*** Update! Victory! *** On November 2, 2021, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision (without ruling on the statute of limitations issue), holding that “despite not knowing [B.R.’s] true name at the time she commenced this action, the district court possessed both the statutory and constitutional authority to resolve it.” As her result, her Title IX case will continue!
On April 22, 2021, the National Women’s Law Center, along with our law firm partner Sidley Austin LLP, led a group of 52 organizations to file an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit in B.R. v. F.C.S.B. in support of a student survivor against her school district. B.R. was 12 years old when she was repeatedly sexually harassed, including raped, tortured, and threatened with death by her classmates. Although she repeatedly requested protection, school officials ignored her and blamed her for her own mistreatment. Just before turning 20, B.R. filed a lawsuit against her school and former classmates alleging violations of Title IX and other laws under the pseudonym “Jane Doe.”
The other side argued that B.R. did not obtain permission from the court ahead of time to use a pseudonym, and that this was a jurisdictional defect such that the court’s later grant of permission to use a pseudonym did not relate back to the date of her original complaint for purposes of statute of limitations. Further, Defendants claimed that B.R. is subject to Virginia’s general statute of limitations for personal injury (2 years after reaching age 18) rather than its specific statute of limitations for sexual assault experienced as a minor (20 years after the discovery of the sexual injury). A federal district court in Virginia ruled in favor of B.R., finding that while she did not follow the process for using a pseudonym, this was not a jurisdictional defect, and she should be allowed her to proceed in her civil rights claim using her initials. The school district is now appealing this decision to the Fourth Circuit.
Our amicus brief explains that survivors of sexual assault, especially those who were assaulted as minors, already face many barriers to coming forward, and that the option to use a pseudonym is critical in these cases to ensure privacy and to reduce the risk of retraumatization and retaliation. As such, they should not have their cases dismissed on unwritten procedural technicalities like this one. We also point out that obtaining court permission to use a pseudonym before filing a lawsuit is not a jurisdictional requirement, and that the appropriate statute of limitations for B.R.’s lawsuit is 20 years.
Read our blog post for more on this case.