Filing Pseudonymously: Indiana
One reported case, Doe v. Town of Plainfield, 860 N.E.2d 1204 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), examines a motion to proceed pseudonymously in the context of a sex offender challenging the placement of his information on the state’s sex offender registry, and creates a clear precedent. Doe brought an interlocutory appeal of a reconsideration of his motion, originally granted, to proceed pseudonymously. This was a case of first impression for the court. Id. at 1206-07. It looked to federal courts for guidance, citing Doe v. Shakur and James v. Jacobs, created a non-exhaustive nine-factor test, and balanced privacy and safety interests against state procedural rule, Ind. Admin. Rule 9(A), which stated the purposes and background presumption of open records. The court reversed, allowing Doe to proceed pseudonymously.
Because Plainfield involves a sex offender, it is useful to look beyond its facts in order to create analogies for non-criminal privacy plaintiffs.
One case allows a plaintiff with a privacy claim, invasion of privacy, to proceed pseudonymously: in Doe v. Methodist Hosp., 690 N.E.2d 681 (Ind. 1997), Doe discloses HIV positive status to paramedics during heart attack and hospital workers spread the information to Doe’s co-workers at his postal job. The court, however, does not mention the pseudonym.
Other reported cases with Doe plaintiffs and no discussion of pseudonymity are less likely to provide helpful analogies to privacy plaintiffs seeking to proceed pseudonymously, such as cases where minors are involved in sexual harassment (Roe v. North Adams Community School Corp., 647 N.E.2d 655 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995) (Doe and Roe videotaped in locker room)) or sexual relations (Doe v. United Methodist Church, 673 N.E.2d 839 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996) (Doe coerced into sexual relationship with minister)). Family court matters are also not particularly helpful to analogize to (see, e.g., Roe v. Doe, 289 N.E.2d 528 (Ind. App. 1972) (custody dispute; no mention of pseudonym)), nor are cases with incapacitated adult plaintiffs (see, e.g., Res-Care, Inc. v. Indiana Family and Social Services Admin., 701 N.E.2d 1259 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998) (no mention of pseudonym in challenge to administrative ruling on Medicaid)).
Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records
Ind. R. Trial P. 10 (2009): Form of pleading.
(A) Caption -- Names of parties Every pleading shall contain a caption setting forth the name of the court, the title of the action, the file number, and a designation as in Rule 7(A). In the complaint the title of the action shall include the names of all the parties, but in other pleadings it is sufficient to state the name of the first party on each side with an appropriate indication of other parties.
Indiana Courts Appellate Opinions, both published and unpublished, are available at the Indiana Courts website (last visited Apr. 20, 2010).
IND. ADMIN. RULE 9(A): Access to court records.
This rule outlines the state’s rule regarding public access to court records.
Indiana Pseudonym Law
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Indiana does not have a state statute pertaining to the use of pseudonyms when filing a cause of action. Indiana courts have recognized "that proceeding under a fictitious name is an unusual measure reserved for exceptional cases" and that "[t]here is no simple formula for determining when this unusual procedure is appropriate."1
- Doe v. Town of Plainfield, 860 N.E.2d 1204 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)
- Procedural Posture: Interlocutory appeal from a trial court's grant of a motion to reconsider an order that had allowed the plaintiff to proceed pseudonymously
- Law: Use of a pseudonym
- Facts: In connection with a suit seeking a declaratory judgment that a local ordinance prohibiting individuals listed on the State of Indiana Sex Offender Registry from all parks and other recreational areas in the town was unconstitutional, a sex offender plaintiff filed a motion to allow him to proceed in the suit pseudonymously. The trial court granted plaintiff's motion to proceed as "Doe." The town defendant requested the trial court to reconsider its order. The trial court granted the defendant's motion and ordered that the disclosure of Doe's identity be stayed for thirty days or until a ruling on the interlocutory appeal.
