Written By Meghan Vumback
A New Hampshire woman (“Jane Doe”) who won a $559.7 million Powerball jackpot in January can begin collecting her money while a Judge determines whether she can remain anonymous.
Jane Doe purchased the Jan. 6 winning Powerball ticket at Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack, New Hampshire . Upon realizing that the winning numbers matched the numbers on her ticket, she went to the Commission website and read the instructions on the back of her ticket. In following the Commission’s instructions, Jane Doe printed her name, address, city, phone number, and signed the back of her ticket. However, she was not aware that in doing so she was signing away her anonymity.
Upon retaining counsel, Jane Doe learned that the State of New Hampshire allows tickets to be signed by the trustee of a designated trust so that a winner can maintain privacy, and that in signing her name on the back of her winning ticket, she had relinquished her right to that privilege. Essentially, because she used her personal information, and not a designated trustee to sign the back of her lottery ticket, that information will become public once she submits her ticket to the Commission.
Jane Doe filed a complaint in the New Hampshire Superior Court in an effort to remain anonymous. Due to the size of her award, she is seeking to have her name, address, and other identifying information exempt from disclosure. She further requests that the Court authorize the winning ticket to be assigned to a trust that she has created for this purpose. Alternatively, Jane Doe requests that she be allowed to “white out” her name and replace the information with that of the trust she created.
Jane Doe is arguing that her privacy interests significantly outweigh the need for her information to become public. As a long-time resident of New Hampshire, and an engaged member of the community, she wishes to continue having the freedom to participate in community events and everyday activities without being targeted as the winner of half of a billion dollars.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, which is representing the Commission, filed a legal response arguing that releasing Jane Doe’s information is consistent with New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know law, in which lottery tickets with the winner’s name, hometown, and prize amounts must be released.
The Attorney General’s office is asserting that the public’s right to know who won the nation’s eighth-largest lottery jackpot does outweigh Jane Doe’s minimal privacy interests. They argue first that failing to publicize her identity could erode trust in the lottery system. Second, they argue that the disclosure of a person’s name and hometown does not implicate substantial privacy interests.
In order to make a determination on this case, the judge is going to have to look at the totality of the circumstances and balance the interests of both parties to determine which interest prevails: the privacy interests of Jane Doe, or the public’s interests in transparency in the operation of lottery games.
The $559.7 million Powerball jackpot is available for distribution and has been since January 22, 2018. Because Jane Doe has not yet submitted her ticket to the Commission, she is losing about $14,000 a day in interest. In consequence, a judge has allowed for the jackpot to be put into a temporary trust until a final ruling is made. It is unclear when Judge Charles Temple will decide the case.
“Regardless of whether the court ultimately decides in her favor, Ms. Doe has a strong interest in seeing this matter resolved as quickly as possible so that the prize can be claimed without further loss of interest.”
Aric Jenkins, New Hampshire’s Attorney General to Powerball Winner: You Can’t Remain Anonymous, Time (Feb. 13, 2018).
New Hampshire Powerball Winner Argues for Privacy But to Also Receive Winnings, CBS (Feb. 13, 2018).
Cleve R. Wootson Jr., All she has to do to collect a $560 million lotto jackpot is make her name public. She refuses., The Washington Post (Feb. 13, 2018).
Maurice Kreis, Jane Doe vs. Right-to-Know in NH: A Tragedy in the Making, InDepth.org (Feb. 16, 2018).
Complaint For Declaratory Judgement and Injunctive Relief and Request for Immediate and Expedited Hearing as Time is of the Essence, Jane Doe v. New Hampshire Lottery Commission (Jan. 29, 2018).
Photo courtesy via WEAU 13 News.