United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
JOHN DOE, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
NORTH STATE AVIATION, LLC, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Patrick Auld United States Magistrate Judge.
matter comes before the Court on “Plaintiff's
Motion to Proceed Under Fictitious Name.” (Docket Entry
3 (the “Motion”).) For the following reasons, the
Court will deny the Motion.
action involves alleged violations of the Worker Adjustment
and Retraining Notification (“WARN”) Act, 29
U.S.C. § 2101 et seq., arising out of
Plaintiff's recent termination from Defendant's
employment. (See, e.g., Docket Entry 1, ¶ 1.)
The Motion asserts that “Plaintiff is actively seeking
reemployment in the niche aviation market, ” and
requests an order barring public disclosure of
Plaintiff's identity due to “fears” that such
disclosure “will adversely impact his ability to find a
replacement job and provide for his family.” (Docket
Entry 3 at 1-2; see also id. at 3
(“Plaintiff's need to preserve his privacy is
crucial to his ability to find new employment. . . . This
case will likely attract significant media attention - as
Defendant's decision to lay off its employees did - and
disclosure of Plaintiff's name will adversely impact his
ability to find employment in a niche field in a tightknit
community like Winston-Salem.” (internal footnote
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the
“Rules”) provides that “[t]he title of the
complaint must name all the parties.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
10(a). “The . . . intention of [Rule 10] is to apprise
the parties of their opponents and to protect the
public's legitimate interest in knowing all the facts and
events surrounding court proceedings. Generally, lawsuits are
public events and the public has a legitimate interest in
knowing the pertinent facts. Among the pertinent facts is the
identity of the parties.” Free Mkt. Comp. v.
Commodity Exch., Inc., 98 F.R.D. 311, 312 (S.D.N.Y.
1983); see also Doe v. Rostker, 89 F.R.D. 158, 162
(N.D. Cal. 1981) (“It is axiomatic that lawsuits are
public events and that the public has a legitimate interest
in knowing the facts involved, including the identities of
certain special circumstances, however, the Court may
authorize a plaintiff to proceed under a fictitious name.
Free Mkt. Comp., 98 F.R.D. at 312.
“Pseudonymous litigation is for the unusual or critical
case, and it is the litigant seeking to proceed under
pseudonym that bears the burden to demonstrate a legitimate
basis for proceeding in that manner.” Qualls v.
Rumsfeld, 228 F.R.D. 8, 13 (D.D.C. 2005).
“[F]ederal courts operate openly by default” and
a “defendant facing a pseudonymous plaintiff need not
come forward with reasons why this default procedure should
be followed.” Id.
decision whether to allow the use of fictitious names based
on a need for anonymity in a particular lawsuit is left to
the discretion of the trial court.” Doe v.
Hallock, 119 F.R.D. 640, 642 (S.D.Miss. 1987).
“The decision requires a balancing of considerations
calling for maintenance of a party's privacy against the
customary and constitutionally-embedded presumption of
openness in judicial proceedings.” Doe v.
Stegall, 653 F.2d 180, 186 (5th Cir. 1981). The United
States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has recognized
certain factors as relevant to anonymity requests:
whether the justification asserted by the requesting party is
merely to avoid the annoyance and criticism that may attend
any litigation or is to preserve privacy in a matter of
sensitive and highly personal nature; whether identification
poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to the
requesting party or even more critically, to innocent
non-parties; the ages of the persons whose privacy interests
are sought to be protected; whether the action is against a
governmental or private party; and, relatedly, the risk of
unfairness to the opposing party from allowing an action
against it to proceed anonymously.
James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993)
(the “James Factors”).
case, the Motion addresses only two of the James
Factors. First, Plaintiff contends that “[he] has a
legitimate fear that public disclosure could adversely impact
his ability to find replacement employment, ” and thus,
that the Motion “is not merely seeking to avoid the
‘annoyance and criticism that may attend any
litigation.'” (Docket Entry 3 at 3 (quoting
James, 6 F.3d at 238).) Notably, however, Plaintiff
has not shown that disclosing his identity would require him
to reveal information of a sensitive and highly personal
nature. (See id. at 1-4.) Moreover, fear of
negative treatment from “prospective future
employers” does not justify allowing a plaintiff to
proceed anonymously. See Southern Methodist Univ.
