Actress Wants Anonymity in Suit Against Amazon for Revealing Age (This is Why She Won’t Keep It)

A Texas actress, who wishes to remain anonymous, has sued Amazon.com for revealing her age on the company’s Internet Movie Database. The claim? That Amazon poached her date of birth based on credit card information and published it on IMDb, and that revelations about her age have hindered her ability to get work as she approaches 40. (Suit here)

Leaving aside the merits of the case — which raises interesting questions at least from a privacy standpoint if that is where the date of birth came from — can the actress bring her suit in federal court and remain anonymous while doing so?

The question of a plaintiff wanting to remain anonymous usually comes up in the context of sexual assault cases. Bringing suit on behalf of a “Jane Doe” is something I’ve done in the past, as have many, many others. Because it is one thing to be sexually assaulted. But exposing those details in such a manner that casual court voyeurs also get to see it leaves many people so uncomfortable that they feel they would be victimized a second time just by bringing suit if their real names were used. Thus, the name is kept out of the courthouse files.

Unless you get the wrong judge. Back in late 2006 I wrote about a sexual assault case that landed on the front page of the New York Law Journal, because a judge in the Southern District of New York rejected the use of the Jane Doe pseudonym. I thought the decision was wrongly decided, but no one has given me a black robe so I don’t get to vote.

Which brings us back to the actress that sued Amazon. The smart money from my corner says that, if Amazon makes the motion, the court will not allow the case to proceed in this fashion, in which case she will be forced to disclose her identity or drop the matter. (This matter was first reported on Twitter by @Eric Goldman)

Now this particular case was brought in Seattle, which is part of the area covered by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. And this is the Ninth Circuit rule on the subject:

In this circuit, we allow parties to use pseudonyms in the “unusual case” when nondisclosure of the party’s identity “is necessary … to protect a person from harassment, injury, ridicule or personal embarrassment.”

“a party may preserve his or her anonymity in judicial proceedings in special circumstances when the party’s need for anonymity outweighs  prejudice to the opposing party and  the public’s interest in knowing the party’s identity.” Does I Thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1068 (9th Cir.2000).

There seems to be little chance, in my opinion, that this actress stays anonymous if she wants to keep litigating.

Of course, the guessing game has started anyway as to who it is:

Which Actress Is Suing IMDb for Revealing Her Age? (Gawker)

ACTRESS SUES IMDB FOR REVEALING HER AGE (FilmDrunk)

Actress Sues Amazon For Publishing Her Age (The Guardian)

 

 

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10 Responses Leave a comment

  • Josh King 2011.10.18 at 15:10 | Quote

    Washington also has one of the nation’s strongest anti-SLAPP laws. There’s a decent chance this actress gets outed, learns a tough lesson in the Streisand effect AND pays Amazon’s legal bills and a $10K fine – all for the price of one filing fee.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2011.10.18 at 15:14 | Quote

    If, as alleged, Amazon swiped her age based on credit card data, then she might have a colorable privacy suit. I’m not an expert on that and don’t offer an opinion. But would simply losing her ability to bring a suit anonymously bring on an anti-SLAPP claim? I haven’t read your local statute on that, but it doesn’t seem reasonable. I would think SLAPP would go to merits, not the mere form of the caption.

  • Josh King 2011.10.18 at 16:07 | Quote

    Yeah, anti-SLAPP would go to the merits. I’m just assuming that in addition to losing her bid to remain anonymous she also won’t be able to establish a prima facie case regarding misuse of credit card data.

  • Avenger 2011.10.18 at 18:51 | Quote

    Allowing John Doe / Jane Doe plaintiffs, unless for fear of physical harm befalling the plaintiff (rarely the case in civil litigation) is simply wrong. I realize the “Confrontation Clause” applies only to criminal matters, but surely was an oversight on the part of the Founding Fathers, who didn’t envision the current litigation setting.

  • JaneD 2011.10.19 at 01:50 | Quote

    Shocking that she’s only seeking $1million. SCOTUS has already held that a person’s identity is their own personal, private, most intimate property “worth more than any other thing that can ever be owned”. Last I checked, Apple Inc, Exxon Inc, the Saudi Investment Fund were all worth a few zeros more than a million. Maybe it’s a typo as it is more reasonably valued at a Trillion or more in U.S. law.

    It’s also still illegal in the U.S. (arising in English Common Law – maybe still applicable in numerous other English Common Law jurisdictions) just to ask a woman her age. Geez, it used to be that you couldn’t graduate high school without taking a law class and learning the crimes it is to ask a woman her age (U.S.).

    It just seems ridiculous that IMDb/Amazon would indulge in such flagrant criminal activities with such high civil liabilities. What were their risk management people thinking (or NOT)?!?

    Possibly, Jane Doe, or her lawyers, will correct that filing and go after the Trillion or more that it’s worth. In fact, they could probably go after IMDb/Amazon under RICO (since the use of wire = wire fraud = RICO) which, with triple damages, means something potentially worth well over $3 Trillion to Ms. Doe.

  • Eric Goldman 2011.10.19 at 09:50 | Quote

    It might be a little too academic, but Lior Strahilevitz’s article “Pseudonymous Litigation” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1676882 might be worth a look. Eric.

  • Eric Turkewitz 2011.10.19 at 10:48 | Quote

    Allowing John Doe / Jane Doe plaintiffs, unless for fear of physical harm befalling the plaintiff (rarely the case in civil litigation) is simply wrong.

    I would add, in addition to the fear of physical harm, victims of sexual assault.

    Economic claims, such as the one this suit is based on, would fall outside both of our criteria.

  • Avenger 2011.10.19 at 12:07 | Quote

    Originally Posted By Eric TurkewitzAllowing John Doe / Jane Doe plaintiffs, unless for fear of physical harm befalling the plaintiff (rarely the case in civil litigation) is simply wrong.

    I would add, in addition to the fear of physical harm, victims of sexual assault.

    Economic claims, such as the one this suit is based on, would fall outside both of our criteria.

    I might agree as long as the name of the accused was kept anonymous unless and until there was a conviction

Comments are closed.


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