- Outcome: The appellate court noted that there was no Indiana case in which the use of a pseudonym was challenged. As a result, the court looked to federal law for guidance on the issue and noted a non-exhaustive list of factors identified by other courts as factors that should be considered in determining whether a plaintiff's interest in privacy is so significant as to outweigh the strong presumption favoring public identification of litigants. The appellate court analyzed the four factors identified by plaintiff as supporting his position and found that plaintiff did not waive his legal right to proceed pseudonymously by writing a letter to the defendant prior to the suit in which plaintiff threatened legal action against the defendant because nothing in that letter connected plaintiff to the case outside of the defendant's and his legal counsel's knowledge. The appellate court concluded that plaintiff's need for anonymity outweighed the presumption of openness in judicial proceedings and reversed and remanded the trial court's grant of the defendant's motion to reconsider.
- Special Notes: Because this case involves a sex offender, it is useful to look beyond its facts in order to create analogies for non-criminal privacy plaintiffs. For example, Doe v. Methodist Hospital is a case that allows a plaintiff with an invasion of privacy claim to proceed pseudonymously. 2 In that case, the plaintiff disclosed his HIV-positive status to paramedics during a heart attack and hospital workers subsequently disclosed the information to the plaintiff's co-workers at his postal job. The court in Doe v. Methodist Hospital, however, does not discuss the plaintiff's use of a pseudonym in the case.
- In re the Paternity of K.D., 929 N.E.2d 863 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010)
- Procedural Posture: Appeal of a trial court order prohibiting discussion of legal proceedings
- Law: Use of a pseudonym; right of privacy; right of free speech
- Facts: In a custody battle for a child born out of wedlock, the mother alleged that the father had sexually abused the child. After the juvenile court concluded that the sexual abuse allegations against the father were unsubstantiated and the mother's appeals to state government officials did not result in any action satisfactory to the mother, the mother decided to take her story to a local newspaper, which published several articles related to the mother's allegations of sexual abuse against the father. The father filed two petitions for rule to show cause. In one of the petitions, he asked the juvenile court to find the mother in contempt for having discussed the court's custody "order and on-going proceedings" with the local newspaper in violation of the Indiana Code of Juvenile Law. The juvenile court issued an order that denied the father's petitions for rule to show cause and also prohibited the mother from talking to the news media about the case. The mother appealed the juvenile court order, alleging that the order violated her right to free speech. The appellate court noted that the mother's desire to challenge the juvenile court order in the news media constituted political speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that the juvenile court order prohibiting such speech constituted a prior restraint. In determining whether such prior restraint was valid, the appellate court analyzed whether the mother's exercise of her free speech right infringed on the rights of those individuals affected by her speech (i.e., the father and the child). The appellate court's analysis focused on the competing constitutional rights of the mother (right to free speech) and the child (right to privacy in personal matters).
- Outcome: Although the appellate court indicated that the mother's right to free speech is not per se superior to the child's right of privacy, the court concluded that it could prohibit the disclosure of the child's name as well as the use of a pseudonym closely associated with the child's name. 3 The appellate court noted, however, that such prohibitions did not assure that the child's identity would remain confidential and that the mother's right to free speech entitled her to name herself, the father and other adults involved in the case, subject only to a tort action for defamation. 4 The appellate court reversed the juvenile court's order and remanded the case to the juvenile court for the court to enter a new order in accordance with the appellate court's opinion and that specifically prohibited the mother from disclosing information the mother learned exclusively through the juvenile proceedings and from disclosing the child's name and using a pseudonym similar to the child's name.5
- Special Notes: The outcome in this case is limited to the circumstances, and the balance that the appellate court struck will not necessarily protect an alleged victim's identity, as a person may still exercise his or her free speech rights by publishing personal information. In addition, note that the appellate court in this case did not have any evidence before it that showed that the alleged victim suffered actual harm as a result of the news articles published in the local newspaper and, thus, did not consider whether evidence of such harm could be shown and whether that would change the result in the case.
- Doe v. Town of Plainfield, 860 N.E.2d 1204 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007)