Some cases are easy though.
If your name is already known and associated with the lawsuit or the facts underlying the lawsuit, courts will not allow you to proceed anonymously because “the benefit of proceeding under a pseudonym has already been defeated” and “there is a presumption against parties proceeding under pseudonyms” (see here at p. 9).
We predict this will doom the efforts of Mr. Doe in his efforts to stay anonymous in his lawsuit against Carleton College, arising out of his discipline (expulsion) for involvement in an alleged sexual assault (strongly denied). (Here is Carleton’s memorandum of law arguing that Mr. Doe must shed his anonymity.)
And, finally, an aside: we note that Mr. Doe has executed a “verified complaint,” signing the complaint, “John Doe” (see here at p. 50).
This seems odd for several reasons. Verified complaints are complaints signed by the party based on personal knowledge under penalty of perjury. Verified complaints are the exception and not the rule.
Query whether the signing of a pseudonym, literally, a false name, is effective. We also note that Mr. Doe’s “verified complaint” does not actually include any declaration, oath, or affirmation that the allegations in the complaint are based on personal knowledge and alleged with knowledge that they are executed under penalty of perjury.
In our experience, verified complaints are used in a few circumstances. First, if a party envisions immediate emergency measures (e.g., seeking a temporary restraining order), a verified complaint can be useful because it doubles as a sworn affidavit; it would be admissible evidence for such measures.
Second, if a lawyer has concerns about their client’s honesty, it places the burden of veracity on the client rather than exposing the lawyer to Rule 11 sanctions for false or baseless allegations.
Third, verified complaints are sometimes required by statute for particular claims. See Murphy Motor Freight Lines v. Weiss, 253 N.W. 1, 2 (Minn. 1934) (action based on objections to railroad tariff requiring verified complaint); see also Minn. Stat. § 624.62 (providing for a verified complaint in prosecuting people for jumping on moving trains).
Finally, we suppose some lawyers might feel that verified complaints might have some greater rhetorical allure. They’re more “official”? They might connote, “We mean business” or something? Putting aside that Mr. Doe’s verification is sketchy for a few reasons (described above), however, it is not clear that having a verified complaint in the Doe v. Carleton complaint has any more persuasive value than the same complaint unverified.