ‘runs afoul of the public's common law right of access to judicial proceedings.' ” Id. Nonetheless, “in exceptional cases courts have allowed a party to proceed anonymously.” Id.

         In exercising this discretion, we are cautioned to balance an ...


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