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Quinteros v. InnoGames

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

November 13, 2019

PENNY QUINTEROS, Plaintiff,
v.
INNOGAMES, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on numerous ex parte motions filed by Plaintiff in the beginning stages of this action. No. defendant has been served or appeared and summonses were only recently issued on November 6, 2019. The Court resolves the various pending motions as provided below.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Defendant InnoGames created an online video game known as “Forge of Empires.” Dkt. #3 at 6. Plaintiff, using the moniker “TwoCents, ” played Forge of Empires “almost every day without interruption from 2016-2019 for over 10, 000 hours of game play.” Id. Plaintiff alleges that InnoGames knew that players could get psychologically dependent or addicted to its game, did not warn players of that risk, and instead exploited players with “micro-transactions.”[1] Id. at 8. Plaintiff alleges that she became addicted to the game and spent over $9, 000 on micro-transactions to “keep up” with players she believes were cheating. Id. at 10.

         Plaintiff appears to have had unpleasant social interactions and experiences while playing the game and attributes those experiences to the defendants. Plaintiff believes that InnoGames's advertising for the game “created an unsafe environment for women players, ” such as herself. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff alleges that she suffered harassment and that InnoGames did little to prevent the harassment, even after she raised the issue directly. Id. at 7-8. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that InnoGames and its employees enforced the rules unfairly and targeted her for harsher enforcement. Id. at 9. Plaintiff alleges that these actions were at least partly because of her gender. Id. at 11.

         Because of her experiences, Plaintiff alleges that “she has suffered extreme and serious emotional distress and depression, she has been unable to function independently, she has suffered psychological trauma, she has emotional symptoms of depression, anxiety, [and] thoughts of suicide.” Id. at 12. Plaintiff asserts claims against InnoGames, its Chief Executive Officer, its Chief Operating Officer, and two of its “community managers” (collectively, “Defendants”). Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff ultimately seeks recovery for physical and emotional damages, loss of reputation, economic harms, and violations of consumer protection laws. Id. at 12-13.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiff's Request to Proceed Under a Pseudonym

         Plaintiff seeks to proceed under the pseudonym “TwoCents” to conceal her identity from everyone but the Court and Defendants. Dkt. #5 at 1. The request is based on the ongoing harassment Plaintiff has faced in Forge of Empires and her “fear[] that if her identity becomes known to her harassers they will escalate their behavior including potentially physical violence.” Id. at 1-2.

         1. Legal Standard

         Permitting a party to pursue legal proceedings anonymously is unusual as it interferes with the public's strong common law right of access to judicial proceedings and conflicts with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10. Does I thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp., 214 F.3d 1058, 1067 (9th Cir. 2000); Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a) (specifying that “[t]he title of the complaint must name all the parties”). “[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, 214 F.3d at 1068. Anonymity has generally been permitted: “(1) when identification creates a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm; (2) when anonymity is necessary ‘to preserve privacy in a matter of sensitive and highly personal nature;' and (3) when the anonymous party is ‘compelled to admit [his or her] intention to engage in illegal conduct.'” Id. (alteration in original) (internal citations omitted). When determining the need for anonymity to protect from harm, courts look to: “(1) the severity of the threatened harm; (2) the reasonableness of the anonymous party's fears; and (3) the anonymous party's vulnerability to such retaliation.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         2. Use of a Pseudonym Is Not Warranted

         The Court does not find that Plaintiff has carried her burden here. Plaintiff does not seek to shield her identity from Defendants, focusing the Court's consideration on Plaintiff's need for anonymity and any prejudice to the public's interest. Plaintiff identifies her own potential harm as the risk of retaliation and intrusion into her privacy, but Plaintiff largely ignores any prejudice to the public's interest.

         Plaintiff's concerns over retaliation stem from the allegations of past harassment within Forge of Empires as she lays out in her Complaint. Dkt. #5 at 3. But, to the extent Plaintiff has provided any competent evidence through her motions and unverified Complaint, the Court finds the potential for harm is overly speculative. Plaintiff certainly may face further harassment, but Plaintiff does not establish a reason to believe that such harassment is likely to occur.

         Plaintiff also expresses a need for privacy to protect her personal reputation and her future professional reputation.[2] Plaintiff's concerns in this regard arise primarily from an incident occurring within Forge of Empires where she shared a revealing photo that was subsequently spread within the community. Id. at 3; Dkt. #3 at 7. But Plaintiff's privacy concerns are again over-generalized.

         “There is a strong presumption of public access to the court's files.” LCR 5(g); Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 598-99 (1978); EEOC v. Erection Co., Inc., 900 F.2d 168, 169 (9th Cir. 1990). Plaintiff is correct that the public will be afforded access to the proceedings in this matter because she limits her request to protection only of her identity. Dkt. #5 at 3. While this limits the prejudice to the public's interest, it does not establish that “the circumstances here are extraordinary enough to warrant her use of a pseudonym.” D.C. v. PierceCnty., No. C10-5246RJB, 2010 WL 3814051, at *2 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 27, 2010) (denying request to use pseudonym in a case alleging that defendant's law enforcement officer photographed plaintiff's genitals and posted the picture on a law enforcement website and noting that “[m]uch of what is litigated involves embarrassment for one party or another”). Moreover, the Court finds that while the nature of Plaintiff's photograph may be embarrassing, it is only a small aspect of her lawsuit and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide other, less ...


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