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Doe v. Hefner

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

August 15, 2018

John DOE
v.
Bryon HEFNER[1] et al.[2]

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR IMPOUNDMENT

          Robert Tochka, Justice of the Superior Court

          The plaintiff, John Doe, [3] was a legislative aide at the Massachusetts State House. His claims against defendants Stanley Rosenberg, the former Massachusetts Senate President, and Bryon Hefner, Rosenberg’s husband, arise from Hefner’s alleged unwelcome sexual advances toward the plaintiff. On June 15, 2018, this Court (Squires Lee, J.) found good cause to allow the plaintiff’s ex parte motion to temporarily impound his true name and information that would reveal his identity.[4] The plaintiff now moves for the continued impoundment of this information pursuant to Rule 8 of the Uniform Rules of Impoundment Procedure ("Uniform Rules"), arguing that the disclosure of his name will cause him substantial psychological harm and trauma. The defendants oppose the plaintiff’s request. For the reasons described below, the plaintiff’s motion is ALLOWED.

         A court may enter an order of impoundment only on a showing of "good cause." Uniform Rules, Rule 7. In determining whether such cause exists, a court must balance the litigant’s privacy interests against the presumption of public access to court records in civil actions. H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc. v. Frey, 400 Mass. 326, 329 (1987); George W. Prescott Publ’g Co. v. Register of Probate for Norfolk County, 395 Mass. 274, 278 (1985). The burden is on the proponent of the motion to demonstrate that he has a compelling interest that requires impoundment. See Globe Newspaper Co., Inc. v. Clerk of Suffolk Cnty. Superior Court, 14 Mass.L.Rptr. 315, 2002 WL 202464, at *4 (Mass.Super. 2002) (Gants, J.). If good cause is shown, then the court must tailor the scope of the order so that it does not exceed the need for the impoundment. Id.

         In Globe Newspaper Co., Inc., the court (Gants, J.) found that adults who brought claims of childhood sexual abuse had a compelling interest in preventing the public disclosure of their identities such that impoundment was appropriate. 2002 WL 202464, at *7. The decision noted that various Massachusetts statutes protect sexual assault victims’ identities, and emphasized that this legislative scheme is in place because "public revelation of [sexual] abuse, if not sought by them, victimizes them yet again. It stigmatizes them as victims of such abuse, generates conversations that may re-open emotional wounds that had only begun to heal, and causes others, even those who mean well, to treat them differently." Id. at *6. The decision then concluded that the courts may protect victims of sexual abuse for largely the same reasons, observing that "[i]f the identity of these victims are not protected by the courts, then their access to the courts will be severely diminished, because they will not be able to turn to the courts for relief from or compensation of their emotional injuries without aggravating those same injuries." Id. Such concerns are also implicated in the instant case. The plaintiff submitted a letter from his examining psychiatrist, Dr. Nineberg, who averred that the plaintiff already suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder type symptoms as a result of his alleged experiences with Hefner and "would suffer substantial, immediate and irreparable psychological harm and trauma if his name were revealed to the public." This information elevates the plaintiff’s interest in impoundment above those interests, such as the mere potential for embarrassment or unjustified adverse publicity, that the Supreme Judicial Court has deemed insufficient to support impoundment. See George W. Prescott Publ’g Co., 395 Mass. at 279.

          In opposing this motion, the defendants argue that the plaintiff’s privacy interests were significantly diminished when he spoke with a Boston Globe reporter about the allegations, and therefore, impoundment is not warranted. This argument, however, is without merit. The article that was published as a result of that interview does not disclose the plaintiff’s identity or reveal any more information concerning the plaintiff’s allegations against the defendants than that which is included in his complaint filed on the public docket. Thus, even taking this article into consideration, the Court concludes that the plaintiff has established a compelling interest in preventing the public disclosure of his identity.

         Against the plaintiff’s privacy interest, this Court weighs the competing principle of publicity. The presumption for public disclosure of court filings in civil cases is particularly salient here where the defendants’ association with the Senate accords the public a vital interest in the full disclosure of information that is relevant to their alleged misuse of authority. See George W. Prescott Publ’g Co., 395 Mass. at 279. However, for the reasons discussed above, the plaintiff’s interest in preventing the public disclosure of his identity is so compelling as to override the common-law and constitutional presumption of public access to court records. See Globe Newspaper Co., Inc., 2002 WL 202464 at *6-*7, *9. Accordingly, this Court finds that the particular circumstances of this case establish good cause for impoundment until the first day of trial, and orders the redaction of the plaintiff’s true name and any information that may reasonably be used to identify him.

         ORDER

         It is therefore ORDERED that John Doe’s motion for impoundment be ALLOWED, and that the following information be impounded until the first day of trial.

         A. The true name of John Doe;

         B. The affidavit of Attorney Mitchell Garabedian in support of plaintiff’s ex parte motion for impoundment;

         C. A June 8, 2018 letter from Allan S. Nineberg, M.D. pertaining to John Doe, which is attached to Mitchell Garabedian’s affidavit as Exhibit 1; and

         D. Information produced in discovery that reveals the date of birth of John Doe, the Social Security number of John Doe, current or past addresses of John Doe, and information that explicitly refers to or identifies John Doe.

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