Sexual Assault Claims and Pseudonymity

People who claim they were sexually assaulted can be made pseudonymous in many cases.[1]They can also be sued as defendants for libel, and other torts.[2]Some allow pseudonymity to the attacker and the victim if they were spouses or lovers. This is because the identification of one could also be used to identify the other at least for those who have known them.[3]However, there are many cases that hold the opposite, including some highly-publicized cases against Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein.[4]However, there are many others that may be less well-known.[5]This is a very unusual fact pattern that I found, in which a court rejected pseudonymity. Doe v. JBF RAK KKLC (D. Nev. 2014):

Plaintiff alleges that Plaintiff met the principal person Defendant via text message, email and telephone in November 2012 and continued that way until they finally met face-to-face in Las Vegas in January 2013. Plaintiff claims that Defendant behaved inappropriately and became drunk during their January 25th meeting. Plaintiff doesn’t allege that Defendant assaulted her sexually or physically during the encounter.

Plaintiff received expensive gifts from the defendant including handbags and expensive jewelry. He also claimed that he would purchase premium automobiles for Plaintiff. The Defendant became drunk again during the subsequent meeting with Plaintiff, which took place in Switzerland in March 2013. He verbally abused Plaintiff and demanded that he return the valuable items he gave her. After apologizing for his actions, Defendant gave Plaintiff more expensive gifts. Plaintiff alleges that defendant behaved improperly during an April 2013 private flight with him. Plaintiff doesn’t claim that the defendant physically or verbally abused her on this trip.

Plaintiff claims that the Defendant attacked and injured her on or around July 11, 2013. Plaintiff asserts that she communicated with Defendant’s relatives and close associates, who informed her that Defendant was trying to control his behavior. She asked him to try again. Plaintiff claims that defendant became drunk again on August 2nd 2013, and forced Plaintiff from their hotel room. He also stated that he would rape her 20 times.

Plaintiff claims she was able to travel to Dubai in September 2013 to meet with Defendant, after having further conversations with him. During her visit to Dubai, Plaintiff signed a contract for employment with Defendant. Plaintiff was then forced to leave because Defendant had been drinking again. The incident resulted in further apologies by the defendant, as well as promises to make amends and receive additional gifts.

Plaintiff claims that she went to Dubai to see Defendant in November 2013. Plaintiff claims that Defendant choked and strangled her while she was riding in the Bentley car in Dubai. Again, the pattern of giving gifts, apologizing and promising to change was repeated. The plaintiff was able to return to Dubai at the end of January 2014.

Plaintiff claims that Defendant invaded her bedroom and attacked her without her consent on January 30, 2014. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant’s actions caused her physical and psychological pain, as well as mental anguish. She was even diagnosed with P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder). Plaintiff seeks damages for her alleged mental and physical injuries. The Plaintiff seeks damages for the alleged physical and mental injuries she sustained.

Positions of the parties on Plaintiff’s motions for anonymity and unsealing [more on that below -EV]They are identical. The public has the right to know all of Plaintiff’s allegations against the Defendants. Accordingly, the plaintiff wants the entire complaint unsealed. However, she wishes to remain anonymous to prevent the shame and trauma she will likely suffer if her real identity is revealed.

Plaintiff’s true identity should be protected by the defendants. They claim that Plaintiff’s anonymity protects her from the negative consequences of being publicly infamous. The complaint’s previously sealed allegations should also be kept under seal by the defendants. Defendants argue that it is uncertain whether this case will ever be adjudicated on the merits, and it is therefore still premature to unseal the complaint in its entirety….

There is no fear of retaliation in this case if Plaintiff’s identity becomes public. The identity of Plaintiff is well-known to the defendants. The Defendants do not have any evidence of Plaintiff’s identity being used to justify their actions. However, even if they had, it would be impossible to stop Plaintiff from proceeding anonymously. …

In general, federal courts balance the severity of emotional distress or mental injury the plaintiff appears likely to suffer against the unfairness or prejudice that defendant will suffer if plaintiff is allowed to proceed anonymously, and the public’s interest in knowing the identities of all litigants…. [Some cases have given]It is more important to consider the possible harm plaintiffs will suffer from the disclosure of their identities and the deterrent effect this could have on potential plaintiffs than the unfairness or prejudice caused by anonymity for the defendants. In contrast, the following statement is made. [other cases] ….

These cases provide valid arguments both for and against the granting anonymity to victims of sexual assault or abuse. A motion to remain anonymous will likely be granted if the plaintiff presents a stronger case regarding psychological injuries she would suffer from being identified publicly.

These allegations are unusual, even when considered in contexts of allegations of sexual abuse or assault. According to the complaint, Defendant was accused of engaging in dissolute, degrading, and possibly even harmful behavior. Plaintiff traveled long distances to meet Defendant, despite his alleged conduct. Despite being verbally and physically abused by Defendant, she continued making such long-distance trips. Plaintiff seems to have been influenced by the gifts he promised or made to him to allow them to remain friends.

