Opinion from Chief Justice Beryl Howell Doe v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DDC March 14, 2022):
The plaintiff, an attorney, is suing his immediate claim under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking information from various government agencies about the events of January 2021, during which the plaintiff was arrested at an international airport while attempting to re-enter the United States. Intercepted and interrogated “in relation to the legal representation he provided and continued to provide”. …
The plaintiff is a licensed attorney in Texas representing “individuals in U.S. immigration and naturalization matters” and “criminal and national security investigations,” including “clients under investigation by the FBI.” … In 2021, the plaintiffs “attempted to re-enter the United States through a Global Entry kiosk located at an international airport in Dallas, Texas…”. He was “denied entry at a newsstand and moved to in-person primary inspection and then moved to a secondary inspection area” where he was “separately interrogated” by a CBP officer and two Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) employees “About his legal practice, personal life, parents and his personal U.S. immigration history.”
An officer then asked him to “unlock his iPhone in order to examine the digital content…” to which the plaintiff responded “he cannot agree” because “the iPhone contains a large amount of privileged information and allows access to privileged information that is stored remotely.” Facing the plaintiff Denying a request to access his iPhone, the officer “notified the plaintiff that the iPhone is being seized by DHS and will be searched for digital content” and “physically assaulted” the plaintiff. Plaintiffs have since “filed FOIA requests with each defendant agency for documents, records, and videos related to plaintiffs and the events of January 3, 2021.”
Because of the defendants’ alleged failure to comply with the plaintiffs’ FOIA requirements in a timely manner, the plaintiffs filed suit challenging their denials and omissions under the FOIA. He attempted to proceed under a false name because of “the safety of the plaintiff and his family, as part of this lawsuit involves an assault by one of the defendant’s employees” and because “third parties associated with the plaintiff may be negatively affected or affected by this damages of the nature of this lawsuit.”
Noting the strong presumption of pseudonym, the court found no rebuttal in this case; here is an excerpt from the reasoning:
The plaintiff alleges that he has “reasonable concerns that his profession and practice will be greatly affected if he cannot proceed anonymously” because of “the past experience of clients refusing to do business with the plaintiff, fearing that their cases may be negatively affected,” If the plaintiff is busy with the defendant’s litigation and/or the defendant’s investigation.” The plaintiff added “[t]The stigma associated with this lawsuit has already caused the plaintiff great emotional distress” and publishing his name “would cause further harm to his reputation with clients and the legal profession.” “
However, no more, “the threat of economic harm alone will not generally allow the court to let litigants continue pseudonym. “At this early stage, plaintiffs did not exhibit a non-speculative risk of physical or mental harm sufficient to outweigh the strong public interest in knowing the litigants’ identities.