Filing Pseudonymously: Colorado
Colorado appellate courts have considered the use of pseudonyms in one prominent case, adopting the federal Stegall balancing test.
- Doe v. Heitler, 26 P.3d 539 (Colorado Ct. App. 2001) – Plaintiff Doe is patient of Defendant, a psychiatrist, and a cocaine user. Plaintiff sues for breach of doctor-patient confidentiality when Defendant discloses Plaintiff’s cocaine use in a referral to another doctor. The court considered (a) the merits of the plaintiff’s argument to proceed anonymously and (b) whether the lower court erred in dismissing the complaint without giving the plaintiff leave to amend the complaint with his true name. Id. The court held that Plaintiff failed to show sufficient interest in proceeding anonymously under the Stegall test, yet Plaintiff was free to amend his complaint under Colorado procedural rules to state his true name and proceed with the suit.
Colorado courts have also stated that the public’s interest in open court records, per the Open Records Act, also meant that the Stegall test applies whenever parties seek to seal court records pursuant to a settlement.
- Anderson v. Home Insurance Co., 924 P.2d 1123 (Colo. Ct. App. 1996) – Martinez, in a similar situation to Anderson vis-à-vis Home Insurance Co., sought to unseal records of settlement. The appellate court held that the appropriate test for sealing records was the Stegall balancing test, and that the lower court improperly sealed records as it did not apply the correct test. Remanded to lower court to determine if any particular records were in special need of sealing.
Also of note is one case in which a plaintiff bringing privacy torts successfully sued as Doe, suggesting that Colorado’s application of Stegall is not bounded by the facts of Anderson or Heitler.
- Doe v. High-Tech Institute, Inc., 972 P.2d 1060 (Colo. Ct. App. 1998) – Plaintiff Doe is a medical student who authorized rubella, not HIV, tests. Subsequent HIV testing by defendant leads to plaintiff’s claims for disclosure of private facts and intrusion upon seclusion. Plaintiff lost at trial court. Appellate court does not mention pseudonymity.
Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records
COL. R. CIV. PRO. 10 (2010): Form and Quality of Pleadings, Motions and Other Documents: Annotation II.The public has an interest in disclosure of who the parties to an action are. A party may use a pseudonym for the name of a party upon a motion to the court. The court in determining whether use of a pseudonym for a party is appropriate shall evaluate: Whether the justification asserted by the requesting party is merely to avoid the annoyance and criticism that may attend any litigation or is to preserve privacy in a matter of a sensitive and highly personal nature; whether identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to the requesting party or to innocent non-parties; whether the action is against a governmental or a private party; whether the plaintiff would be compelled to admit his or her intention to engage in illegal conduct, thereby risking criminal prosecution; and the risk of unfairness to the opposing party from allowing an action against it to proceed anonymously. A pseudonym may not be used merely to avoid embarrassment, humiliation, or economic loss. Doe v. Heitler, 26 P.3d 539 (Colo. App. 2001).
The Colorado State Judicial Branch’s website does not provide online access to trial court documents. It directs a reader to third-party sites that charge for access to cases. See Public Acces: Court Records Search (last visited Apr. 20, 2010). Colorado's State Court websites provide access to some recent appellate opinions, and Supreme Court opinions from the past twelve months. See also Colorado Bar Association website for an easier format.
COL. R. CIV. PRO. 121 (2010): Local Rules—Statewide Practice Standards: District Court Practice Standards: Section 1-5: Limitation of Access to Court Files
Nature of Order.
Upon motion by any party named in any civil action, the court may limit access to court files. The order of limitation shall specify the nature of limitation, the duration of the limitation, and the reason for limitation.
When Order Granted.
An order limiting access shall not be granted except upon a finding that the harm to the privacy of a person in interest out weighs the public interest.
Application for Order.
A motion for limitation of access may be granted, ex parte, upon motion filed with the complaint, accompanied by supporting affidavit or at a hearing concerning the motion.
Review by Order.
Upon notice to all parties of record, and after hearing, an order limiting access may be reviewed by the court at any time on its own motion or upon the motion of any person.