In federal court, a plaintiff who wants to proceed pseudonymously must file a special motion with the court to do so. In the motion, the plaintiff must convince the court that his/her privacy interests outweigh the public’s interest in knowing his/her identity. Federal courts have considered the following factors in weighing the plaintiff’s privacy interests against the public’s interest in knowing the plaintiff’s identity:
- Whether the defendant is a government authority;1
- Whether the plaintiff risks prosecution for admitting to engage in illegal activity;2
- Possible disclosure by plaintiff of information of “the utmost intimacy”;3
- Risk of injury to plaintiff if identified;4
- Age of the litigants;5
- Possible prejudice of defendant by plaintiff’s use of a pseudonym;6
- Degree of economic harm to the plaintiff if her or his identity is known;7
- Whether less drastic means of preserving the plaintiff’s interests are available;8 and
- Severe economic harm to the plaintiff.9
- 1. The Fifth Circuit introduced a three-factor test in 1979 in Southern Methodist University Ass’n of Women Law Students v. Wynne & Jaffe, 599 F.2d 707, 712-13 (5th Cir. 1979).
- 2. Id.
- 3. Id.
- 4. In 1981, Doe v. Stegall, 653 F.2d 180, 186 (5th Cir. 1981) clarified that the analysis should not end with the three factors, and the court also considered threats of violence and the age of the plaintiffs (children).
- 5. Id.
- 6. See, e.g., Doe v. Shakur, 164 F.R.D. 359, 361 (S.D.N.Y. 1996).
- 7. See Does I thru XXIII, 214 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2000) (holding that the threat of deportation from the Northern Mariana Islands to China and other economic sanctions threatened against garment-worker plaintiffs was sufficient to outweigh prejudice to the defendant companies).
- 8. See, e.g., Doe v. Ind. Black Expo, Inc., 923 F. Supp. 137, 140 (S.D. Ind. 1996).
- 9. Id.