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Doe v. City of Las Vegas

United States District Court, D. Nevada

June 25, 2019

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LAS VEGAS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          BRENDA WEKSLER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before this court is Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed Anonymously. ECF No. 8. Defendant Cody Racine filed a Response. ECF No. 47. Defendants City of Las Vegas, Ruben Sanchez, James Suarez, Jonathan Cuff, Joseph Vanek, William McDonald, and Jon Stevenson (“City of Las Vegas Defendants”) also filed a Response. ECF No. 52. Mario Rueda, Zach Yeoman and Jason Tullis filed a Joinder to Defendant Cody Racine's Response. ECF No. 53. Plaintiff replied to the City of Las Vegas Defendants' response. ECF No. 59. Plaintiff replied to Defendant Cody Racine's response. ECF No. 60.

         Plaintiff claims she was subjected to sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliatory tactics by the City of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue during her employment as a firefighter. Plaintiff alleges the City of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue permitted and participated in the distribution and viewing of a videotape during work hours which displayed Plaintiff engaging in sexual behavior. Plaintiff states she produced this videotape intending it be viewed only by her former boyfriend, who was also a firefighter at the City of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue. Plaintiff alleges that after they broke up, her now former boyfriend made this videotape available to other firefighters, who in turn propagated its dissemination and viewing.

         Plaintiff now requests to remain anonymous throughout the pendency of this litigation. The court denies the motion for the reasons stated below.

         I. Parties' positions

         Plaintiff requests to proceed anonymously to avoid physical and economic retaliation. ECF 8 at 2. Plaintiff bases her fear of harm on her belief that someone intentionally shot at her car. Id. She also expresses concerns about the likelihood of being hired by another fire department should her identity be revealed. Id.at 5. In addition, she fears public condemnation based on the nature of the video involved in this case and notes the effect the distribution of this video has had on her personal and professional life. Id. at 3-5.

         Defendants oppose the request and argue Plaintiff's perceived physical harm is merely conjecture and, in any event, rely on case law to suggest Plaintiff's claims do not rise to the necessary level of harm. ECF No. 47 at 5-6; ECF No. 52 at 3-4. Defendants also state the ways in which this case has caused personal embarrassment to them, and they point to acts Plaintiff undertook to put her case in the public eye. ECF No. 52 at 4-6.

         II. Analysis

         Firmly embedded in the American judicial system is a presumption of openness in judicial proceedings. Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 569-574 (1980) (describing the benefits of full access to the court system). That is why our court system has a default preference for openness, and parties are allowed to use pseudonyms “in the ‘unusual case' when nondisclosure of the party's identity ‘is necessary ... to protect a person from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment.'” See Does I thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1067-68 (9th Cir.2000) (citing United States v. Doe, 655 F.2d 920 (9th Cir. 1981) and Doe v. Madison Sch. Dist. No. 321, 147 F.3d 832 (9th Cir. 1998)).

         If such unusual or special circumstances exist, the district court has discretion to permit a party to remain anonymous so long as “the party's need for anonymity outweighs [1] prejudice to the opposing party and [2] the public's interest in knowing the party's identity.” Id. at 1068 (quotation omitted). The court must “determine the precise prejudice at each stage of the proceedings to the opposing party, and whether proceedings may be structured so as to mitigate that prejudice.” Id. (citing James v. Jacobson, 6 F.3d 233, 240-41 (4th Cir. 1993)). Finally, the court must decide “whether the public's interest in the case would be best served by requiring that the litigants reveal their identities.” Id. at 1068-69 (citing Doe v. Stegall, 563 F.3d 180, 185 (5th Cir. 1981)).

         Applying this balancing test, courts have permitted plaintiffs to use pseudonyms in three situations: (1) when identification creates a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm; (2) when anonymity is necessary “to preserve privacy in a matter of sensitive and highly personal nature”; and (3) when the anonymous party is “compelled to admit [his or her] intention to engage in illegal conduct, thereby risking criminal prosecution[.]” Id. (citations omitted).

         A. Protection from harassment, injury or personal embarrassment

         Plaintiff claims there is a risk of both physical and economic harm if her identity is disclosed in this case. As discussed below, the court neither finds that Plaintiff's fear of physical harm is reasonable nor that she is vulnerable to retaliation. In addition, the consequences that could flow from any economic harm are not extraordinary in nature, as required by the Ninth Circuit. The court further finds that while the video involves personal and highly sensitive material, Plaintiff's steps to publicize the case and other actions she has endorsed are inconsistent with a desire to remain anonymous. These factors therefore weigh against allowing Plaintiff to proceed anonymously.

         i. ...


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