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Doe v. Yeshiva Univ., 195 A.D.3d 565, 146 N.Y.S.3d 482 (Mem) (N.Y. App. Div. 2021)

195 A.D.3d 565
146 N.Y.S.3d 482 (Mem)

John DOE, Plaintiff–Respondent,
YESHIVA UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants–Appellants,

Pat Doe 1–30 etc., et al., Defendants.

Index No. 950012/20
Case No. 2020-02622

Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, New York.

ENTERED June 29, 2021

Seyfarth Shaw LLP, New York (Karen Y. Bitar of counsel), for appellants.

Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP, New York (Kush Shukla of counsel), for respondent.

Manzanet–Daniels, J.P., Kern, Mazzarelli, Shulman, JJ.

Order, Supreme Court, New York County (George J. Silver, J.), entered May 6, 2020, which granted plaintiff's motion to proceed under the pseudonym "John Doe," unanimously affirmed, without costs.

Following a comprehensive balancing of plaintiff's privacy interests against the presumption in favor of public disclosure and any prejudice to defendant, the court providently exercised its discretion in granting plaintiff's motion to proceed anonymously (see Anonymous v. Lerner, 124 A.D.3d 487, 998 N.Y.S.2d 619 [1st Dept. 2015] ). The court credited plaintiff's assertions that he feared not only embarrassment and economic harm from the public disclosure of his identity but also social stigmatization, professional repercussions, and social isolation from his peers and colleagues in the legal profession – fears that the court's decision shows were elaborated upon by plaintiff's counsel during oral argument and that defendants have offered no reason to question. Defendants argue that disclosure will have no chilling effect since plaintiff has already commenced suit, but this argument fails to account for the real possibility that plaintiff would be dissuaded from pursuing the action further and for the inhibiting effect it could have on other potential plaintiffs (see e.g. John Doe No. 4 v. Rockefeller Univ., 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 33725[U], *2, 2019 WL 6354255 [Sup. Ct., N.Y. County Nov. 22, 2019] ).

The court observed that plaintiff's proceeding anonymously would better serve the public's right to know than, for instance, having the records sealed. Defendants

[146 N.Y.S.3d 483]

have not explained why the public must know plaintiff's identity in addition to all other aspects of the case. Nor have defendants shown that they will suffer any prejudice, as plaintiff has agreed to divulge his identity to them and to the court (cf. Doe v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of N.Y., 64 Misc.3d 1220[A], 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 51216[U], *5, 2019 WL 3484392 [Sup. Ct., Westchester County, July 31, 2019] [petition to proceed anonymously even vis-a`-vis court and respondents denied on the ground of prejudice to respondents]).

We reject defendants’ contention that plaintiff's motion should be denied because it was supported solely by an attorney affirmation. In GCVAWCG–Doe v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of N.Y., 69 Misc.3d 648, 650, 132 N.Y.S.3d 557 (Sup. Ct., Westchester County 2020), on which defendants rely, the court referred to "scores of pseudonym applications, many with no affidavit of the plaintiff" or an affidavit "without facts specific to the plaintiff." There is no lack of facts specific to plaintiff in this case. Nor was there anything "pro forma" about the court's grant of his motion.

We have considered defendant's remaining contentions and find them unavailing.