The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Pseudonymity Allowed to Relatives Suing Grindr Over Minor's Suicide

The court cites the relatives' privacy interests, and in particular the risk of "harassment by the adults alleged to have committed sexual crimes against the decedent" (and who aren't named as defendants in the case).


From R.V. v. Grindr, LLC, decided Wednesday by Magistrate Judge Patricia Barksdale (M.D. Fla.); the underlying lawsuit chiefly claims that Grindr should have done more to prevent minors from using its services:

The plaintiff sues on behalf of the estate of a minor who allegedly used the defendant's services marketed to gay, bi, trans, and queer people and, through that use, was exposed to, and engaged in, sexual activities and relationships with adult users, resulting in severe emotional distress and bodily injuries culminating in death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound….

The survivors are two people, including the plaintiff. Off the public docket, the plaintiff has or will disclose the full names to the defendant. The defendant has no opposition.

The court acknowledged that there's a strong presumption in favor of parties suing in their own names, but concluded that it was rebutted here:

[Here, t]he information directly involves the decedent, not the plaintiff or the survivors. The plaintiff does not argue that revealing the full names of the plaintiff and the survivors necessarily will reveal the full name of the decedent.

Rather, the plaintiff asserts a privacy interest of the plaintiff and the survivors themselves considering the "uniquely sensitive and personal issues in this matter." The plaintiff argues not personal embarrassment but social stigma that would result from disclosing the decedent's sexuality and sexual conduct. The plaintiff also contends that, if full names are revealed, the plaintiff and the survivors may face physical harm and harassment by the adults alleged to have committed sexual crimes against the decedent.

The totality of the circumstances in this unique litigation warrants [allowing plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously]. The litigation involves "matters of a sensitive and highly personal nature," and, thus, the "customary practice" of disclosing full names "yields" to the "policy of protecting privacy in a very private matter." The decedent was a minor at all relevant times. The plaintiff and the survivors may not show a real threat of physical harm, but they do show a real risk of something that may be equally as menacing in today's cyberworld: harassment by the adults alleged to have committed sexual crimes against the decedent. The defendant does not oppose the relief, will know the full names, and will not be hampered in obtaining discovery for its defense. And the public will be able to understand the litigation and evaluate the rulings even without knowing the full names….

This order makes no ruling about how the jury trial will be conducted. At the final pretrial conference or as otherwise directed by the Court, the parties must be prepared to discuss whether this decision should be revisited in light of how the litigation has progressed and, if not, how as a practical matter anonymity will be accomplished during the trial.

Neither the decision nor the motion offered any details about why this "harassment" is likely to flow from naming the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Grindr, even though a considerable amount of caselaw states that, for risk of physical harm to plaintiffs to justify pseudonymity, there needs to be real evidence of such a risk (see Part III.A of The Law of Pseudonymous Litigation).