Plaintiff seeks damages to cover the mental and physical injuries she claims she sustained as a result Defendant’s abuse. She also wants to prove her legal rights to expensive jewelry, watches and cars that Defendant gave her or promised her. Plaintiff’s credibility in this case is questioned by these allegations.

Plaintiff claims that she experienced mental anguish and was diagnosed with P.T.S.D. Although Plaintiff asserts that she experienced mental anguish and was diagnosed with P.T.S.D., the plaintiff has not provided any details about her mental or physical injuries. She has not provided any records of treatment or declarations from psychiatrists, psychologists, or physicians that would support the assertion she will sustain a significant additional mental injury. Although the Court could infer such an injury, Plaintiff hasn’t shown that her case will suffer from one. Plaintiff also disclosed her real identity when she filed a temporary restraining motion against Defendant at the Illinois state court. This was based upon the same allegations as this case.

Plaintiff does not have a strong case that she will be subject to significant emotional harm, if required by the Court to pursue this case in her own name. Plaintiff’s claim for the recovery of the costly gifts that Plaintiff allegedly gave her is different from other cases in which the courts protected sexual assault victims identities so that similar plaintiffs will not be discouraged from filing suit.

These circumstances show that the prejudice and unfairness suffered by the Defendants along with the public’s need to know who is using courts to seek justice in an alleged wrong, far outweigh Plaintiff’s desire to conceal her identity. The Court therefore denies Plaintiff’s motion to proceed anonymously in this action and directs her to file an amended complaint in her true name….

Also, the Court rejected defendants’ request to seal the matter:

[T]The Court [had earlier]Partially granted defendants’ motion for sealing the complaint. The Court will reconsider. The Court entered the order even though Plaintiff hadn’t yet served the complaint to Defendants. It was possible the complaint would never have been served. The Court stated that the matter would remain confidential until the “action proceeds further in the litigation process” at which point “the balance will shift to favor full public access of the facts and details of the lawsuit.” The complaint has since been served, or arguably served, on the Defendants….

This Court held in its July 18, 2014 order that a motion to seal all or part of a civil complaint must satisfy the compelling reasons standard to overcome the strong presumption in favor of public access …. The complaint was filled with detailed allegations regarding the principal defendant’s abusive, dissolute or degrading behaviour. AndBecause the complaint was not served on the defendants and could never be served, the Court partly granted the motion of seal to the defendants.

The complaint has been served or perhaps served on the defendants, who moved to dismiss it primarily for jurisdictional reasons. The court is currently considering this case to decide on the contested issues regarding jurisdiction and whether there are any claims that can be made for relief. The public is entitled to the Plaintiff’s name and can also see the allegations made by this case in order to evaluate the outcome of any future judicial actions.

The defendants argue that the complaint must be kept partially sealed due to its highly embarassing and potentially damaging allegations. However, the courts have ruled that “the mere fact that a litigant may be embarrassed, incriminated, or exposed to more litigation will not make the court order to produce records.” sealIts records

It has not been proven by defendants that allegations contained in the complaint were made with an “improper motive” to justify sealing it. A complaint that alleges egregious misconduct from a defendant can be considered untrue if it is true. However, a defendant cannot have a complaint sealed by simply claiming its falsity. If that were the norm, any complaint with allegations that would be embarrassing to or detrimental to the defendant’s reputation might be sealed up until those allegations are proven. This is not in line with the law regarding sealing judicial documents.

In this instance, the case is about alleged conduct. It may have been between Plaintiff and Defendant. However, other conduct was witnessed by others. This can possibly be proven by witness testimony, or records such as those attached to the complaint. No determination can be made from the face of the complaint, that it is based on nothing more than unsubstantiated rumors, gossip or innuendo….

[1]Doe v. Lund’s Fisheries, Inc., no. CV 20-11306 (NLH/‌‌JS), 2020 WL 6749972, *3 (D.N.J. Nov. 17, 2020); Doe v. Evans, 202 F.R.D. 173, 176 (E.D. Pa. 2001; Doe v. Kenyon College. 20-cv-4972-MHW-CMV, at 3 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 24, 2020); Doe v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wisc., 112 F.3d 869, 872 (7th Cir. Doe v. Eckerson (W.D. Mo. Oct. 8, 2020); Doe v. Trishul Consultancy, LLC, No. CV1816468FLWZNQ, 2019 WL 4750078, *4 (D.N.J. September 30, 2019, Doe V. Streck. 522 F. Subp. 3d 332, 334 (S.D. Ohio 2021; Nationwide Affinity Ins. Co. v. Brown, No. 2:20-cv-02355-EFM-TJJ, at 2 (D. Kan. Aug. 28, 2020); E.V. v. Robinson, No. 1:16-CV-01419, 2016 WL 11584907, *2 (D.D.C. July 8, 2016, Doe V. Cabrera. 1, 3–4, 6 (D.D.C. 2014 (permitting plaintiff alleging that he was raped to use a pseudonym); Doe, LLC, Doe. 11-1755, 2012 WL 13047579, at *2–3 (D.D.C. Apr. 30, 2012); Doe v. OPO Hotel Mgmt., No. 2020 CA 003630B (D.C.Super. Ct. Oct. 7, 2020); Doe v. Diocese Corp., No. CV93 0704552S. 1994.WL 174693. Ct. Apr. 21, 1994).

