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Woman Suing Cuba Gooding, Jr. Over Alleged Rape Can't Proceed as "Jane Doe" at Trial

The court had allowed her to litigate pseudonymously at earlier stages in the process, but just held that this doesn’t extend to trial.


From today's decision by Judge Paul Crotty (S.D.N.Y.) in Doe v. Gooding:

The Court previously … allow[ed] Plaintiff to proceed pseudonymously. However, in doing so, the Court noted that it was "skeptical that Plaintiff can overcome the presumption of public disclosure in the long run" and allowed for revisitation of the issue closer to trial. At a hearing on May 11, 2023, the Court once again raised the issue, and ordered Plaintiff to file a motion to maintain the pseudonym at trial. The Court now DENIES that motion, and ORDERS Plaintiff to file an amended complaint bearing her legal name.

Rule 10(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates that pleadings contain the names of all parties. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). Underlying this rule is the principle in favor of public access to court proceedings. See Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga (2d Cir. 2006) ("The presumption of access is based on the need for federal courts, although independent—indeed, particularly because they are independent—to have a measure of accountability and for the public to have confidence in the administration of justice."). When a Court considers the use of a pseudonym—depriving the public access to full information on the case—it must "balance[] the interests at stake in reaching its conclusion." …

As the Court previously noted, the prejudice a defendant faces when a plaintiff uses a pseudonym increases when the parties go to trial. When a plaintiff proceeds under a pseudonym, the Court risks "giving [her] claim greater stature or dignity or otherwise confusing or distracting the jury." Additionally, the use of a pseudonym risks confusing a jury, as "the jurors will likely construe the Court's permission for the plaintiff to conceal her true identity as a subliminal comment on the harm the alleged encounter with the defendant has caused the plaintiff."

Mostly sidestepping the issue of prejudice to Defendant at trial, Plaintiff focuses instead on the need "to protect [Plaintiff] from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment." Undeniably, Plaintiff has a privacy interest at stake, and the Court previously acknowledged that interest. But the newest evidence presented by Plaintiff does not change the Court's calculation.

First, Plaintiff focuses on the comments and threats of Defendant's former attorney, Mark Heller. Specifically, Heller called Plaintiff's accusations "false and perjurious" and threatened to pursue criminal charges against several other women who accused Defendant of similar conduct. These comments are irrelevant as they date back years, the vast majority are targeted at Defendant's other accusers, and Heller is no longer Defendant's attorney. In fact, by Plaintiff's own admission, Heller has been disbarred in New York and is unable to practice law. The threats of pursuing charges are therefore baseless and do not change the Court's evaluation of the Sealed Plaintiff factors.

Second, Plaintiff highlights an incident at a recent hearing involving an untimely discovery dispute and several subsequent news articles. Defendant's counsel made comments at the hearing related to (1) comments Plaintiff made during her bankruptcy proceedings; (2) Plaintiff's history of sexual trauma; and (3) Plaintiff's conduct after the alleged incident with Defendant. Hearing After making the request to file a motion to compel, Defendant's counsel purportedly spoke with the press regarding these allegations, and several unflattering news articles were published about Plaintiff. {Ashley Collman & Natalie Musumeci, Cuba Gooding Jr. 's Lawyers Say Witnesses Heard Alleged Rape Victim Bragging About Having Sex With Him That Night, Insider (Feb 28, 2023, 4:56 PM); Tracy Wright & Marta Dhanis, Cuba Gooding Jr. Rape Lawsuit Trial Set For June, Fox News (Feb. 27, 2023, 5:16 PM).} Even taking Plaintiff's entire characterization of the events as true {Defendant vehemently disputes Plaintiffs characterization of these events}, the factors do not tip in Plaintiff's favor.

Under this District's precedent, "public humiliation and embarrassment … are not sufficient grounds for allowing a plaintiff in a civil suit to proceed anonymously." This discovery excursion, while unseemly, resulted in nothing more than unflattering online coverage of Plaintiff. Such a harm is not sufficient to warrant Plaintiff's pseudonymity at trial and is instead the type of "unfortunate consequence" that "[m]any who make accusations against public figures are forced to endure."

Finally, even if the Court credits the threats Plaintiff presented, her motion still fails because she did not provide the Court with documentation of any specific psychological injury she suffered resulting from the conduct of Defendant and his attorneys. "[A]bsent more direct evidence linking disclosure of her name to a specific physical or mental injury," a plaintiff may not rely on an alleged, generalized psychological hann to proceed under a pseudonym at trial….

Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint containing her name no later 12:00 PM on Monday, June 5, 2023.