The public generally has a right to access court records, including in civil cases—a right that is intended to “protectThe public’s right to monitor and supervise the Judicial Branch. This right also extends to the ability of the public to know the identities of the parties.
[L]The facts of awsuits can be accessed by the general public. The identities of the defendants are one aspect that should be included in the facts. As a matter policy, we believe the identity of the plaintiffs in a case should never be revealed except in an unusual situation.
The Court is a public institution. Therefore, the public can look at our shoulders to see who seeks relief before it. All quotations are taken from various Federal Court opinions. For more information, click here.
It is also crucial to have access to the names of parties so reporters, activists, researchers, and others can examine the history behind a case and assess the credibility and reliability of the parties. Have they made similar claims in the past? Do you have reason to trust them or question their statements? How can coworkers and acquaintances report on the alleged underlying events? It is not enough to just report on lawsuits but also the backstory. Because the right is an inherent right, defendants’ agreement to comply with a plaintiff’s request to use a pseudonymous name (as was the case in this instance) doesn’t negate the right.
Courts will sometimes permit pseudonymous litigation, however. Pseudonymous litigation is most common when it comes to legal disputes (e.g. Roe V. WadeIt can also occur when the lawsuit involves matters of “the utmost intimacy,” like abortion or transgender status.
We are now at Trooper 1 against N.Y. State PoliceIt was ruled Thursday by Taryn M. Merkl (E.D.N.Y. Magistrate).):
On February 17, 2022, Trooper 1 …, a member of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Protective Service Unit, initiated this action alleging that former Governor Cuomo sexually harassed her and other state employees. The complaint names as Defendants the New York State Police … former Governor Andrew Cuomo …, Melissa DeRosa …, and Richard Azzopardi …. Plaintiff is claiming, among other things, discrimination and retaliation in violation of the federal Equal Protection Clause, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law….
It was alleged that the victim had been subject to sexual harassment
Then he sexually harassed and abused her. He then sexually harassed her.She wanted him to kiss her.[c]An I love you kiss?She asked him to get a girlfriend who “can handle pain” and they shifted their conversation towards sex.[w]Would you like to marry? … your sex drive goes down”). Like his victims, Trooper 1 was touched inappropriately by the Governor. He ran his finger along the middle of his spine from my neck to the bottom with his pointer finger, and then said: “Hey, you ‘”)..”
It was “sexual harassment”, which the courts had found “highly sensitive” and “of an extremely personal nature”. The court concluded by granting Plaintiff’s motion “favors”. The majority of analysis was focused on the likelihood that the case would draw attention.
There is no reason to request anonymity if there is a risk of embarrassment, humiliation, or worse. The courts often demand “more evidence that links disclosure to”. [a plaintiff’s]Name a particular physical or mental injury. … [But]Given the high profile nature of this case and the allegations in it, we believe that “” is the right word.[h]The plaintiff could be subject to unnecessary criticisms, interrogation or trauma if the name of the plaintiff is made public, particularly in today’s Internet age. As a result, the Court finds that a “chilling effect” could result from Plaintiff’s being required to reveal her identity, which weighs in favor of permitting Plaintiff to continue anonymously….
As for whether “the public’s interest in the litigation is furthered” by requiring Plaintiff to disclose her identity, the Court finds that this factor also tilts toward Plaintiff….
[W]When a plaintiff is challenging a government or pseudogovernmental decision, the judiciary acts as an important check against abuse of power. As the courts noted, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep the cost of accessing the courts low. Unpopular, but valid complaints are not allowed to be filed if they risk being ridiculed or even retaliated by the public. When there aren’t any proceedings, the value of open cases disappears.
This Court holds that the Court has found that litigation is in the public’s interest and the court should not charge too much for access. …
[T]He Court [also] does not find any alternative mechanisms for protecting Plaintiff’s confidentiality in this case given the high level of interest the public and media would certainly have in Plaintiff given the nature of the allegations set forth in the Amended Complaint….
Plaintiff’s motion to proceed using a pseudonym … [is therefore]It was allowed without prejudice for Defendants to reconsider this matter before trial.
This is a good example of the inconsistency between federal district courts on this issue, I think.
[1.] First, courts are sharply split even on whether to allow pseudonymity to people suing claiming they have been sexually assaulted (see Appendices 2a & 2b). When the claim is not of sexual harassment but of assault, they are more skeptical. In my article, I give many examples. It is obvious that the Supreme Court has handled all cases of sexual harassment (except for one). Davis, LaShonda D.’s next friend v. Monroe County Bd. Educ.LaShonda’s name was LaShonda, but she wasn’t included as she was minor. One case in which the Trooper Supporting pseudonymity to sexual harassment cases in opinion actually involved sexual assault,
However, some cases allow pseudonymity in relation to sexual harassment allegations. One case is that Trooper The cited cases did not mention sexual assault but sexual harassment in general. A few others have also taken the same view. There are similar disputes in lower court cases about nearly every other category of personal data that could lead to litigants seeking pseudonymity. These include having been gay or bisexual, having an abortion, and being gay.
[2.]Even more important, judges are divided on the question of whether pseudonymity is in public interest. Take, for example: Doe v. Megless (3d Cir. (2011), states that public access to information is being made more compelling.
Because of the nature of this lawsuit, it is important to know the identities of litigants beyond what is normal.
This is cited in more than 60 cases, nine of which are outside the Third Circuit. Others also hold similar views, such as “The fact that this particular case gained media and community attention is indicative of the reason why open judicial proceedings are in the public interest should be respected.”
Some courts also consider the public interest of a lawsuit to be cutting against naming parties. They are worried about the potential for publicity increasing the intrusion onto privacy and causing damage to reputations. (I cite examples from my article.
[3.]Also, the court concludes that the fact that an action is made against the government favors pseudonymity.
In general, suits against the government are characterized by a plaintiff’s desire to remain anonymous. Institutional defendants will be less prejudiced by anonymity. EW against New York Blood Ctr., 213 F.R.D. 108, 111 (E.D.N.Y. 2003); Also see North Jersey Media Group Inc. in action against Doe Nos. 1-5, No. 12-CV-6152 (VM) (KNF), 2012 WL 5899331, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Nov 26, 2012
This view is supported by other cases. Other cases show that if a claim is made against the government, it cuts ForPseudonymity occurs because these involve a “claim for relief”. [that]Public funds are used, so the public has an interest in seeing how they’re spent. This is especially true when the plaintiff brings up serious allegations of misconduct against government officials. Others courts also note that defendants can be public officials or government agencies, which increases the need for transparency. “The public has a strong interest in knowing the accusations against its tax-funded entities as well as the identities of the individuals making those accusations…. The public’s interest … weighs heavily against anonymity because the defendants are public servants who stand accused of a gross abuse of power.”
There are many reasons to support pseudonymity. These include the possibility that plaintiffs may not file meritorious lawsuits due to fear of public attention, embarrassment or reputational harm, which could cause under-enforcement. Although I believe that public oversight of court proceedings is beneficial, there are many other reasons.
Whatever the solution, however, I feel we need something better. Current system leaves decisions inconsistent because the decision is largely up to the predilections and preferences of the District Court Judge you draw. With little law being created by appellate judges (beyond multifactor balancing testing, which does little to constrain the discretionary power of district courts), the system is inconsistent.