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Tort/Negligence – Student claims school officials failed to stop harassment, abuse

Although the defendants argued a student’s use of a Jane Doe pseudonym without court permission was a jurisdictional defect, that argument failed because her complaint alleging she was harmed by the school’s failure to end the sexual harassment and abuse she suffered in middle school showed an actual case or controversy with real impact on a real person.


A female plaintiff commenced this action by filing a complaint in which she referred to herself by the pseudonym Jane Doe. In her complaint, she detailed multiple acts of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, including rape, that were directed against her over the course of several months when she was a student at a middle school in Fairfax County, and the school’s inaction to end the offensive conduct when it was ongoing, all of which caused her serious injury. She claimed that the defendants violated her rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and other laws. And she explained that she was using a pseudonym to protect her privacy and health.

Defendants filed motions to dismiss on the ground that the plaintiff’s failure to provide her true name to the court had deprived it of subject-matter jurisdiction and that this jurisdictional flaw could no longer be remedied because the statute of limitations for the plaintiff’s federal claims had lapsed a few days after she filed her complaint. In response, the plaintiff disclosed her true name to the court and requested that she be allowed to proceed under a pseudonym.

The district court denied the defendants’ jurisdictional motions, and, because the sensitive nature of the allegations warranted “the utmost level of privacy,” it allowed the action to proceed pseudonymously. The court explained that while the plaintiff had not adhered to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a), which requires that the title of a complaint include the names of all parties, that failure was immaterial to the court’s subject-matter jurisdiction.

On the defendants’ motion, the district court included in its order a 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) certification to enable the defendants to seek permission from this court to appeal “the question of whether a plaintiff’s failure to obtain leave of court to file a complaint pseudonymously is a jurisdictional defect such that a later order granting leave to proceed pseudonymously does not relate back to the original filing for purposes of the statute of limitations.” By order dated Jan. 5, 2021, the court granted the defendants’ motion for permission to appeal that issue.


The cases and controversies that Article III assigns to federal courts refer to real disputes among real persons, involving actual or threatened injuries that can be redressed in a judicial proceeding. It follows therefore that Article III does not assign to federal courts any power to address hypothetical circumstances, give advisory opinions or resolve abstract disputes.

Based on these principles, the court has no difficulty concluding that when Kate filed her complaint in July 2019, her civil action qualified as a “case” or “controversy” within the meaning of Article III. While she did not include her real name in the complaint as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a) — explaining that she used a pseudonym for privacy and health reasons — everything else about what she alleged was real. She alleged a “real controversy with real impact on real persons.”

Kate’s dispute with the defendants therefore was a real case, a real controversy, that federal courts have jurisdiction to resolve. And, when measured against what constitutes Article III standing, her allegations showed that she possessed the kind of “personal stake” necessary for standing — i.e., that she suffered “a concrete and particularized injury caused by the defendant[s] and redressable by the court.” Thus, when considering the components of what constitutes an Article III case or controversy, it is evident that a plaintiff’s initial failure to tell the court her name in no way detracts from them. Stated otherwise, a plaintiff’s failure to disclose her name to the court at the time she files a complaint is immaterial to whether that civil action qualifies as a case or controversy.

The defendants’ principal and perhaps only argument to counter this conclusion focuses on historical pleading practice. The court is not persuaded by the defendants’ additional argument that a plaintiff’s disclosure of her identity to the court should be treated as jurisdictional because it is necessary to ensure that a real person, not a phantom, stands behind the complaint.


B.R. v. F.C.S.B. (Lawyers Weekly No. 001-183-21, 18 pp.) (Paul V. Niemeyer, J.) Case No. 21-1005. Nov. 2, 2021. From E.D. Va. at Alexandria (Rossie David Alston Jr., J.) Elbert Lin for Appellants. Tejinder Singh for Appellee.

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