Can You Request the Use of a Pseudonym in Civil Litigation?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Sep 19, 2022 | 0 Comments

In August 2022, the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed a lower court decision that denied a student's motion to keep himself, and the alleged victim, anonymous in court filings. The student was expelled from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after being accused of raping an ex-girlfriend while she slept. He then sued MIT for breach of contract.

The lower court judge stated that the student could either file under his own name or dismiss the suit. The student's attorney stated to the Court of Appeals that requiring this could discourage individuals from filing suits against other institutions because of sexual misconduct allegations. Interestingly, many attorneys for sexual misconduct victims agree with the student's request to keep both parties anonymous.

Why Anonymity is Beneficial

Most cases are conducted under the true names of the parties. It is rare for adults to use pseudonyms, though it does happen. For instance, in cases of highly sensitive national security measures, the parties can request to stay anonymous.

Anonymity provides a falsely accused defendant a way back to their life without having to fix their reputation first. Unfortunately, when students, like the MIT student above, are denied anonymity, it opens them up to harsher consequences even if the investigation into the matter reveals no wrongdoing on their part.

When Can You Be Anonymous?

According to the lower court judge and MIT's attorney, pseudonymous status has a high bar to meet. It is not a blanket rule that every individual can have just by requesting it. Instead, individuals who would like to be anonymous in a legal proceeding must prove that anonymity, in this case, serves the public's interest in confidentiality. Without anonymity, there is a risk of harm that goes beyond the reputational harm to the party.

Rule 10(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure – the rules that govern civil litigation – states that the complaint must name all the parties. In order to receive anonymity and be the exception to that rule, the court will consider several factors, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Whether litigation involves highly sensitive and personal matters
  • Whether your identification poses a risk for retaliation
  • Whether the lawsuit is to challenge government or private party actions
  • Whether the plaintiff's identity has been kept confidential up until this point in the case

How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help

When you are falsely accused of sexual misconduct by a classmate and expelled from the university, you might also have the right to sue the university for breach of contract. But if you hope to go to civil court and remain anonymous, you will have to show how anonymity is in the best interest of not just the defendant but the public's interest in confidentiality. Working with an attorney-advisor is the best way to ensure you are able to prove your side of the story in civil court.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of students who have found themselves in similar situations. They have the unique position of understanding both the law and the policies and procedures at your university. If you or someone you love has been wrongly accused, Attorney Lento can help. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients nationwide. Attorney Lento and his team represent students and others in disciplinary cases and various other proceedings at colleges and universities across the United States. Attorney Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, and when necessary, he and his team have sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide, and he can help you or your student address any school-related issue or concern anywhere in the United States.


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us Today!


If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.