United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER ON MOTION TO PROCEED ANONYMOUSLY
Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.
Jane Doe seeks to proceed anonymously and keep this entire
case sealed from the public record. Because Plaintiff has not
demonstrated that this case involves highly sensitive and
personal matters, departure from the presumption favoring
public access to judicial proceedings is not warranted.
Accordingly, I deny Plaintiff's Motion For Leave to
Proceed Anonymously or For Leave to File a Sealed Case.
January 25, 2018, Plaintiff initiated this case under the
pseudonym Jane Doe. Compl., ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges
Defendants Vail Resorts, Inc. and Vail Corporation, Inc.
failed to rehire her as a ski instructor due to her
disability (severe depression and anxiety), her workers'
compensation claims, and her complaints about her
compensation and required work hours. Id. at
¶¶ 7-30. Plaintiff brings claims for (1)
discrimination, (2) violations of the Fair Labor Standards
Act and the Colorado Wage Act, and (3) violations of the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Id.
February 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present Motion for
Leave to Proceed Anonymously, ECF No. 8. Plaintiff seeks to
use a pseudonym or seal this case because of the mental
health issues underlying her claims. Id. at 3-4.
Plaintiff argues that publically disclosing her mental health
disabilities will “have an adverse impact on [her]
reputation and work as an attorney in this community.”
Decl. of Plaintiff ¶ 3, ECF No. 8-1. According to
Plaintiff, “[t]o require [her] to proceed under her own
name is to force [her] to choose between seeking redress for
the Defendants'] discrimination and damaging her
professional reputation through the stigmas associated with
mental illnesses.” Mot. to Proceed Anonymously 5.
filed a response to Plaintiffs motion on March 5, 2018. Resp.
to Mot. to Proceed Anonymously, ECF No. 17. Defendants first
contend that Plaintiff already disclosed her identity and her
mental health diagnoses in her workers' compensation
claim. Id. at 3-5. Next, Defendants assert Plaintiff
s mental health conditions are not highly sensitive, and
Plaintiff has not made a sufficient showing of harm to
overcome the public interest in open judicial proceedings.
Id. at 5-9. Finally, Defendants argue that
permitting Plaintiff to proceed anonymously would hinder
their ability to effectively defend this case. Id.
at 9. Plaintiff filed a reply brief on March 23, 2018. Reply
in Supp. of Mot. to Proceed Anonymously, ECF No. 28.
under a pseudonym in federal court is, by all accounts,
‘an unusual procedure.'” Femedeer v.
Haun, 227 F.3d 1244, 1246 (10th Cir. 2000) (quoting
MM v. Zavaras, 139 F.3d 798, 800 (10th Cir. 1998)).
Indeed, using a pseudonym is contrary to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 17(a), which requires that an action
“be prosecuted in the name of the real party in
interest.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(a); Femedeer, 227
F.3d at 1246. Furthermore, “courts have long recognized
a common-law right of access to judicial records.”
Mann v. Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1149 (10th Cir.
2007). Therefore, a presumption exists in favor of public
access to judicial proceedings. Id.
“[t]he ‘presumption of access . . . can be
rebutted if countervailing interests heavily outweigh the
public interests in access.'” Id. (quoting
Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249,
253 (4th Cir. 1988)). The Tenth Circuit has described three
“exceptional circumstances” in which a plaintiff
may proceed anonymously: (1) matters of a highly sensitive
and personal nature, (2) matters involving a real risk of
physical harm, and (3) matters in which the injury litigated
against would be incurred by disclosing the plaintiff's
identity. Femedeer, 227 F.3d at 1246. Ultimately,
the court must “weigh the plaintiff's claimed
right to privacy against the countervailing public
interest.” Zavaras, 139 F.3d at 803. However,
courts should construe these exceptions narrowly, and
“[t]he risk that a plaintiff may suffer some
embarrassment is not enough.” Femedeer, 227
F.3d at 1246 (quoting Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320,
324 (11th Cir. 1992)).
to seal a case or permit a party to proceed under a pseudonym
is a matter within the trial court's discretion.
Zavaras, 139 F.3d at 802 (reviewing the district
court's order denying leave to file under a pseudonym for
abuse of discretion); Mann, 477 F.3d at 1149
(“Whether judicial records and other case-related
information should be sealed or otherwise withheld from the
public is a matter left to the sound discretion of the
has not satisfied her burden of demonstrating that proceeding
under a pseudonym is necessary in this case. Plaintiff's
motion and reply brief primarily focus on the first
circumstance discussed in Femedeer-cases
involving matters of a highly sensitive and personal
nature. See Mot. to Proceed Anonymously
3-5, ECF No. 8; Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Proceed Anonymously
2-3, ECF No. 28. According to Plaintiff, her mental health
condition is highly sensitive information that warrants
sealing this case or allowing her to proceed under a
pseudonym. Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Proceed Anonymously 2-3.
mental health diagnoses are certainly sensitive, the fact
that a case concerns mental health issues, without more, is
insufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of public
access. See Doe v. Ind. Black Expo, Inc., 923
F.Supp. 137, 142 (S.D. Ind. 1996) (denying a motion to
proceed anonymously in a case involving mental health issues,
in part because “[t]he concerns this plaintiff has
raised are concerns that could be raised by plaintiffs in
many employment discrimination cases, including many
asserting claims for discrimination based upon
disabilities”); Wheeler-Whichard v. Doe, No.
10-CV-0358S, 2010 WL 3395288, at *6 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 25, 2010)
(“[T]he fact that a case involves a plaintiffs medical
condition, while arguably personal in nature, is not
in-and-of itself sufficient to grant plaintiff s request to
proceed under a pseudonym.”); Doe v. Atchison Hosp.
Ass'n, No. 17-2664-JAR, 2018 WL 324259, at *2 (D.
Kan. Jan. 8, 2018) (“[P]laintiff has not cited a Tenth
Circuit or District of Kansas case permitting use of a
pseudonym because a party's health information (mental or
otherwise) would be discussed”). Indeed, “[c]ases
involving mental health issues routinely proceed without
concealing the identity of the Plaintiff.” Roe v.
CVS Caremark Corp., No. 4:13-cv-3481-RBH, 2014 WL
12608588, at *2 (D.S.C. Sept. 11, 2014) (collecting
employment discrimination cases involving mental health
issues). Here, Plaintiff does not identify an aspect of this
case, other than the fact that she suffers a mental health
disability, that renders the issues sufficiently sensitive to
warrant proceeding anonymously.
relies heavily on Roe v. Catholic Health Initiatives
Colorado, No. 11-cv-02179-WYD-KMT, 2012 WL 12840 (D.
Colo. Jan. 4, 2012). Mot. to Proceed Anonymously 3-4. The
plaintiff in that case alleged the defendant forced her to
disclose confidential medical information and then shared
that information with others. Id. at *4. The court
primarily based its finding that the plaintiff could proceed
anonymously on the third Femedeer circumstance.
Id. If the court required the plaintiff to reveal
her identity, she would continue to suffer the injury she was
litigating against-unwarranted disclosure of confidential
medical information. Id. In this case, Plaintiff
does not allege that Defendants unlawfully gathered or
disclosed her mental health information. Furthermore, given
the defendant's prior disclosure of confidential
information in Catholic ...