What does it mean to file a lawsuit under a pseudonym?
Filing a lawsuit under a pseudonym simply means being able to proceed in a case without revealing your true name in the public record. This procedure has existed for many years in federal and state courts. For example, perhaps one of the most famous pseudonymous cases is Roe v. Wade, where the plaintiff challenging the abortion laws was protected from disclosure in the pleadings because of the privacy-sensitive nature of her case.
Will the Court let me file a lawsuit without revealing my true name?
It depends on whether you are in federal or state court, and the facts of your case.
Federal courts employ a multi-factor test to weigh the plaintiff’s right to privacy against both the public interest in disclosure and any prejudice to the defendant where a party seeks to proceed anonymously. When the full site is launched, we will elaborate on the current Federal tests, but the following cases are a good starting point: Plaintiff B v. Francis, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 1940 (11th Cir. Fla. Feb. 1, 2011) and Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 189 (2d Cir. 2008) (adopting the Ninth Circuit’s formulation as described in Does v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1068 (9th Cir. 2000)).
Unlike federal courts, state courts do not address pseudonymous litigation in a uniform manner. Coupled with the fact that most online invasion of privacy cases are state court actions, this creates a patchwork of different standards in different jurisdictions. For example, some courts permit parties to proceed anonymously after a motion is filed and heard by the court. Other courts refuse to consider or arbitrarily deny motions to proceed pseudonymously rather than grapple with ambiguous case law or statutory guidance. As a result, people are effectively shut out of the justice system. Given the seriousness and the reprehensibility of the conduct at issue in online harassment cases, the worst possible result for society is for a plaintiff’s grievance in these types of cases to never be aired. See Lior Strahilevitz, Pseudonymous Litigation, 77 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1239, 1258 (2010).
The resources published at this site will provide details on the nature of pseudonymous litigation and the importance of providing victims of online invasions of privacy with a clear path to justice through our judicial system.