California courts have allowed plaintiffs to proceed with a pseudonym in a variety of cases. California statutory law specifically allows a party to bring a lawsuit using a pseudonym in cases involving juveniles,1 health care patients and staff,2 and victims who were deliberately infected with HIV.3 Additionally, plaintiffs often proceed pseudonymously on common law claims, but this is an area where the existing case law is underdeveloped.4 Existing case law, however, does not address in detail the proper use of pseudonyms in cases not covered by the statutes that provide for pseudonymity, nor does it set out an explicit balancing test for determining whether a party may proceed pseudonymously.
The use of “Doe plaintiffs” to protect legitimate privacy rights has been recognized as an appropriate practice in circumstances when a plaintiff would be further stigmatized by disclosing his or her name in court documents.5 The “Doe plaintiff” practice may be particularly appropriate where the facts of the case are of a sexual nature,6 or where the injured party complaints of cyber-harassment and invasions of privacy.7 When applying law to facts, it may be helpful to keep the federal multi-factor test in mind to help generate useful arguments for good cause.
Courts have found that the California Code of Civil Procedure does not prohibit pseudonymous litigation. Section 367 of the California Code of Civil Procedure states that “[e]very action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest, except as otherwise provided by statute.”8 However, California courts have interpreted Section 367 to mean that a lawsuit must be brought on behalf of a person having legal standing to commence the action, and not to control whether or not a pseudonym is appropriate in a given case.9
- 1. Cal. Rules of Court, Rule 8.401 (2011).
- 2. Cal. Civ. Code § 3427.3 (West 2011).
- 3. Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 120291 (West 2011).
- 4. See generally, Doe v. Saenz, 45 Cal. Rptr. 3d 126 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006), (three convicted felons were allowed to proceed pseudonymously to challenge State Department of Social Services’ decision seeking to preclude them from working at licensed community care facilities), Hooper v. Deukmejian (176 Cal. Rptr. 569 (Cal. Ct. App. 1981) (an individual convicted of maintaining a place for selling or using a narcotic was permitted to sue pseudonymously to determine whether he and others similarly situated were entitled to the benefits and protections of marijuana reform legislation), and Jane Doe 8015 v. Superior Court, 55 Cal. Rptr. 3d 708 (Cal. Ct. App. 2007) (a patient was allowed to bring an action against a laboratory using a pseudonym after it was determined that one of the laboratory’s phlebotomists had reused needles, resulting in the plaintiff’s contraction of HIV).
- 5. See Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court, 86 Cal. Rprtr. 3d 482, 495 n.7 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008) (noting that this practice “has gained wide currency, particularly given the rapidity and ubiquity of disclosures over the [internet.]”).
- 6. See, e.g., Doe v. City of Los Angeles, 67 Cal. Rptr. 3d 330 (2007) (former Boy Scouts sued under pseudonym based on allegations that city police officer sexually assaulted them while they were teenagers).
- 7. See, e.g., M.G. v. R.D., No. B159974, 2003 WL 21129878, at *3 (Cal. Ct. App. May 16, 2003) (Plaintiff was the victim of Defendant’s internet campaign to ruin Plaintiff’s reputation by disseminating private “sex tapes” and sending malicious emails about Plaintiff to Plaintiff’s friends, family, and co-workers).
- 8. Cal. Civ. Code, § 367 (West 2011).
- 9. Doe v. Lincoln Unified Sch. Dist., No. C062554, 2010 Cal. App. LEXIS 1505, at *8-9 (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 30, 2010).