United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
K. MOON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Norman K. Moon Plaintiff filed this action in February 2019.
Plainitff's 109-page complaint contains 29 counts against
Defendants Liberty University, Nicole M. Dilella, May Deacon,
Denise Daniel, Elias Moitinho, and Eric Camden (collectively
“Defendants”). (Dkt. 4, “Compl.”
¶¶ 271-589). Plaintiff's claims stem from
events surrounding her suspension from Defendant Liberty
University (“Liberty”). Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants' actions violate state law as well as Title IX
of the Educations Amendment Act of 1972 (“Title
IX”). The Court is now in receipt of multiple motions
from both parties. As a preliminary matter, the Court
addresses Defendants' motion for a hearing, (dkt. 31),
Plaintiff's motion for permission to proceed under
pseudonym, (dkt. 1), and Defendants' motion to strike
Plaintiff's response in support of her motion to proceed
under a pseudonym, (dkt. 30). For the reasons that follow,
all three motions will be denied.
February 21, 2019, Plaintiff filed a complaint and a motion
for permission to proceed under pseudonym. (Dkts. 4, 1). On
March 28, 2019, Defendants filed a response in opposition to
Plaintiff's motion to proceed under pseudonym. (Dkt. 11).
On May 3, 2019, Plaintiff replied to Defendants' response
in opposition, (dkt. 27), and on May 5, 2019, Defendants
moved to strike Plaintiff's reply as untimely. (Dkt. 30).
The parties filed multiple additional motions, but at this
juncture, the Court will focus on the ones named above and
provide a brief overview of the facts relevant to
Plaintiff's motion to proceed under a pseudonym.
requests to proceed anonymously “in order to maintain
and protect her privacy and reputational interests as she
seeks redress against” Defendants “for the
grievous mishandling of false accusations of professional
misconduct brought against” her while she was a student
in Liberty's Counselor Education & Supervision
program. (Dkt. 3). The conduct underlying this dispute began
in November 2017, when a Liberty faculty member emailed
Plaintiff “with concerns about Plaintiff's
responses” in a conversation on Facebook. (Compl.
¶ 13). “Unbeknownst” to Plaintiff,
“two other professors also purportedly filed incident
reports complaining of [Plaintiff's] alleged misconduct
in prior classes.” (Id. ¶ 15). The
incident reports are based on faculty members' concerns
about Plaintiff's interpersonal skills and professional
competence. (Id. ¶ 39-40). In June 2018,
Defendant Dilella filed a second incident report, but
“withheld videotaped/recorded evidence that would
exonerate” Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 20). After a
“closed-door” discussion by Liberty's
Remediation Committee, (id. ¶ 28), Liberty
“immediately placed [Plaintiff] on emergency
suspension, ” halted Plaintiff's practicum,
administratively dropped Plaintiff's scheduled Fall
course, and barred Plaintiff from registering for any
academic course in the Spring 2019 semester.
claims are based on the nature and consequences of these
disciplinary proceedings. First, she states that she did not
learn about the concerns documented in the incident reports
until after Liberty's Remediation Committee had
“rendered judgment against” her. (Id.
¶ 17). Because she was not aware of the existence or
content of the complaints, she “never had the
opportunity to confront her accusers, read their full
statements, ” or review evidence relating to her
alleged infractions. (Id. ¶ 33). Second,
Plaintiff claims that the information contained in the June
2018 incident report contained “egregious
misrepresentations and selective facts to effect [sic]
[Plaintiff's] suspension.” (Id. ¶
42). Plaintiff argues that this behavior, along with email
correspondence, the prejudicial make-up of the remediation
committee members, and the allegedly excessively severe
punishment she received, supports her claim that Defendants
had an “agenda to oust” her. (Id.
¶¶ 16, 42-44, 48). Plaintiff further alleges that
the flawed implementation of Liberty's disciplinary
process “favored [Plaintiff's] male
classmate [Defendant] Camden's unsupported version of
events.” (Id. 56) (emphasis in original).
Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendants made oral or
written statements regarding her situation, as evidenced by a
public Facebook post by a student who “was not involved
in [Plaintiff's] matter at all and would only know about
it from” Defendants. (Id. ¶ 59).
Defendants' Motion for a Hearing
outset, the Court will address Defendants' motion for a
hearing on the pending motions. (Dkt. 31). Pursuant to W.D.
Va. R. 11(b) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b), the Court has discretion
to determine a motion without an oral hearing even when a
party has requested oral argument. See also CVLR
Performance Horses, Inc. v. Wynne, 792 F.3d 469, 744
(4th Cir. 2015) (“[I]t is within the sound discretion
of the district court to dispose of a motion without a
hearing.”) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b)). In this case,
Defendants have requested a hearing on the pending motions to
“aid the Court's decisional process.” (Dkt.
31 at 2). Plaintiff has objected to this motion. (Dkts. 28,
34). After reviewing the briefing in these matters, the Court
finds that oral argument will not aid the decisional process.
Defendants' motion will be denied, and the Court will
decide these matters on the papers.
Defendants' Motion to Strike.
have moved to strike Plaintiffs' reply in support of her
motion to proceed under a pseudonym, arguing the reply is
untimely. Local Rule 11(c) provides that “the moving
party may file a rebuttal brief within 7 days after the
service of the opposing party's reply brief.”
Plaintiff concedes that the reply was untimely, but notes a
faulty attempt to file within the deadline and her decision
to re-file based on a letter from the Clerk of the Court.
(Dkt. 33 at 2). “[T]he application of the local rules
is within the discretion of the Court, ” Michael v.
Sentara Health System, 939 F.Supp. 1220, 1225, n.3 (E.D.
Va. 1996), and Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se,
is “entitled to some deference from courts.”
Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 96 (4th Cir. 1989).
Based on the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's
untimely filing, the Court will deny the motion to strike.
Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed Under Pseudonym
dispensed with the preliminary matters relating to
Plaintiff's motion to proceed under pseudonym, the Court
turns to the substance of that motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a)
provides that “[t]he title of the complaint must name
all parties.” “The purpose of this rule is to
appraise the parties of their opponents and to protect the
public's legitimate interest in knowing all the facts and
events surrounding court proceedings.” Doe v. Va.
Polytechnic Inst. & State Univ., No. 7:18-cv-320,
2018 WL 5929645 at *2 (W.D. Va., Nov. 13, 2018). “[I]n
some limited circumstances, anonymity may be appropriate,
” Doe v. Pittsylvania Cty., 844 F.Supp.2d 724,
728 (W.D. Va. 2012), but proceeding anonymously is a
“rare dispensation.” James v. Jacobson,
6 F.3d 233, 238 (4th Cir. 1993). “Party anonymity is a
discretionary determination made by the trial court.”
Id. (citing James, 6 F.3d at238 (4th Cir.
1993). The Fourth Circuit has provided the following five
factors to guide this decision:
 whether the justification asserted by the requesting
party is merely to avoid the annoyance and criticism that may
attend any litigation or is to preserve privacy in a matter
of sensitive and highly personal nature;  whether
identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental
harm to the requesting party or even more critically, to
innocent non-parties;  the ages of the persons whose
privacy interest are sought to be protected;  whether the
action is against a governmental or private ...