United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
IN RE BOEING 737 MAX PILOTS LITIGATION THIS DOCUMENT RELATES TO ALL ACTIONS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Seeger United States District Judge.
X, Y, Z, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, & M sued
Boeing about its 737 MAX airplanes. They flew planes that
didn't crash, but they sued Boeing anyway. The anonymous
pilots allege that they suffered an injury from the
possibility of crashing, and from the ensuing grounding of
the fleet. The public might wonder: who are these people?
Boeing wants the public to know, too. Boeing filed a motion
to unmask the plaintiffs, and force them to identify
themselves as required by the Federal Rules.
Rule 10(a) provides that every pleading “must name all
the parties.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). The
same rule applies to motions and other filings. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(b)(2); see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
17(a)(1) (“An action must be prosecuted in the name of
the real party in interest.”). Apart from the name of
the Court itself, the names of the parties are the very first
thing that members of the public typically see whenever they
pick up a court filing. The names appear right at the top,
front and center (or to the left), for all the world to see.
At a glance, the public knows who is asking the Court to
exercise its power, and who allegedly injured the plaintiff.
party's name is usually the last thing that the public
sees, too. It is common for attorneys to put the name of his
or her client at the very end of each filing, right beneath
the signature block. So, from beginning to end, like
bookends, court filings tell the public who is asking the
Court to do what.
text of Rule 10(a) provides that parties “must”
disclose their “name[s], ” without exception.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). Not some of the parties -
“all” of the parties. Id.
(emphasis added). A number of Federal Rules expressly create
exceptions for “good cause.” See, e.g.,
Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(d)(3)(A), 6(c)(1)(C), 16(b)(4), 31(a)(5),
43(a). For example, Rule 26(c) authorizes district courts to
shield discovery from public view when a party establishes
“good cause.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c).
But Rule 10(a) isn't one of them.
duty to self-identify is a small part of a much bigger
tradition of transparency in federal court. See Nixon v.
Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978);
Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555,
576 (1980). Courts do the people's business out in the
open. The courthouse is open to the public every business
day. Hearings and trials welcome visitors, and the public can
hear live testimony, see the evidence, and get their hands on
almost all public filings. See, e.g., Fed. R. Civ.
P. 43(a) (“At trial, the witnesses' testimony must
be taken in open court.”). Anyone who wants to know
what's going on can walk right in.
public has a legitimate interest in the facts of a lawsuit,
and the most basic fact is who is suing whom. “This
rule serves more than administrative convenience. It protects
the public's legitimate interest in knowing all of the
facts involved, including the identities of the
parties.” Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 324
(11th Cir. 1992) (per curiam). “Pseudonymous litigation
undermines the public's right of access to judicial
proceedings. The public has an interest in knowing the names
of the litigants . . . and disclosing the parties'
identities furthers openness of judicial proceedings.”
Doe v. Public Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 273 (4th Cir.
2014) (internal citations omitted).
the parties to the proceeding is an important dimension of
publicness. The people have a right to know who is using
their courts.” See Doe v. Blue Cross & Blue
Shield United of Wisconsin, 112 F.3d 869, 872 (7th Cir.
1997). “A trial is a public event. What transpires in
the court room is public property. . . . There is no special
perquisite of the judiciary which enables it, as
distinguished from other institutions of democratic
government, to suppress, edit, or censor events which
transpire in proceedings before it.” Craig v.
Harney, 331 U.S. 367, 374 (1947).
builds confidence. Litigating behind a curtain creates a
shroud of mystery, giving the impression that something
secret is going on. Secretive use of government power fuels
suspicion and mistrust, and undermines confidence in the
process and the outcome. See Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v.
Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 572 (1980) (“People in an
open society do not demand infallibility from their
institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what
they are prohibited from observing.”); see also GEA
Group AG v. Flex-N-Gate Corp., 740 F.3d 411, 419 (7th
Cir. 2014) (“Secrecy in judicial proceedings is
disfavored, as it makes it difficult for the public
(including the bar) to understand why a case was brought (and
fought) and what exactly was at stake in it and was the
outcome proper.”); Goesel v. Boley Intern. (H.K.)
Ltd., 738 F.3d 831, 833 (7th Cir. 2013) (“The
reason for this right of public access to the judicial record
is to enable interested members of the public, including
lawyers, journalists, and government officials, to know
who's using the courts, to understand judicial decisions,
and to monitor the judiciary's performance of its
someone anonymously is unfair to a defendant, too. There is a
structural asymmetry in allowing an unnamed plaintiff to make
allegations against a named defendant. A lawsuit inflicts
harm on a defendant, but suing anonymously costs the
plaintiff next to nothing. A no-name plaintiff is shielded by
anonymity, and can accuse the defendant of misconduct
“without shame or liability.” See Doe v.
Smith, 429 F.3d 706, 710 (7th Cir. 2005). As a matter of
“[b]asic fairness, ” the playing field should be
level. United States v. Microsoft Corp., 56 F.3d
1448, 1463 (D.C. Cir. 1995). “If defendants get named,
plaintiffs should too.” In re U.S. Office of
Personnel Mgmt. Data Sec. Breach Litig., 928 F.3d 42, 82
(D.C. Cir. 2019) (Williams, J., concurring in part and
dissenting in part).
one's name forces plaintiffs to put a little skin in the
game. Public exposure helps to ensure that plaintiffs can
back up what they say. It also promotes the longstanding
interest in finding the truth through direct confrontation.
“[D]efendants have a right to confront their
accusers.” Doe v. Megless, 654 F.3d 404, 408
(3d Cir. 2011).
disclosure adds a healthy dose of accountability for the
speaker. It is one thing to accuse someone of something
anonymously; it is quite another to do so out in the open.
Anonymity makes people feel less restrained in what they say.
See, e.g., The Internet. Speaking behind a curtain
can create a false sense of security, tempting
whoever-they-are to say things that they wouldn't say if
everyone knew who was talking. People tend to be a little
more careful about what they say and write when they have to
put their name to it. (Judges are no exception.)
and again, the Seventh Circuit has frowned on the disfavored
practice of bringing claims incognito. See, e.g., Doe v.
Smith, 429 F.3d 706, 710 (7th Cir. 2005) (“[T]his
circuit's decisions . . . disfavor anonymous litigation.
. . . The public has an interest in knowing what the judicial
system is doing, an interest frustrated when any part of
litigation is conducted in secret.”); Doe v. City
of Chicago, 360 F.3d 667, 669 (7th Cir. 2004)
(“Judicial proceedings are supposed to be open . . . .
The concealment of a party's name impedes public access
to the facts of the case, which include the parties'
identity.”); Coe v. County of Cook, 162 F.3d
491, 498 (7th Cir. 1998) (“We have criticized the
overuse of pseudonyms in federal litigation, pointing out
that the public has a right to know who is utilizing the
federal courts that its tax dollars support.”); Doe
v. Sheriff of DuPage County, 128 F.3d 586, 587 (7th Cir.
1997) (“We hope we will not see too many more John or
Jane Does in the future.”); Doe v. Blue Cross &
Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, 112 F.3d 869, 872 (7th
Cir. 1997) (“The use of fictitious names is
the plain text of the rule, courts have carved narrow
exceptions for uniquely vulnerable plaintiffs. For example,
“fictitious names are allowed when necessary to protect
the privacy of children, rape victims, and other particularly
vulnerable parties or witnesses.” Doe, 112
F.3d at 872; see also Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320,
324 (11th Cir. 1992) (“A plaintiff should be permitted
to proceed anonymously only in those exceptional cases
involving matters of a highly sensitive and personal nature,