A couple years ago, the Comedy Central cartoon show “South Park” ran a spoof on a vast community feud that exploded into litigation that left no one uninvolved.
The lawsuit was titled “Everyone vs. Everyone.” The lawyers were delighted.
It sounds silly, of course, and that was the idea.
But how about a lawsuit filed by anonymous against anonymous?
That sounds silly, too. But the notion is not so silly that a claim by anonymous filed against anonymous didn’t end up on the desk of Chicago U.S. Judge Steven Seeger.
The judge was not amused.
Noting that “the public has no earthly idea who is suing whom,” the judge summarily dismissed the lawsuit “for failure to comply with federal rules.”
“The very first piece of information that a plaintiff shares with the public is its identity. The disclosure is no accident. Rule 10(a) provides that the ‘title of the complaint must name all the parties.’ Not ‘may’ — ‘must.’ Not some of the parties — ‘all’ of the parties,” Seeger wrote, noting that any departure from that rules must involve “exceptional circumstances.”
The judge even italicized the words ”must” and ”all” to drive his message home.
Murky as the parties are, this litigation involves a case of alleged intellectual-property-rights infringement related to the sale of counterfeit goods on a variety of websites that include Amazon, eBay and Alibaba.
The anonymous plaintiff billed itself as “XYZ Corporation,” and it is suing unidentified and unincorporated business associations located outside the United States. The lawsuit states that unidentified XYZ Corporation has not been able to identify the defendants by name or address.
Although XYZ remains unidentified to the public, it did identify itself to the court in a sealed document. Represented by an Oak Park lawyer, XYZ also failed to ask the court’s permission to file the anonymous lawsuit, another no-no because “no-name litigation is the rare exception, not the rule,” Seeger wrote.
Why is that?
As the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled in the 2016 case of Doe vs. Village of Deerfield, “anonymous litigation runs contrary to the rights of the public to have open judicial proceedings and to know who is using court facilities and procedures funded by public taxes.”
And what could be more basic to a lawsuit than who filed it and why?
“Identifying the parties to a proceeding is an important dimension of publicness,” the appeals court has written. “The people have a right to know who is using their courts. ... The duty to self-identify is a small part of a much bigger tradition of transparency in federal court. ... The public has a legitimate interest in the facts of a lawsuit, and the most basis fact is who is suing whom.”
But what about those “exceptional circumstances” that permit anonymous filing?
One legal analysis notes that litigants sometimes seek to file anonymously in cases “involving disability benefits” that “relate to confidential medical issues.”
“Yet courts rarely permit pseudonymous filings in such cases,” writes legal analyst Mark DeBofsky.
As a general rule, the courts may consider a variety of factors that do not “outweigh the public’s interest in an open court proceeding, and will not unduly prejudice the defendant.”
They include whether the plaintiff is merely seeking to avoid the publicity and inconvenience that go with filing a lawsuit, whether the plaintiff is at risk of being subject to retaliation and/or the age of the plaintiff.
Just on the surface, it doesn’t look like a intellectual-property dispute would rise to that level of sensitivity required for anonymity. But XYZ has its reasons that, like everything in the case, they have yet to be identified.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-351-5369.