United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Northern Division
JANE AND JOHN DOE, individually and on behalf of their minor child, A.A., JESSICA AND JAMES DOE, individually and on behalf of their minor child, B.B., and JILL AND JEFF DOE, individually and on behalf of their minor child, C.C., Plaintiffs,
ABERDEEN SCHOOL DISTRICT, BECKY GUFFIN, in her individual and official capacity, CAMILLE KAUL, in her individual and official capacity, RENAE RAUSCH, in her individual and official capacity, COLLEEN MURLEY, in her individual and official capacity, MICHAEL NEUBERT, in his individual and official capacity, CARRIE WEISENBURGER, in her individual and official capacity, and DOES 1-2, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CHARLES B. KORNMANN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the respective motions of
plaintiffs and . defendant Wiesenburger. Wiesenburger filed a
Motion to Compel Identities, seeking to compel plaintiffs to
disclose their identities to the court, the defendants, and
to cease their pseudonymous prosecution of their claims. Doc.
37. If plaintiffs refuse to identify themselves,
defendant's motion asks the Court to dismiss their
claims. Id. Some time after defendant's motion,
plaintiffs filed a Motion to Proceed Anonymously, Doc. 44,
requesting the Court's permission to maintain suit under
pseudonyms. Id. As a general matter, Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 10(a) compels parties to identify themselves.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a) ("The title of the complaint must
name all the parties..."). Indeed, nothing in the
Federal Rules specifically allows plaintiffs to prosecute a
claim pseudonymously. "Rule 11(a) requires that if a
party is unrepresented, every pleading, motion, and other
filing must be signed personally by that party. Rule 17(a)
mandates that '[a]n action must be prosecuted in the name
of the real party in interest." Doe v. University of
Arkansas, et al. No. 5:17-CV-05050, at *1 (W.D. Ark. May
16, 2017), aff'd Doe v. Univ. of Arkansas. 713
Fed.Appx. 525, 526 (8th Cir. 2018).
Federal Rules distaste for anonymously filed lawsuits is
buttressed by constitutional concerns for the open nature of
There is a First Amendment interest in public proceedings,
and identifying the parties to an action is an important part
of making it truly public. When a party invokes the judicial
powers of the United States, she invites public scrutiny of
the dispute and the proceeding. 'The people have a right
to know who is using their courts.
Luckett v. Beaudet, 21 F.Supp.2d 1029, 1029 (D.
Minn. 1998) (internal citations omitted).
the presumption that judicial proceedings be open and public,
federal courts have analyzed the question of whether a
plaintiff may proceed pseudonymously, and have allowed the
practice on certain occasions. These courts have generally
looked at the totality of the circumstances to determine
"whether the plaintiff 'has a substantial privacy
right which outweighs the customary constitutionally-embedded
presumption of openness injudicial proceedings." In
re Ashley Madison Customer Data Sec. Breach
Litig., No. 2669, 2016 WL 1366616, at *2 (E.D. Mo.
Apr. 6, 2016) (internal citations omitted). Relevant factors
include, "(1) [whether] the plaintiff is challenging
government activity; (2) [whether] the plaintiff is required
to disclose information of the utmost intimacy; and (3)
[whether] the plaintiff risks criminal prosecution through
the information contained in the pleading." Id.
An additional factor listed in a Sixth Circuit case, cited
for its standard of review by the Eighth Circuit in Doe
v. University of Arkansas, 713 Fed.Appx. 525 (8th Cir.
2018), is "(4) whether the plaintiffs are
children." Doe v. Porter. 370 F.3d 558, 560
(6th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted).
usual circumstances under which a court determines whether a
plaintiff may proceed under a pseudonym involve the
plaintiffs filing their initial complaint under seal, along
with a pre-service motion to proceed pseudonymously. Such a
mode of filing complies with Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a) as plaintiffs
include their names in this sealed complaint. In this case,
however, plaintiffs did not file their complaint under seal,
nor did they file any such pre-service motion. And only after
defendant filed her Motion to Compel Identification did
plaintiffs file the proper motion without a refiled
complaint. For that reason, the Court directs plaintiffs to
refile their complaint under seal, using their real names and
the initials of their minor children, as required by the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court's local
rules. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a); D.S.D. LR 10.
plaintiffs Motion to Proceed Anonymously itself, the Court
will examine the facts under the totality of the
circumstances. In the instant case, only the second and
fourth factors are arguably present. Plaintiffs are not
challenging government action, nor are they likely to face
criminal prosecution if their identities, or those of their
minor children, were to be made public.
Court agrees, however, that this case "requires
plaintiffs to disclose information of the utmost
intimacy." In re Ashley Madison. No. 2669 at
*2. This case turns on serious accusations of abuse on the
part of defendants. The alleged abuse was directed against
plaintiffs' minor children, all of whom were
participating in a school program for children with learning
disabilities. Thus, the case will ultimately require
plaintiffs' disclosure of intimate details concerning
those disabilities. It requires very little engagement of
one's imagination to see that the details of a
child's learning disability are very intimate and
personal to that child and her family. Such details of
disabilities could be embarrassing to the child later in
life, or more immediately, could expose the child to the
ridicule of her peers.
fourth factor, cited by the Sixth Circuit in Porter, accords
weight to the second factor, their youth being a factor in
and of itself. The plaintiffs in this case are suing on
behalf of their minor children. Further, this case is brought
on behalf of very young children, to whom we grant a
heightened protection. Porter, 370 F.3d at 561;
see also Stegall, 653 F.2d at 186 ("The gravity
of the danger posed by the threats of retaliation against the
[plaintiffs] for filing this lawsuit must also be assessed in
light of the special vulnerability of these
child-plaintiffs."). Factors two and four provide
plaintiffs with a strong argument for being allowed to
continue to proceed under pseudonyms.
part, defendant Wiesenburger has failed to show what harm she
will suffer if plaintiffs are allowed to proceed under
pseudonyms. A complaint that complies with Rule 10(a), which
plaintiffs must now submit under seal, will provide defendant
with all the information she would require to avoid being
disadvantaged in discovery, and there is no other harm
alleged in her Motion to Compel Identities. See Docs. 37 and
reasons stated above, the Court will grant plaintiffs'
Motion to Proceed Anonymously. For the same reasons that
plaintiffs' motion is granted, defendant
Wiesenburger's Motion to Compel Identities, Doc. 37, will
THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiffs motion, Doc. 44, to proceed
anonymously is GRANTED. Defendant's motion, ...