United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
FLORIDA ABOLITIONIST, INC., JANE DOE #1, JANE DOE #2, and SUSAN ROE, Plaintiffs,
BACKPAGE.COM LLC, CARL FERRER, MICHAEL LACEY, JAMES LARKIN, WEBSITE TECHNOLOGIES, LLC, IC HOLDINGS LLC, DARTMOOR HOLDINGS LLC, CAMARILLO HOLDINGS LLC, ATLANTISCHE BEDRIJVEN C.V., KICKAPOO RIVER INVESTMENTS, LLC, AMSTEL RIVER HOLDINGS LLC, POSTFASTER LLC, CLASSIFIED SOLUTIONS LTD, MEDALIST HOLDINGS, INC., ADTECH B.V., UGC TECH GROUP, C.V., POSTING SOLUTIONS LLC and CEREUS PROPERTIES LLC, Defendants.
B. SMITH, United States Magistrate Judge
case comes before the Court without a hearing on Plaintiffs
Jane Doe #2's and Susan Roe's Motion for Leave to
Proceed Anonymously (Doc. 87). The Court understands that
Defendants take no position on the motion (Id., at
claim Defendants operated websites that were an online
marketplace for human sex trafficking including the sexual
exploitation of minors and coerced adults (Doc. 86,
¶¶ 1-2). Jane Doe #2 alleges that when she was 15
years old, two men branded her, photographed her, and used
those photographs in an advertisement in the escort services
section of Defendant Backpage.com (Doc. 87 at 1-2). Plaintiff
says she was raped by multiple people who responded to the
advertisement (Id., at 2). These events have
allegedly left her permanently psychologically and physically
traumatized (Id., at 2). Now, Plaintiff and her
mother, Plaintiff Susan Roe, seek leave of Court to proceed
anonymously (Id.). The Court has already granted
another alleged victim, Jane Doe #1, permission to litigate
this action anonymously (Doc. 46).
federal rules mandate that every pleading bear a caption that
names all the parties. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a). Rule 10 embodies
the legal axiom that “[t]he operations of the courts
and the judicial conduct of judges are matters of utmost
public concern” and the integrity of the judiciary is
maintained by the public's right of access to court
proceedings. Romero v. Drummond Co., 480 F.3d 1234,
1245 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Landmark Commc'ns, Inc.
v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829, 839 (1978)). The public's
right includes the right to properly identify every party, by
name. J.W., et al. v. District of Columbia, 318
F.R.D. 196, 198 (D.D.C. 2016) (“One of the defining
characteristics of American judicial proceedings is the right
of public access. In furtherance of this public interest, the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint
include the names of all the parties, Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a)
...”); see K.W., et al. v. Holtzapple, 299
F.R.D. 438, 440 (M.D. Penn. 2014); John Doe Co. No. 1 v.
Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau, 195 F.Supp.3d 9, 17 (D.D.C.
2016); Does I thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp.,
214 F.3d 1058, 1067 (9th Cir. 2000). Rule 10(a) is also
rooted in the idea that “[d]efendants have the right to
know who their accusers are, as they may be subject to
embarrassment or fundamental unfairness if they do
not.” Plaintiff B. v. Francis, 631 F.3d 1310,
1315 (11th Cir. 2011).
“the rule is not absolute. A party may proceed
anonymously in a civil suit in federal court by showing that
[s]he “has a substantial privacy right which outweighs
the ‘customary and constitutionally-embedded
presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.'”
Id. at 1315-1316; Doe v. Dominique, No.
1:13-cv-04270-HLM, 2014 WL 12115948, at *4 (N.D.Ga. Jan. 3,
2014). “It is within a court's discretion to allow
a plaintiff to proceed anonymously.” Doe v.
Shakur, 164 F.R.D. 359, 360 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). In
exercising its discretion to decide “whether the
customary practice of disclosing the plaintiff's identity
should yield to the plaintiff's privacy concerns, ”
the Court considers the specific circumstances of the case
and weighs the relevant factors. Francis, 631 F.3d
at 1315-1316. The Court considers: “(1) whether the
plaintiff is challenging governmental activity; (2) whether
the plaintiff would be required to disclose information of
the utmost intimacy; (3) whether the plaintiff would be
compelled to admit his or her intention to engage in illegal
conduct, thereby risking criminal prosecution; (4) whether
the plaintiff would risk suffering injury if identified; and
(5) whether the party defending against a suit brought under
a pseudonym would be prejudiced.” Shakur, 164
F.R.D. at 361 (citing James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233,
238 (4th Cir. 1993); Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 323
(11th Cir. 1992)).
decision in Francis recognizes the complicated
history courts have had with plaintiffs who allege sexual
assault. The panel noted that historically, courts have not
allowed plaintiffs who alleged sexual assault to proceed
anonymously, even if the revelation of a plaintiff's
identity would cause her to suffer personal embarrassment.
631 F.3d at 1316. Case law has evolved and courts now
consider certain “judicially recognized”
aggravating factors, such as whether the plaintiff was a
minor, whether she was threatened with violence or physical
harm, and whether anonymity “posed a unique threat of
fundamental unfairness to the defendant.” Id.
In vacating the district court's decision to deny
plaintiff's request for anonymity, the Francis
court said “[w]here the issues involved are matters of
a sensitive and highly personal nature' … the
normal practice of disclosing the parties' identities
‘yields to a policy of protecting privacy in a very
private matter.'” Id. at 1316-1317. The
court characterized “descriptions of the Plaintiffs in
various stages of nudity and engaged in explicit sexual
conduct while they were minors who were coerced by the
Defendant into those activities” to be of the most
“sensitive and highly personal nature.”
Id. at 1317.
Court considers whether the denial of anonymity would require
Plaintiffs Jane Doe #2 and Susan Roe to disclose
“information of utmost intimacy.” Id. at
1316; Dominique, 2014 WL 12115948, at *4. Plaintiffs
argue that Jane Doe #2 will be required to disclose and
discuss information related to her victimization by her
traffickers and their clients, all of which occurred while
she was a minor (Doc. 87 at 3). The Court is satisfied that
under these circumstances, Jane Doe #2's request for
anonymity should be granted. Although Susan Roe does not
allege that she was exploited by Defendants, if her identity
is disclosed, then logically, that will lead to the
disclosure of Jane Doe #2's identity. So as not to impede
Defendants' discovery efforts or ability to assert
defenses, Plaintiffs Jane Doe #2 and Susan Roe intend to
share their identities with Defendants in a non-public manner
on the condition that they protect Plaintiffs' identities
from public disclosure (Id. at 4).
due consideration, the Court finds that Jane Doe #2 and Susan
Roe's need for anonymity “outweighs the customary
and constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in
judicial proceedings.” See Dominique, 2014 WL
12115948, at *4 (citing Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for
Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 684 (11th Cir. 2001)).
Accordingly, the motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiffs Jane Doe #2 and Susan Roe may proceed anonymously
provided however, they shall reveal their true identities to
Defendants in a non-public manner. The Court leaves it to the
parties to agree upon the conditions for disclosure of these
Plaintiffs' identities. If they are unable to agree, then
any party may file an appropriate motion and the Court will
decide the matter.