Filing Under a Pseudonym
The Michigan court of appeals looked to the federal courts and the Stegall test in a 1982 case concerning a psychologist who had sex with his patient, Doe:
- Doe v. Bodwin, 326 N.W.2d 473 (Mich. Ct. App. 1982) – Doe appealed the trial court’s denial of her motion to proceed pseudonymously. At the time, the issue was novel and only three Michigan cases had tacitly allowed Doe plaintiffs. The court looked to federal cases, and used a three factor balancing test from Stegall: “(1) prosecution of the suit compels the plaintiff to disclose information of a private nature; (2) the plaintiff seeks to challenge governmental or private activity; and (3) the plaintiff is compelled to admit an intention to engage in illegal conduct.” Id. at 475. The court noted that federal cases granting pseudonymity had a “common thread”: “the presence of some social stigma or the threat of physical harm to the plaintiff” from divulging their identity publicly. Id. The court used an abuse of discretion standard, as in Stegall, and found that the trial court failed to exercise discretion, as the trial judge approached the matter as already decided against Doe, and remanded to a new judge.
Privacy tort plaintiffs have successfully litigated under pseudonyms:
- Doe v. Mills, 536 N.W.2d 824 (Mich. Ct. App. 1995) – Doe and Roe sought abortions and are met by Defendants bearing signs with their true names, obtained from records in a dumpster, outside the abortion clinic, urging Doe and Roe not to undergo the procedures. Plaintiffs sue for invasion of privacy and public disclosure of embarrassing facts. The court does not discuss the pseudonyms.
Other cases with no mention of why plaintiff proceeds as Doe include HIV issues:
- Doe v. American Medical Pharmacies, Inc., 2002 WL 857766 (Mich. Ct. App. 2002) (Doe sues for emotional distress caused by revelation of his HIV positive status to family members and community when pharmacist yells it out loud in doctors waiting room).
- Doe v. Department of Corrections, 641 N.W.2d 269 (Mich. Ct. App. 2001) (Does are female prisoners bringing civil rights challenge to their denial of placement on work farms, allegedly because they are HIV positive).
There are also cases stemming from sexual assault in which courts allow, tacitly, Doe plaintiffs:
- Doe v. Department of Social Services, 487 N.W.2d 166 (Mich. 1992) (Minor Doe and her mother sue for refund from abortion due to rape of Doe, bringing a constitutional challenge to law preventing Medicaid from funding abortion); Doe v. Shapiro, No. 273950, 2008 WL 583556 (Mich. Ct. App. 2008) (not reported) (Does are sexually assaulted while under anesthesia by their doctor); Doe v. City of Detroit, No. 225409, 2002 WL 1747946 (Mich. Ct. App. 2002) (Doe alleged she is raped by police officer); Doe v. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Archdiocese of Detroit, 692 N.W.2d 39 (Mich. Ct. App. 2004) (Doe sues for sexual assault when he was a child). Plaintiffs are also pseudonymous in family cases, such as Doe v. Oettle, 293 N.W.2d 760 (Mich. Ct. App. 1980) (Doe mother challenges parental rights termination, no discussion of pseudonym).
Family law cases also allow pseudonymous plaintiffs.
- Doe v. Kelley, 307 N.W.2d 438 (Mich. Ct. App. 1981) – Plaintiffs bring constitutional challenge against state’s adoption code which prevents payment in exchange for adoption or related proceedings, including surrogate motherhood.
Some cases define easy categorization, and Michigan courts allowed pseudonymity:
- Doe v. Oceola Tp., 270 N.W.2d 254 (Mich. Ct. App. 1978) (Doe trespasses in a field and then tries to claim the suitcase stuffed with money he allegedly found there); Doe v. Department of Management & Budget, No. 183993, 1997 WL 33353447 (Mich. Ct. App. 1997) (Doe brings contract claim against state lottery alleging he had winning ticket).
Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records
MICH. COMP. LAWS ANN. § 2.113 (2004)
(D)(1) “In a complaint, the title of the action must include the names of all the parties, with the plaintiff's name placed first.”
Michigan published opinions back to 1/2001 and unpublished opinions back to July 1996 are searchable at http://coa.courts.mi.gov/resources/opinions.htm (last visited Apr. 20, 2010).