In an opinion Monday, Judge Kaplan ruled that a plaintiff accusing actor Kevin Spacey of sexual assault could not proceed anonymously. Judge Kaplan began the opinion by observing that the privacy of litigants has changed in the “digital age”:
The days when court records of litigation largely escaped public notice as they languished in countless file rooms largely ended with the advent of electronic case files, the internet, search engines, and other aspects of the information age. And the loss of the earlier practical obscurity of court files no doubt is compounded when a litigant . . . brings a claim against someone in the public eye, especially if the substance of the claim makes it likely to attract significant media attention.
But the threat of significant media attention – however exacerbated by the modern era – alone does not entitle a plaintiff to the exceptional remedy of anonymity . . . .
Judge Kaplan ultimately found that the prejudice to Spacey outweighed the plaintiff’s interest in anonymity:
First, Spacey has shown that he would be prejudiced during discovery because [the plaintiff’s] use of a pseudonym likely would prevent persons with information about [the plaintiff] or his allegations that would be helpful to Spacey’s defense, but that now are unknown to Spacey, from coming forward. If they do not know who this accuser is, they likely would have no way of knowing that their information would be pertinent . . . .
Second, Spacey has suffered significant reputational damage from [the] allegation . . . . It would be harder to mitigate against that stigma if [the plaintiff] were permitted to remain anonymous.
Lastly, fundamental fairness suggests that defendants are prejudiced when “required to defend [themselves] publicly before a jury while plaintiff]s] . . . make . . . accusations from behind a cloak of anonymity.” [The plaintiff] . . . seeks over $40 million in damages. He makes serious charges and, as a result, has put his credibility in issue. “Fairness requires that [he] be prepared to stand behind [his] charges publicly.”