Filing Under a Pseudonym
Two New York cases consider in detail the use of pseudonyms, one allowing pseudonyms and fashioning a rule from a law review article, and the other denying the use of pseudonym.
- Doe v. New York University, 786 N.Y.S.2d 892 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2004) – Does sued NYU for negligence when they were raped on NYU property, and move to proceed pseudonymously, inter alia. The court announced a rule that “[w]hen a court is deciding whether to allow a plaintiff to proceed anonymously, the ultimate inquiry must be whether ‘the plaintiff has a substantial privacy right which outweighs the customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.’” Id. at 903 (citing Milani, Doe v Roe: An Argument for Defendant Anonymity When a Pseudonymous Plaintiff Alleges a Stigmatizing Intentional Tort, 41 WAYNE L. REV. 1659, 1681 (1995)). Factors to be considered were: “whether plaintiffs' situation is ‘compelling,’ involving ‘highly sensitive matters’ including ‘social stigmatization,’ or ‘where the injury litigated against would occur as a result of the disclosure of the plaintiff's identity.’ Further, the fact that plaintiffs' action seeks monetary damages does not affect the plaintiffs' request to proceed pseudonymously, since monetary damages may be the only relief appropriate or available to those claiming ‘psychological suffering’ that has occurred in the past and is not amenable to injunctive or other equitable relief.” Id. (citing to Milani). Here, Plaintiffs “contend that they will be subject to embarrassment, stigma and humiliation,” id., in addition to harms already resulting from the sexual assaults. The court granted the use of pseudonyms.
- Doe v. Kidd, 860 N.Y.S.2d 866 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2008) – Doe alleges famous Defendant sexually assaulted and battered her during an altercation where he grabbed her crotch. Doe’s motion to proceed pseudonymously is denied, as she “does not identify any substantial privacy right sufficient to overcome the presumption of openness that attends judicial proceedings in New York” in her claim that she would suffer “unwanted publicity and the exacerbation of the emotional distress.” The court disallows her from proceeding pseudonymously under a state statute allowing pseudonymity where substantial evidence demonstrate an actual sexual offense (such as criminal conviction), and also found that her claims of privacy rights to pseudonymity in that the matter is “highly sensitive” and will cause undue publicity are insufficient to overcome the usual presumption of open courts under the test established by Doe v. New York University.
Privacy-based cases also allow, with much less discussion, plaintiffs to proceed as Does.
- Doe v. Merck & Co., Inc., 781 N.Y.S.2d 623 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2002) – Libel claims brought by a model who, without her permission, has a fake story about her recurring herpes due to her AIDS published next to her photo. Doe knew the photo would be used for AIDS-related promotional leaflets, but didn’t give permission for the fake “life story” next to her photo. No discussion of pseudonym.
- Doe v. Daily News, L.P., 660 N.Y.S.2d 604 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1997) – Doe brings libel claim against newspaper for reporting on the fact that police disbelieved her accusation of rape. No discussion of pseudonym.
- Doe v. Roe, 400 N.Y.S.2d 668 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1977) – Doe brings invasion of privacy claim; she was Roe’s psychiatric patient; Roe publishes a book detailing Doe’s confidences verbatim without Doe’s consent. The court notes that the file was sealed, pseudonyms used, and that there is “every reason to continue that arrangement.” Id. at 670 n.1.
- Anonymous v. Anonymous, 55 Misc.2d 663, 286 N.Y.S.2d 140 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1968) – Anonymous wife sues ex-husband seeking to enjoin his practice of sending his alimony checks made out to her name followed by epithets such as “adulteress.” No discussion of privacy claims per se, nor of pseudonymity.
A New York court also noted the difference between sealing records and the use of pseudonyms:
- Doe v. Bellmore-Merrick Cent. High School Dist., 770 N.Y.S.2d 847 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2003) – Defendant moved to have the record sealed under state law, plaintiffs objected. Plaintiffs, minors abused by employee of Defendant, already used pseudonyms before the court, an the court finds that the pseudonym was sufficient to protect Plaintiffs’ privacy while still accommodating the public interest to access the records. Id. at 850.
There are myriad cases in which Doe plaintiffs pursue their claims and in which courts do not address pseudonymity, such as release of confidential medical records (see, e.g., Volkman v. Miller, 383 N.Y.S.2d 95 (N.Y. App. Div. 1976)); employer drug testing (see, e.g., Doe v. Roe, Inc., 539 N.Y.S.2d 876 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1989)); HIV or other STD infection (see e.g., Doe v. Doe, 791 N.Y.S.2d 761 (N.Y. App. Div. 2005)); sexual abuse of adults or minors (see, respectively, John Doe No. 6 v. Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah, Inc., 863 N.Y.S.2d 891 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2008); Doe v. City of New York, 860 N.Y.S.2d 841 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2008)); and family law/custody (see, e.g., Doe v. Doe, 92 Misc.2d 184, 399 N.Y.S.2d 977 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1977)).
Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records
N.Y. C.P.L.R. 2101 (2010): Form of Papers
“(c) Caption . . . In a summons, a complaint or a judgment the title shall include the names of all parties . . . .”
Superior Court and courts of appeal cases dating back to 2009 are available at http://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/latdec.htm (last visited Apr. 20, 2010).
N.Y. CIVIL RIGHTS LAW § 50-b (2006): Right of privacy; victims of sex offenses or offenses involving the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus.
[Statute grants a limited right to privacy in public records for such victims.]
22 NYCRR § 216.1 (2010): Sealing of Court Records:
Court records can be sealed for good cause, and the court “shall consider the interests of the public as well of the parties.”
NY CLS CPLR § 3103 (2010) provides for protective orders.