See, for example, B.M. v. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc., No. 20-cv-00656-BLF, 2020 WL 4368214, at *10 (N.D. Cal. July 30, 2020); Doe v. Penzato, No. CV10- 5154 MEJ, 2011 WL 1833007, at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 13, 2011; Doe V. Steele. 3:20-cv-01818-MMA-MSB, at 5 (S.D. Cal. Nov. 16, 2020). Doe v. Streeter (No. 4:20-cv-11609-MFL-APP (E.D. Mich. Nov. 12, 2020); Doe v. Fowler, 2018 WL 3428150 (W.D.N.C. July 16, 2018.

[2] See, e.g., Adgers v. Doe, No. CV05-4014657. 2005 WL 35693816 (Conn. Ct. Hartford Dist. Dec. 22, 2005); See, e.g., A.B. v. C.D., No. C.D., No. Apr. 24, 2018); Painter v. Doe, No. 3:15-CV-369 – MOC-DCK 2016 WL 3766466 July 13, 2016.

[3]Doe v. Kenyon College (No. 2:20-CV 4972, 2020 WL 11885928 (S.D. Ohio, Sept. 24, 2020; Doe v. Trustees Dartmouth Coll. 18-CV-040-LM, 2018 WL 2048385, *6 (D.N.H. May 2, 2018, cf. Doe v. Billington, No. 21STCV22207 (Cal. Super. Ct. Sept. 2, 2021).

[4] Rapp v. Fowler, No. 20-CV-9586 (LAK), 2021 WL 1738349 (S.D.N.Y. May 3, 2021);Doe v. Weinstein, 484 F. Supp. 3d 90, 94 (S.D.N.Y. 2020); Doe v. Shakur, 164 F.R.D. 359 (S.D.N.Y. 1996).

[5]Plaintiff B. v. Francis (631 F.3d. 1310, 11th Cir. 2011. (“courts have denied anonymity protection in sexual assault cases, even when the plaintiff’s identity could cause her some embarrassment ‘”);. Doe v. Ocean Reef Cmty. Ass’n, No. 19-10138-CIV, 2019 WL 5102450, *2 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 11, 2019); o F.B. v. East Stroudsburg Univ., No. 3:09-cv-525, 2009 WL 2003363, at *3 (M.D. Pa. July 7, 2009 (reasoning: If courts find only sexual assault allegations sufficient to justify anonymity they “would open the court up to requests for anonymity whenever a plaintiff makes sexual harassment allegations”); Doe, Cook County. Doe v. County of Lehigh (No. 5:20-CV03089 2020 WL 75319544 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 11th, 2020; Doe v. Gong Xi Fa Cai, Inc., no. 19-cv-; 2678, 2019 WL 3034793, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 10, 2019, Doe v. Townes. 19-cv-; 8034, 2020 WL 2395159, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 12, 2020, Doe V. Skyline Automobiles Inc. (375 F. Supp. 3d 401, 405 (S.D.N.Y. 2019); Doe, v. Word of Life Fellowship, Inc., 2011 WLR 2968912 (D. Mass. July 18, 2011; MacInnis V. Cigna Grp. Ins.Ins. 2005; Bell Atlantic Business Systems, Inc., 162F.R.D. at 421 Doe H. in Doe H. V. Haskell Indian Nations Univ. 266 F. Supp. 3d 1277, 1289, D. Kan. 2017. Roe V. Does 1-11. 20-CV-3788-MKB-SJB, 2020 WL 6152174, *8 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 14, 2020) (“general trend to disfavor anonymity in sexual assault-related civil cases”); Doe v. Sheely, 781 F. App’x 972, 973–74 (11th Cir. Doe Rel.Doe v. Harris (No. 14-cv-00802, 2014 WL 4207599, at *2 (W.D. La. Aug. 25, 2014); Luckett v. Beaudet, 21 F. Supp. 2d 1029, D. Minn. 1998; Doe v. Univ. R.I. CIV.A. CIV.A. Dec. 28, 1993; Doe v. Bruner (No. CA2011-07-013, 2012 WL 626202, *3 (Ohio Ct. App. February 27, 2012 (applying federal laws by analogy); Balerna V. Bosco. HHDCV176082264S, 2017 WL 6884041, *2 (Conn. Super. Ct. December 6, 2017. (rejecting pseudonymity, in non-Title IX matter arising from alleged sexual assault at college).