Filing Under a Pseudonym
Several cases from New Jersey provide examples of what courts consider sufficient under a court-made “compelling interest” balancing test (citing, but not following Stegall), and what is considered insufficient, for a plaintiff to proceed under a pseudonym:
- A.B.C. v. XYZ Corp., 660 A.2d 1199 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1995) – The court formulated a rule for considering pseudonymous plaintiffs, but held that the instant plaintiff could not proceed pseudonymously. A.B.C. claimed he suffered from the “disease” of exhibitionism, and that his termination after he exposed himself at work was employment discrimination. The trial court denial of Plaintiff’s motion to proceed pseudonymously. On appeal, the instant court weighed custom, constitutional law, and the state civil procedure rules requiring all parties names to appear on complaints as evidence of a presumption of open courts. The court looked to federal caselaw to distinguish A.B.C. from plaintiffs who brought privacy actions, or were victims. It formulated a rule that “once compelling circumstances have been shown, the litigant's privacy interest must be weighed against the constitutional and public interest in open judicial proceedings.” Id. at 1204. Compelling circumstances could not include emotional distress, but did encompass physical harm or revelation of highly private and personal information. Because the trial judge did not abuse his discretion, and plaintiff failed to put forward compelling interests, the instant court affirmed.
- T.S.R. v. J.C., 671 A.2d 1068 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1996) – Pseudonymous Defendant, minister appeals denial of pseudonymity by trial court for defense against claims of his sexual molestation of minors. Citing to A.B.C., the court notes that the presumption of openness of trials can be overcome, but holds that the stigma J.C. would suffer is not sufficient, especially in light of the fact that the defendant church widely circulated the allegations among its members, and that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in denying pseudonymity.
- Doe v. Tris Comprehensive Mental Health, Inc., 690 A.2d 160 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1996) – Doe, a doctor and psychotherapist, sues for employment discrimination alleging that the revelation that he was gay and HIV positive status lead to firing. In applying to proceed under a pseudonym, Doe argued that the revelation of his HIV positive condition would be stigmatizing, and adversely affect his livelihood as current and prospective clients would be discouraged from seeking his services. Not even all of Doe’s family knew. The court pointed to the custom and the Constitution in noting that there is a presumption of open trials, which is embodied in the court rule requiring names for all parties. Pointing to caselaw that minors were allowed to proceed pseudonymously, the court applied the balancing test from A.B.C. v. XYZ Corp., that there must be compelling circumstances for pseudonymity. It distinguished A.B.C. and T.S.R., and looked to federal cases for persuasive opinions allowing pseudonyms. The court held that revealing Doe’s HIV status in conjunction with harm to his professional reputation and practice was sufficient to overcome the presumption against open trials.
One very recent case interestingly allows the case to continue under pseudonyms and initials even though, according to the court, the need for pseudonymity had “evaporated.” It also evinced a preference for the Doe pseudonyms rather than initials:
- O.R. ex rel. O.R. v. Kniewel, Nos. L-2293-07, L-2380-07, L-2686-06, L-2316-06, 2010 WL 1191088 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2010) – Does and minors identified by intials allege discrimination by schools. The court noted, however, that “[a]s of this writing, John has reached the age of majority. Arguably, the need for confidentiality of the parties' actual identities has evaporated. Nevertheless, we elect to continue the convention of abbreviations and pseudonyms for the parties. We do, however, choose to avoid the use of initials and accordingly, alter the true names of the parties.” Id. at *1, n.2.
Cases where victims are allowed to proceed pseudonymously in civil suits, with no discussion from the court, include:
- Doe v. XYC Corp., 887 A.2d 1156 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2005) (Doe sues relating to nude postings of her minor daughter on child porn websites); Doe by Doe v. Uhler, 532 A.2d 1133 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. 1987) (Doe sexually assaulted as minor); Doe v. Saint Michael's Medical Center of Newark, 445 A.2d 40 (N.J. Super. 1982) (Doe assaulted and robbed); Doe v. New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, 429 A.2d 596 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1981) (Doe is minor sexually assaulted in foster home).
Other cases allow a pseudonym where Plaintiff faces physical harm if name is revealed in record:
- Doe v. Dover Tp., 524 A.2d 469 (N.J. Super. A.D. 1987); Application of "X'', 284 A.2d 530 (N.J. 1971) (Doe and Mr. X are jewelers who carry jewels and cash between home and places of business whose handgun permits are denied and affirmed on appeal).
Other cases with no discussion of the Doe plaintiffs include complaints of HIV infection (Doe v. Greater New York Blood Program, 700 A.2d 377 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1997); Doe v. Arts 823 A.2d 855 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2003)), challenges to sex offender registration (Doe v. Poritz, 662 A.2d 367 (N.J. 1995)), and anti-abortion laws (Doe v. Bridgeton Hospital Ass'n, Inc., 366 A.2d 641 (N.J. 1976)), and family law (Doe v. State, Dept. of Human Services, Division of Youth and Family Services, 398 A.2d 562 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1979)).
Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records
N.J. COURT RULES, R. 1:4-1 (2010): Caption:
“In a complaint in a civil action, the title of the action shall include the names of all the parties . . . .”
N.J. COURT RULES, R. 1:2-1 (2010): Proceeding in Open Court:
All trials . . . and appeals shall be conducted in open court unless otherwise provided by rule or statute. If a proceeding is required to be conducted in open court, no record of any portion thereof shall be sealed by order of the court except for good cause shown . . . .
Supreme Court and courts of appeal published opinions available at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/index.htm, and unpublished available at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/unappopin/unappopindex.htm, while trial court published and unpublished are available for two weeks at http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/trial_court_opinions/index.htm and http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/decisions/index.htm (last visited Apr. 20, 2010).
N.J. COURT RULES, R. 1:38-3 (2010) describes certain classes of court records that are excluded from public access, including victim statements, records relation to child abuse, victims of domestic violence, juvenile court records, pertaining to AIDS or HIV, and others.
N.J. COURT RULES, R. 1:38-7 (2010) generally prohibits submission of PII such as social security numbers and the like in filings with the courts.