July 6, 2021

Balancing a plaintiff's privacy interests against the presumption in favor of public disclosure of the names of the parties involved in a litigation

The defendant [Appellant] challenged Supreme Court's granting plaintiff's [John Doe] motion to proceed in this action using pseudonym "John Doe" rather then rather than reveal his identity. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the lower court's ruling, without costs.

Citing  Anonymous v Lerner, 124 AD3d 487, the Appellate Division opined that after a "comprehensive balancing" of Doe's privacy interests against the presumption in favor of public disclosure and any prejudice to Appellant, Supreme Court "providently exercised its discretion in granting [John Doe's] motion to proceed anonymously."

Supreme Court's, said the court, had credited Doe's assertions that "he feared not only embarrassment and economic harm from the public disclosure of his identity but also social stigmatization, professional repercussions, and social isolation from his peers and colleagues in the legal profession", which concerns Appellant "had offered no reason to question."

Although Appellant argued that such disclosure would have no chilling effect since Doe  has already commenced suit, the Appellate Division observed that Appellant's argument "fails to account for the real possibility that [Doe] would be dissuaded from pursuing the action further and for the inhibiting effect it could have on other potential plaintiffs."

Concluding that Doe's proceeding anonymously would better serve the public's right to know than having the records sealed, the Appellate Division noted that:

1. Appellant had not explained why the public must know Doe's identity in addition to all other aspects of the case; and

2. Appellant has not shown that it will suffer any prejudice as Doe had agreed to divulge his identity to it and to the court.

The Appellate Division's decision is posted on the Internet HERE.

 

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