Ass'n of Women Law Students v. Wynne &
Jaffe, 599 F.2d 707, 713 (5th Cir. 1979) (rejecting
argument that disclosure of certain plaintiffs'
“identities will leave them vulnerable to
retaliation” from current and future employers and an
organized local bar because those plaintiffs “face no
greater threat of retaliation than the typical plaintiff
alleging Title VII violations, including the other women who,
under their real names and not anonymously, have filed sex
discrimination suits against large law firms”); see
also id. at 712-13 (emphasizing that courts allowing
plaintiffs to proceed anonymously due to disclosure of
personal information all involved “information of the
utmost intimacy, ” such as “birth control,
abortion, homosexuality, or the welfare rights of
illegitimate children or abandoned families, ” and
that, in many of those cases, the plaintiffs “also had
to admit that they either had violated state laws or
government regulations or wished to engage in prohibited
conduct” (internal footnotes omitted)); Free Mkt.
Comp., 98 F.R.D. at 312-13 (denying anonymity request
where the plaintiff argued that disclosing his identity would
“cause him to ‘lose his job and suffer extreme
economic and social harm as well as embarrassment and
humiliation in his professional and social
community'” because those concerns do not
“implicate a recognized privacy interest involving
‘matters of a sensitive and highly personal
nature'” and the plaintiff's “desire to
avoid professional embarrassment and economic loss is
insufficient to permit him to appear without disclosing his
Plaintiff contends that “there are no risks of
unfairness if [he] proceeds under a fictitious name because
this case pertains solely to whether Defendant's conduct
violates the WARN Act, ” and that his individual
actions “simply have no bearing on that determination
as Defendant's conduct was uniformly directed to all 345
employees affected by its layoff.” (Docket Entry 3 at
3-4.) Plaintiff's contention in this regard overlooks
that “[b]asic fairness dictates” the disclosure
of a plaintiff's identity when he accuses a defendant
“of serious violations of federal law.” Wynne
& Jaffe, 599 F.2d at 713 (highlighting the fact that
“the mere filing of a civil action against . . .
private parties may cause damage to their good names and
reputation and may also result in economic harm, ” and
that therefore, fairness generally requires disclosure of the
accusers' names); see also Qualls, 228 F.R.D. at
13 (“[W]hen courts require litigants to use real names,
they encourage suits by the most zealous, passionate, and
sincere litigants, those who are willing to place their
personal and public stamp of approval upon their causes of
action. While a few valid causes of action, by
plaintiffs' own choices and calculations, may stay out of
court, but [sic] so will many more frivolous and less
heartfelt causes, which is in the interest of both the public
and the courts.”). In any event, given that this action
does not involve Plaintiff's (or any other class
member's) individual conduct, Plaintiff's pursuit of
this case provides little, if any, reason for potential
future employers to treat him negatively. That finding
further undermines Plaintiff's request for anonymity.
respect to the remaining James Factors, Plaintiff
does not contend that revealing his identification will pose
a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to himself or
to innocent non-parties. (See Docket Entry 3 at
1-4.) Likewise, Plaintiff neither asserts that his age favors
anonymity (see id.), nor proceeds against a
governmental party (see Docket Entry 1, ¶ 5
(describing Defendant as private limited liability company)).
The absence of such considerations weighs against
Plaintiff's request for anonymity. See generally Doe
v. Alger, 317 F.R.D. 37, 40-41 (W.D. Va. 2016) (deeming
retaliatory harm factor as favoring the plaintiff where case
involved sexual misconduct allegations that could spark
reprisal and could reveal information about non-party and
concluding that age factor favored anonymity where the
plaintiff was young); Doe v. Pittsylvania Cty., Va.,
844 F.Supp.2d 724, 730 (W.D. Va. 2012) (observing that courts
are generally “less likely to grant a plaintiff
permission to ...