Filing Pseudonymously: Connecticut
Connecticut has determined a correct procedure for filing pseudonymously in CONN. PRACTICE BOOK § 11-20A (2010) (see below). Several cases examine the procedural requirements and substantive privacy risks faced by plaintiffs requesting to proceed pseudonymously.
Jacobs (as PPA for John Doe) v. NAFI, Connecticut, Inc., No. CV075012305S, 2007 WL 4571159 (Conn.Super. Ct. 2007) – In examining the procedural requirements, the Connecticut Superior Court found that failure to follow the procedure outlined in the Practice Book was not an error leading to dismissal with prejudice. Jacobs, suing on behalf of the mentally disabled adult John Doe who alleged sexual assault by caretakers at his residential treatment facility, improperly filed the complaint using the pseudonym without receiving the proper prior judicial approval. Id. at 1. The court, sua sponte, raised the issue of subject matter jurisdiction regarding the failure to state the names of real parties in interest in the original complaint. Id. at 2. In its analysis, the court found that this error did not deprive the court of subject matter jurisdiction, as the contemporaneous filing of an affidavit with John Doe’s true name sufficiently informed both the court and the defendant of the true parties in action. The court also considered the merits of Doe’s request, and repeating a balancing test formulated by the Connecticut Supreme Court in Doe v. Diocese Corp., 647 A.2d 1067, 1070 (Conn. Supp. Ct. 1994): the privilege of using fictitious names in actions should be granted only in rare cases where the nature of issue litigated and the interest of the parties demand it and no harm can be done to the public interest. Id. at *4. The court held that because of the allegations of sexual abuse and the mental incompetency of the plaintiff, a pseudonym was warranted.
Doe v. Candido, No. CV095032785, 2010 WL 937260 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2010) – Doe was raped. In granting Plaintiff’s motion for use of the pseudonym according to the Practice Book, the court found that the pseudonym was in part warranted by “the publicity of the criminal aspect of this case [which] has garnered much media attention.” Id. at *1.
Other cases give examples of factual patterns for which Connecticut court allow pseudonyms under the Practice Book:
Doe v. Firn, No. CV065001087S, 2006 WL 2847885 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2006) – Doe was sexually abused by high school coach over two years; a criminal charge is pending. Defendant objects to pseudonym, arguing Doe publicized her image, name, and the case on the internet, in addition to the widespread media attention to the case. The court rejected the defendant’s argument because Doe’s MySpace page did not specifically identify her as the plaintiff, or refer to allegations int eh complaint, and the fact that there was a strong interest in preventing disclosure of minor victims of sexual abuse.
Doe v. Curtis, No. CV095028697, 2010 WL 936781 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2010) – Doe is a minor who alleges his father sexually abused him for years. The court finds that Plaintiff met his burden under the Practice Book as the “details of the sexual assaults and the subsequent damages are highly sensitive and would likely lead to further injury and social stigmatization if the minor plaintiff's name was to be disclosed and if the name of the minor plaintiff's mother was to be disclosed.” Id. at 3. See also Doe v. Brown*, No. FBTCV095024074S, 2009 WL 5322462 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2009) (allowing pseudonym for minor sexually abused by step-father, and for her mother under similar reasoning).
Not all applications for pseudonyms in causes of action alleging sexual abuse warrant them in the Connecticut courts, however:
- Doe v. St. John, No. CV055000443S, 2006 WL 1149224 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2006) – John Doe and John Roe, alleging sexual abuse as 19 year olds by a junior firefighters leader, were unsuccessful in their appeal of the trial court’s denial of their motion to proceed as “Does.” Does correctly followed the procedure from the Practice Book, but failed to point to more severe harm to them than mere embarrassment and potential economic harm. Id. at *4.
Many cases have minors sue pseudonymously for claims arising from sexual abuses; however, Connecticut has codified protections, including privacy, for victims of sexual abuse, which weigh in favor of a court’s decision to grant pseudonymity. See, e.g., Doe v. Hartford Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., 900 A.2d 572 (Conn. Ct. App., 2006) (Does are adults but claims stem from sexual abuse by priests when they were minors; court notes it protects sexual abuse victims’ privacy with Doe pseudonyms pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-86(e)).
Pseudonymous plaintiffs also litigated HIV-related claims (see, e.g., Doe v. Yale University, 791 A.2d 727 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2000), rev’d by 748 A.2d 834 (Conn. 2000) (acknowledging pseudonym in footnote); Doe v. Bridgeport Hosp., 671 A.2d 405 (Conn. Ct. App. 1996) (damages arising from misdiagnosis as HIV positive)). Other cases with Doe plaintiffs involve medical information or conditions (see, e.g., Midstate Medical Center v. Doe, 898 A.2d 282 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2006)).
Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records
The Connecticut Practice Book outlines the correct procedure for filing using a pseudonym, in contrast to many states that lack procedural guidelines.
CONN. PRACTICE BOOK § 11-20A (2010): Sealing Files or Limiting Disclosure of Documents in Civil Cases
[Procedure for judge to weigh public interests and private interests for sealing documents. Narrower alternatives must not be practicable, such as the use of pseudonyms.]
(h) (1) Pseudonyms may be used in place of the name of a party or parties only with the prior approval of the judicial authority and only if the judicial authority concludes that such order is necessary to preserve an interest which is determined to override the public's interest in knowing the name of the party or parties. The judicial authority shall first consider reasonable alternatives to any such order and any such order shall be no broader than necessary to protect such overriding interest. The judicial authority shall articulate the overriding interest being protected and shall specify its findings underlying such order and the duration of such order. If any findings would reveal information entitled to remain confidential, those findings may be set forth in a sealed portion of the record. The time, date, scope and duration of any such order shall forthwith be reduced to writing and be signed by the judicial authority and be entered by the court clerk in the court file. The judicial authority shall order that a transcript of its decision be included in the file or prepare a memorandum setting forth the reasons for its order. An agreement of the parties that pseudonyms be used shall not constitute a sufficient basis for the issuance of such an order. The authorization of pseudonyms pursuant to this section shall be in place of the names of the parties required by Section 7-4A. [Further procedure is outlined in following sections.]
CONN. PRACTICE BOOK § 25-59A (2010): Sealing Files or Limiting Disclosure of Documents in Family Matters
[A similar procedure to above is spelled out.]
Advance Release Opinions (last visited Apr. 20, 2010) provides appellate and Supreme Court opinions since 2000. They are not text-searchable.
CONN. GEN. STAT. § 19a-583 (2010): Limitations on disclosure of HIV-related information
(10) Any person allowed access to such information [i.e., a person with access to confidential HIV-related information] by a court order which is issued in compliance with the following provisions: . . . (B) Pleadings pertaining to disclosure of confidential HIV-related information shall substitute a pseudonym for the true name of the subject of the test. The disclosure to the parties of the subject's true name shall be communicated confidentially, in documents not filed with the court.