Student in mental health case against U. can retain anonymity, federal judge rules| Jan 16, 2016
A federal court judge has determined that a University student who filed a lawsuit against the University for mishandling his suicide attempt in 2012 may remain anonymous during the discovery phase of the trial.
This decision reverses a decision issued by a magistrate judge last summer that dictated that the student, currently identified by the initials W.P., should disclose his name in full.
U.S. District Judge for the District of New JerseyPeter Sheridan signed a temporary order for W.P. to retain anonymity. However, he said in his brief that he reserves the right to determine whether anonymity will impact a possible trial.
In his brief, Sheridan explained that he was concerned several publicly available briefs had already disclosed W.P.’s medical and personal information. He suggested in his brief that his decision was in part to prevent future harm and future release of sensitive information.
Sheridan did not respond to a request for comment.
The University had filed a motion to partially dismiss claims and tooppose the plaintiff’s anonymityin October 2014.U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of New JerseyTonianne Bongiovanni ruled in favor of the University in June 2015, stating that the student cannot remain anonymous in accusing University officials of serious wrongdoing when those University officials have to defend themselves publicly. W.P.’s lawyers appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court.
Bongiovanni did not respond to a request for comment. Julia Graff, W.P.’s lawyer, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
University spokesperson Martin Mbugua said that while he cannot comment on the basis of the University’s legal decisions, any legal proceeding is expected to be public.
Mbugua added that another important provision of the order is that it protects the University in conducting investigations into facts, which may involve transmission of identifiable information to a party with information about what happened, but not in court filings. Mbugua also explained that the order gave the parties permission to use identifiable information during the trial.
The University had demanded in March 2012 that W.P. either take a voluntary withdrawal from the University in the next four days or be mandatorily withdrawn. The letter followed an incident in late February 2012 when the student, then a freshman, swallowed 20 anti-depressant tablets and immediately began to try to vomit them out.
After disagreements, the student was told that he would be banned from returning to campus. Multiple requests for alternative accommodations outside campus were also denied. The student subsequently filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education outlining ten causes of action.
According to the complaint he filed to the Office for Civil Rights, the student resumed his education at the University in 2013.
William Maderer, the lawyer representing the University, deferred comment to Mbugua.
Mbugua stated that the University has never released the student's name in the case. However, with its motion to dismiss, the University filed a copy of two letters that the student relies upon in his complaint but did not submit. Before submission, the University had removed the student’s name and other identifying information from the letters. Mbugua said that the University is committed to complying with the Court’s orders, as well all other legal obligations.
Sheridan also denied a condition of order sought by U.’s legal representatives to restrain W.P. from making negative remarks outside the court setting. According to the order issued by Sheridan, he had found it a conflict with the First Amendment.
The court order also stated that those contacted by legal attorneys of each side should sign a confidential agreement and hoped that both parties go forth “zealously.”