Under the federal rules of civil procedure, the names of the parties of a lawsuit ought to be disclosed, but there are rare times when a plaintiff can proceed anonymously.
And in what seems a stark sign of the rareness of these political times, a federal judge recently granted anonymity to three plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups on behalf of residents of LaGrange, Georgia.
The case was filed in June in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Among other allegations, the civil rights groups say the city government, as the sole provider of basic utilities in LaGrange, threatens to cutoff service if fines remain unpaid (the city has no property taxes and is funded through its utility revenue.
Not long after the complaint was filed, the civil rights groups’ attorneys, including from the NAACP in Georgia, filed papers to keep secret the names of three of the plaintiffs. All three plaintiffs, immigrants, feared disclosing their names “could lead to civil and criminal prosecution, social stigma and retaliation,” according to the motion seeking anonymity.
The request to keep the plaintiffs’ names listed as John Doe 1, John Doe 2 and John Doe 3 cited the “Trump Administration’s articulated plan to continue arresting immigrants at courthouses.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys referred to media reports such as a Los Angeles Times story in March about federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — some in uniform, some not — “sweeping into courtrooms or lurking outside court complexes, waiting to arrest immigrants who are in the country illegally.”
In an affidavit, one of the plaintiffs, a father of two, said he came to the United States from Mexico more than 15 years ago. He said he’s been unable to get utility service because he doesn’t have a Social Security card, which in turn causes other problems.
To register his children in school, for instance, he said he needs proof of residency in the form of a utility bill, and so his landlord has to write a letter to the school each year explaining the problem.
But he also expressed deep concern that if his name were to become public, he could face arrest and deportation. “I worry that attending a court proceeding itself could place me at immediate risk of harm because immigration agents could locate me there,” he wrote.
While the City of LaGrange has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which is pending, its attorneys filed no opposition to John Doe motion.
In a one sentence ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten granted the request, citing “good cause”.