United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Rebecca Grady Jennings, District Judge United States District
John Doe brings this action against the University of
Louisville, Marcia Hern, Angela Calloway, and Katherine
Weckman (collectively, “Defendants”) alleging
claims of breach of contract, defamation, violation of Title
IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 (20 U.S.C.
§ 1681 et seq.), violation of Title VI of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000d et
seq.), violation of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975
(42 U.S.C. § 6101 et seq.), violation of the
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States
Constitution (42 U.S.C. § 1983), and intentional
infliction of emotional distress. [DE 1-2, Compl.]. Plaintiff
filed this action using the pseudonym “John Doe.”
Id. In accordance with Plaintiff's use of the
pseudonym, Defendants filed Motions for Leave to Seal
Documents [DE 6, 8], which contained Plaintiff's name. In
addition, Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss asserting,
among other grounds, Plaintiff's failure to state the
names of all parties in the Complaint under Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure 10(a) and 17(a)(1) or seek permission to
proceed under a pseudonym. [DE 7, 10].
as a response to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss,
Plaintiff now moves for leave to proceed as “John
Doe” and to seal or remove his name from all documents.
[DE 13]. The Defendants filed Responses in opposition to
Doe's Motion. [DE 22, 23]. Plaintiff filed Reply briefs
responding to the opposition of all Defendants. [DE 24, 25].
The issue of Plaintiff's request to proceed under a
pseudonym and the associated Motions to Seal are ripe for
adjudication. [DE 13, 6, 8]. For the reasons below, the
Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Proceed as “John
Doe” is DENIED, and the related
Motions to Seal are DENIED AS MOOT with the
exception of the compact disc labeled “Controlled Call,
” which SHALL REMAIN UNDER SEAL
because it contains personally identifiable information
concerning a minor.
in 2015, Plaintiff was a student in the University of
Louisville School of Nursing. [DE 1-2, Compl. at ¶ 11].
On September 19, 2016, he was arrested for two counts of
sexual misconduct with a minor under the age of 12 and one
count of distribution of obscene material to a minor under
the age of 12. Id. at ¶ 12. Following his
arrest, Marcia Hern, Dean of the School of Nursing, placed
him on an interim suspension for potential violations of the
University Code of Student Conduct. Id. at ¶
17. The University also claimed that he had failed to
complete a criminal background check required for admission.
[DE 7, Univ.'s Motion to Dismiss at 2]. Plaintiff
contends that he did not violate the Code of Conduct and
complied with all admissions requirements, including the
background check. [DE 1-2, Compl. at ¶ 11]. He then
completed and passed a background check at the
University's request, but remained on suspension.
[Id. at ¶ 21; DE 7, Univ.'s Mot. to Dismiss
December 1, 2016, Plaintiff alleged that Dr. Calloway, a
clinical professor at the University, violated his rights
under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act by
discussing his case in class. [DE 1-2, Compl. at ¶ 23].
The University held a hearing on Plaintiff's grievance
and determined that Dr. Calloway had not violated his rights.
Id. at ¶ 25. In May 2017, Plaintiff complained
to the University that another student, Katherine Weckman,
violated his rights under Title IX during the discussion in
Dr. Calloway's class by claiming she knew Plaintiff was a
“pedophile.” Id. at ¶ 26. The
University determined that Weckman's conduct did not
implicate Title IX and informed Plaintiff that it would not
hold a hearing on his complaint. Id. at ¶ 27.
filed this civil action under the pseudonym “John
Doe” in Jefferson County Circuit Court on September 25,
2017. Id. The state court declined Plaintiff's
request for a protective order to allow him to proceed as
“John Doe.” [DE 25, Def.'s Reply to
Univ's Resp.]. On October 17, 2017, Defendants removed
the action to this Court. [DE 1, Not. Of Removal]. Plaintiff
now moves for leave to proceed as “John Doe” and
to seal or remove his name from all documents. [DN 13].
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that actions
generally be brought in the name of the real party in
interest. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a), 17(a)(1). This requirement
applies equally to civil actions removed from state court.
Id. at 81(c)(1).
exceptional cases, the Court may grant a protective order
allowing a plaintiff to litigate under a pseudonym. To obtain
a protective order, a plaintiff must show that his
“privacy interests substantially outweigh the
presumption of open judicial proceedings.” Doe v.
Porter, 370 F.3d 558, 560 (6th Cir. 2004). Several
considerations determine whether a plaintiff's privacy
interests substantially outweigh this presumption, including:
(1) whether the plaintiff seeking anonymity is suing to
challenge governmental activity; (2) whether prosecution of
the suit will compel the plaintiff to disclose information
“of the utmost intimacy”; (3) whether the
litigation compels the plaintiff to disclose an intention to
violate the law; and (4) whether the plaintiff is a child.
Id.; Citizens for a Strong Ohio v. Marsh,
123 Fed.Appx. 630, 636 (6th Cir. 2005). The determination of
whether to grant leave to proceed under a pseudonym falls
within the discretion of the Court. Endangered v.
Louisville/Jefferson Cty. Metro Gov't Dep't of
Inspections, 2007 WL 509695, at *1 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 12,
2007) (citing Porter, 370 F.3d at 560).
argues that his privacy interests outweigh the presumption of
open judicial proceedings because the nature of the charges
will compel him to disclose information “of the utmost
intimacy.” [DE 13, Pl.'s Mot. to Proceed as John
Doe at 2; DE 25, Def.'s Reply to Univ's Resp. at 3].
He “maintains his innocence and intends to request
expungement” if found not guilty, and argues that
“it would be inherently unfair for his identity to be
exposed in this case because it would essentially
render” any expungement worthless. [DE 13, Pl.'s
Mot. to Proceed as John Doe at 2]. He also argues that
“all defendants are aware of [his] actual identity,
” so Defendants' right to face their accuser is
preserved. [DE 25, Def.'s Reply to Univ's Resp. at
response, the University argues that D.E. v. Doe,
834 F.3d 723 (6th Cir. 2016), precludes Plaintiff from
proceeding under a pseudonym. [DE 22 at 3]. In that case, a
nineteen-year-old plaintiff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor
for possession of marijuana at the border. D.E., 834
F.3d at 725-26. He was sentenced to one month of probation
under a Michigan law aimed at helping young people avoid the
stigma of a criminal record by closing all proceedings to
public inspection. Id. The plaintiff brought an
anonymous civil action against the arresting police officer
alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
Id. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district
court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for a
protective order, holding that the plaintiff “did not
articulate concerns that outweigh the presumption of openness
in judicial proceedings.” Id. at 728. The
court also held that the plaintiff “forfeited his
ability to keep secret his actions at the international
border… when he sued United States Customs and Border
Patrol agents.” Id.
Weckman argues that Plaintiff fails to raise sufficient
grounds to proceed anonymously because his argument relies
solely on the potential for a future criminal expungement.
[DE 23 at 6-7]. She also contends that the “community
possesses an important interest” in knowing
Plaintiff's identity ...