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Doe v. Court of Common Pleas of Butler County PA.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 3, 2017

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,



         I. Background

         On October 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint under the pseudonym “Jane Doe” against Defendants the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, PA, Thomas Doerr, Thomas Holman, and Douglas Ritson. (Doc. 1). In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that a Pennsylvania state judge offered her a position as a probation officer in his court in exchange for an ongoing sexual relationship, and that she was subjected to harassment and hostility after she opted to end the arrangement. (Id.). Plaintiff now seeks leave to proceed under a pseudonym, arguing that disclosure of her true identity would expose her and her family to unwanted media attention and potential violence by the parolees whom she supervises. (Doc. 8). Further, Plaintiff argues that there are no countervailing societal interests at play in this case which would favor disclosure of her identity. (Id.). For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion.

         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. Megless, 654 F.3d at 407. In exercising this discretion, courts consider an array of competing factors:

         The factors in favor of anonymity 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 has illegitimate ulterior motives.”
On the other side of the scale, factors disfavoring anonymity include[ ]:
“(1) the universal level of public interest in access to the identities of litigants; (2) whether, because of the subject matter of this litigation, the status of the litigant as a public figure, or otherwise, there is a particularly strong interest in knowing the litigant's identities, beyond the public's interest which is normally obtained; and (3) whether the opposition to pseudonym by counsel, the public, or the press is illegitimately motivated.”

         Applying these factors in the instant case, the Court is constrained to find that Plaintiff has not overcome the strong presumption against allowing parties to use a pseudonym. First, the Court notes that Plaintiff is not a minor. “Where victims are not minors, courts are generally less inclined to let the alleged victim proceed in litigation ...

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