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Revelation of Plaintiff's Gambling Addiction Doesn't Justify Pseudonymity or Sealing


Roe v. Skillz, Inc., decided earlier this month by a Ninth Circuit panel (Judges Morgan Christen and Danielle Forrest, and Sixth Circuit Judge Eugene Siler), held that "a district court's decision not to seal judicial records and its denial of leave to proceed anonymously" was not "an abuse of discretion":

"[W]e allow parties 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.'" Because there is a presumption that parties' identities are public information, anonymity is only proper under "special circumstances when the party's need for anonymity outweighs prejudice to the opposing party and the public's interest in knowing the party's identity."

Roe maintains that special circumstances warrant her need for anonymity because her claims relate to her compulsive gambling and the impact on her mental health, her suicidal ideations, and personal harms she suffered. She generally states that disclosure could negatively affect her professional standing, as her employer is unaware of her struggles and her work requires interaction with the public who may "weaponize" it against her.

However, this court has made clear that use of a pseudonym should only be permitted occasionally and in "unusual" cases. Here, the magistrate judge did not find Roe's case to be unusual, noting that "in today's environment, a past gambling addiction with accompanying mental health problems is not so out of the norm as to constitute sensitive and highly personal in nature."

Roe has not presented medical evidence that supports the assertion that she will suffer substantial additional mental injury if her identity is disclosed. Instead, she states conclusory and general statements without explanation or support. Further, while there is no identifiable prejudice to Skillz should Roe remain anonymous, Roe failed to address and therefore show that the need for anonymity outweighs the public's interest in the proceedings.