United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
JAMES F. GRIFFITH, Plaintiff,
F. BRANNICK C/O, D. HASKINS, YARBAR Lt., DEVINE SGT., E. DRADA Sgt., N. LYDAY Sgt., PHILLIPS Sgt., Defendants.
ENTRY DENYING MOTION TO SEAL COMPLAINT AND PROCEED AS
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
Motion to Seal Complaint and for Leave to Litigate as John
Doe has been considered. [Dkt. 8] He sought the same relief
in his complaint, but the Court denied the request.
litigation is highly disfavored. Doe v. Smith, 429
F.3d 706, 710 (7th Cir. 2005). Allowing a party to proceed
under a fictitious name requires exceptional circumstances.
Doe v. City of Chicago, 360 F.3d 667, 669 (7th Cir.
[T]he privilege of suing or defending under a fictitious name
should not be granted automatically even if the opposing
party does not object. The use of fictitious names is
disfavored, and the judge has an independent duty to
determine whether exceptional circumstances justify such a
departure from the normal method of proceeding in federal
courts. See United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56
F.3d 1448, 1463-64 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (per curiam), and cases
cited there, and our recent dictum in K.F.P. v. Dane
County, 110 F.3d 516, 518-19 (7th Cir. 1997). Rule 10(a)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, in providing that
the complaint shall give the names of all the parties to the
suit . . . instantiates the principle that judicial
proceedings, civil as well as criminal, are to be conducted
in public. See Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v.
Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 and n. 17 (1980);
Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368, 386 n. 15
(1979). Identifying the parties to the proceeding is an
important dimension of publicness. The people have a right to
know who is using their courts.
Doe v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of
Wisconsin, 112 F.3d 869, 872 (7th Cir. 1997).
motion seeks this extraordinary relief because he contends
that he was improperly called as a state's witness in a
criminal case and will therefore be erroneously labeled a
“snitch” within the prison system. He further
contends that other inmates use legal research databases to
find cases such as this and identify informants. Snitches are
at danger from other inmates in prison, plaintiff contends,
and the Court acknowledges that is a generally accepted fact.
However, plaintiff states that he “was disclosed as a
state's witness” while he was in the prison system.
Dkt. 8, p. 1, ¶ 1. Plaintiff's complaint alleges in
one claim that prison officials disclosed his status as a
“snitch” to other inmates. Thus, at least in the
prison system, plaintiff's “snitch” label is
no longer a secret.
further contends that he has sought protection from certain
inmates, and that if that fact becomes known to other
inmates, he will be at risk. Id., ¶ 2. The
Court believes this assertion's speculative nature does
not outweigh the very strong presumption against anonymous
litigation. See M.M. v. Zavaras, 139 F.3d 798, 803
(10th Cir. 1998) (a plaintiff should be allowed to proceed
anonymously only in exceptional cases, including those
involving “real danger or physical harm”).
Additionally, as noted in the Entry Directing Further
Proceedings, plaintiff commenced this case in his own name
and it was docketed in that manner. His identity is already
have found that prison personnel who disseminate or permit
information labeling an inmate a “snitch” may be
liable for deliberate indifference to the inmate's health
and safety. Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763, 777
(7th Cir. 2008). That is not the question presented by his
motion, albeit it is one of the claims in his petition. While
the Court is not unsympathetic to plaintiff's concerns,
it must be acknowledged that “cases in which plaintiffs
allege that they have been placed at risk of harm due to
being branded a ‘ snitch' are routinely litigated
by inmates under their own name.” Reimann v.
Hanley, 2016 WL 5792679, unpub. slip op. (N.D. Ill. filed
Oct. 4, 2016) (citing Dale v. Poston, 548 F.3d 563
(7th Cir. 2008); Smith v. Buss, 364 Fed.Appx. 253
(7th Cir. 2010); Saunders v. Tourville, 97 Fed.Appx.
648 (7th Cir. 2004)).
plaintiff's motion also sought to seal the complaint. All
documents filed in a lawsuit are presumed to be open to the
public. Cty. Materials Corp. v. Allan Block Corp.,
502 F.3d 730, 740 (7th Cir. 2007). “[T]he public at
large pays for the courts and therefore has an interest in
what goes on at all stages of a judicial proceeding.”
Citizens First Nat'l Bank of Princeton v. Cincinnati
Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 943, 945 (7th Cir. 1999). The public
is entitled to “know what the suit is about [and]
assess the judges' disposition of it” in order to
understand “what the heavy financial subsidy of
litigation is producing.” Baxter Int'l, Inc. v.
Abbott Labs., 297 F.3d 544, 546 (7th Cir. 2002).
Documents, especially complaints, which “influence or
underpin the judicial decision are open to public inspection
unless” a party shows good cause for them to remain
under seal. Id. at 545. Good cause has not been
shown under these circumstances.
these reasons, the plaintiffs motion to seal the records and