May College Students Sue Pseudonymously to Challenge Discipline for COVID Protocol Violations?

The COVID issue is a highly volatile topic in our society today. There are many opinions on whether or not there should be continued regulation. Each individual, state, political party, and institution has a different view on COVID. Because the topic is so sensitive and new, anonymity and protection are essential. The fact that Plaintiff is exposed to potential prejudices and societal differences justifies proceeding anonymously.

But Plaintiff does not provide any concrete examples of what intimate information revealing his identity might force him to reveal. This is particularly evident given the fact that Plaintiff doesn’t dispute that he hosted an event in his private residence off campus on April 23rd, 2021 with his “four housemates”, also fraternity members. To which both Bloomington Police Departments and Indiana University Police Department responded.

It seems that Plaintiff simply would prefer to not attach his name and conduct to the admitted. Many parties will prefer that their disputes remain private. For example, a plaintiff alleging he was discriminated against by his employer when his employment was terminated will have to disclose the employer’s reason for terminating the plaintiff’s employment—a reason that the plaintiff disputes is the real reason and which is often embarrassing or even damaging to his or her reputation. It is clear that such a plaintiff cannot proceed as a pseudonym, in order not to damage his or her reputation. …

Plaintiff claims that “[i]If the Court demands that Plaintiff reveal his identity, it could have a significant impact on his career and academic prospects, regardless of whether he receives a favorable verdict. This is dependent on the opinions of potential employers. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that he will suffer harm in the form of “emotional and reputational damages, economic injuries, the loss of educational and career opportunities and future earnings,” and points to “the loss of employment by a big four accounting firm … and the loss of membership in a national fraternity.”

The “Plaintiff”‘s main concerns are his economic well-being, embarrassment, or humiliation. Courts have traditionally rejected requests to proceed using fictitious names solely based on these concerns. To be considered by a court for anonymity, a movant must prove that his specific circumstances are more severe than a general fear or embarrassment. Plaintiff did not do so.

Plaintiff also stated that he could be subject to retaliation “by students, student organizations, and university officials who support more restrictive regulations.” Yes, it is true.[t]The risk of retaliation can often be a motivating ground to allow a party litigate anonymously. However, “[a]A mere possibility of retaliation is insufficient to justify an exceptional departure from the public norms. Plaintiffs need to show that retaliatory harm was caused by psychological injury or violence. If the identity of a plaintiff is revealed, they must also provide evidence. This case does not contain such evidence. Additionally, Plaintiff is not disputing that he hosted April 23, 2021 party. However, he sued the University claiming that the subsequent proceedings deprived him of due process. Plaintiff’s argument based upon COVID-based shame is somewhat flawed.

Another important factor to be considered is whether the injured party would suffer because of disclosures of the Plaintiff’s identity. If Plaintiff proves that the Defendants violated his due-process rights, then there’s a possibility that Plaintiff will be able to reveal his identity. [in the course of this lawsuit]”It would further exacerbate the emotional and reputational damage he claims.” But, the. Purdue Univ. Colgate Univ. The cases involved sexual assault accusations, and the courts were interested in the possibility that a college student could be “marked for life” as a sexual predator.

There is no need to be concerned about the depth of this concern. A student disciplined for breaking COVID-19 protocol will not receive the same scarlet letter that a student disciplined for sexual assault against another student. Plaintiff’s potential harm “pales” in comparison with the kinds of harms that are typically protected. Though Plaintiff is able to justify his desire to file under pseudonym, his arguments “are not sufficient” to defeat the strong presumption against requiring that parties sue using their actual names.

Accordingly, because Plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence of concrete harms he will suffer if made to litigate under his real name, the third factor weighs AGAINST a grant of pseudonymity….

Plaintiff asserts that defendants are aware of Plaintiff’s identity and will not be prejudiced by Plaintiff using a pseudonym. But, this is not always true. Plaintiff could be allowed to use a pseudonym and Defendants claim they would suffer prejudice at every stage of the litigation. Defendants elaborate:

The Defendants might need third-party witness discovery, such as depositions and request for documents. If the Plaintiff’s name is not known, it can be difficult for defendants to get third-party information. In a jury trial, defendants will be forced to use a pseudonym to identify the Plaintiff. This could cause them prejudice. Courts have recognized, for example, that jurors could construe the court’s permission for the plaintiff to conceal his true identity “as a subliminal comment on the harm the alleged encounter … has caused the plaintiff.” Jurors may also be open to the possibility that the Plaintiff (who remains anonymous) is more vulnerable than the named defendants. Jurors will be influenced by the jury’s interpretation of the pseudonym, which can prejudice the defendants.

These are valid concerns which, ultimately, are not outweighed by Plaintiff’s asserted privacy rights….

[T]The Court will [also]Think about “the public’s interest in providing open access for proceedings and not denying litigants the right to access the justice system.” In fact, “lawsuits” are public affairs and the public has an interest in the details involved. “Among these facts is the identity and the identities of the defendants.

Plaintiff asserts that the disclosure of Plaintiff’s identity is not in the public’s best interest. Critically, though, the disclosure of a plaintiff’s identity is the standard which the public is entitled to; pseudonymity is only acceptable in “exceptional circumstances.” As such, the public’s interest in the longstanding notion of openness of federal proceedings would be hampered by allowing Plaintiff to use a fictitious name—especially here, where Plaintiff has failed to establish how his case constitutes an exceptional circumstance warranting anonymity….

In sum, Plaintiff has not established “a privacy right so substantial as to outweigh the ‘customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.'” As the movant, Plaintiff has not met his obligation to “show[ing]These factors, or some combination thereof, outweigh the presumption that judicial openness is an ordinary assumption. The Court can therefore exercise its discretion. The case doesn’t present “exceptional circumstances,” which would permit Plaintiff to use a pseudonym. Plaintiff should “step out of the shadows and pursue the case in open.”