Filing Pseudonymously: Pennsylvania
Reported cases from Pennsylvania demonstrate that privacy plaintiffs can bring actions as Doe, and in case the court does discuss some factors for determining if pseudonymity is appropriate. Analogies could be drawn to the facts in the following cases that implicate a need for privacy in plaintiff’s identity:
Doe v. Zarkin, No. 5383 S 1996, 1998 WL 1093460 (Pa. D. & C.4th 1998) – Female Does sue for invasion of privacy and emotional distress stemming from a male co-employee who created a peephole to watch women use the women’s restroom. The court notes: “This case is a sensitive matter and the embarrassing, humiliating circumstances warrant the need for privacy.” Id. at *4. Defendant argued that PA.R.C.P. No. 1024 did not permit a fictitious name; however, the court noted the rule didn’t forbid fictitious names, and the defendant was not prejudiced as he knew the identity of the plaintiffs. Due to a split between two members of the panel in the absence of caselaw on point, the court decided that the records would be sealed but signed by the plaintiff’s true names.
Doe v. Johns-Manville Corp., 15 Pa. D. & C.3d 135, 1980 WL 616 (Pa. D. & C.3d 1980) – Doe sues employer for increased risk of asbestosis from his employment. Defendant objected to pseudonym, inter alia, and court sustains, as any adverse consequences to Doe are insufficient. Court notes federal cases with pseudonyms.
Doe v. Wyoming Valley Health Care System, Inc., 987 A.2d 758 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009) – Doe, employee of Defendant, was involved in union activities and brought suit for invasion of privacy after employer's agent disclosed portions of employee's record for job performance at an NLRB hearing. The court merely notes the use of the pseudonym.
Doe v. Curran, No. 97-CV-3636, 2000 WL 1283063 (Pa. D. & C.4th 2000) – Doe is patient of Defendant, a doctor, who initiates a sexual relationship and rape of Doe. No discussion of use of pseudonym.
Application of Milton S. Hershey Medical Center of Pennsylvania State University, 634 A.2d 159 (Pa. 1993) – Dr. Doe appeals decision of Medical Board to allow limited disclosure of his HIV positive status to his employer, a hospital. No discussion of pseudonym.
Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records
It provides in pertinent part that “[t]he caption of a complaint shall set forth . . . the names of all the parties . . . .”
PA. R.C.P. No. 1024: Verification of Pleading
“(a) Every pleading containing an averment of fact not appearing of record in the action or containing a denial of fact shall state that the averment or denial is true upon the signer's personal knowledge or information and belief and shall be verified. . . .”
Opinions are available and searchable from the last ninety days online, at http://www.courts.state.pa.us/T/Commonwealth/CommonwealthOpinions.htm (last visited Apr. 20, 2010).
42 PA. CON. STAT. § 6307 (2010) keeps juvenile court records confidential to some degree.
35 PA. STAT. ANN. § 7608 (2010) provides for confidentiality of records relating to HIV infection, and (d) allows for a pseudonym for an infected individual in court records.
Pennsylvania Pseudonym Law
↑ Back to top
While no specific statute or procedural rule permits suits to be filed under a pseudonym in Pennsylvania, there is case law supporting the practice in the context of sexual abuse and harassment.1 Accordingly, a plaintiff whose personal privacy has been violated may have a basis for seeking a court’s permission to proceed under a pseudonym.
Pennsylvania has a statute requiring that the name of a child victim of sexual or physical abuse not be made public in criminal prosecution. See 42 Pa.C.S.A. 5988. A plaintiff seeking to proceed pseudonymously may argue that this statute reflects a public policy in support of victim privacy.
Text of Statute
(1) § 5988 - Victims of sexual or physical abuse.
(a) Release of name prohibited.
[In] Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, in a prosecution involving a child victim of sexual or physical abuse, unless the court otherwise orders, the name of the child victim shall not be disclosed by officers or employees of the court to the public, and any records revealing the name of the child victim will not be open to public inspection.
Any person who violates this section commits a misdemeanor of the third degree.
Similarly, the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act provides that “all victims of crime are to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and sensitivity.” See 18 P.S. § 11.102(1)
§ 11.102. Legislative intent
The General Assembly finds and declares as follows:
(1) In recognition of the civic and moral duty of victims of crime to fully and voluntarily cooperate with law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies and in further recognition of the continuing importance of victim cooperation to State and local law enforcement efforts and the general effectiveness and well-being of the criminal justice system of this Commonwealth, all victims of crime are to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and sensitivity.
(2) The rights extended to victims of crime in Chapter 2 are to be honored and protected by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and judges in a manner no less vigorous than the protections afforded criminal defendants.
(1) Doe v. Zarkin, 40 Pa. D & C 4th 100 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1998)
(2) Doe v. Curran, 45 Pa. D & C 4th 544 (Pa. Com. Pl. 2000)
(a) Procedural Posture: Motion to dismiss complaint based on lack of proper verification
(b) Law: Victim privacy in pleadings/filing suit under a pseudonym
(c) Facts: The plaintiffs in the case were female employees who sued their employer, claiming their privacy was invaded when another employee spied on them while they used the bathroom.2 The defendant-employer argued that the complaint should be stricken because the plaintiffs had verified it using fictitious names (Jane Doe and Mary Doe).3 The court observed that fictitious names were used because the case involved “a sensitive matter and the embarrassing, humiliating circumstances warrant the need for privacy.” 4
(d) Outcome: The court concluded that the complaint would need to be verified using the plaintiffs’ legal names, but would be filed under seal to maintain their privacy.5
(e) Special Notes: The three-judge panel had three different views on the issue: (1) one judge thought the verification should be signed using the plaintiffs’ legal names and be public; (2) one judge thought it should use legal names but placed under seal; and (3) the third judge felt it was sufficient for the plaintiffs’ attorney to sign the verification on behalf of the plaintiffs under the fictitious names;
(a) Procedural Posture: Motion to strike allegation that plaintiff was unaware of defendant psychologist’s practice of initiating sexual relations with his patients.
(b) Law: Victim privacy in pleadings/filing suit under a pseudonym
(c) Facts: A psychologist’s patient sued him alleging negligence, gross negligence, medical battery, rape, and intentional inflection of emotional distress based on the psychologist coercing her into inappropriate sexual behavior.6 The defendant moved to strike the plaintiff’s allegation that she was unaware of his habit of instigating sexual contact with patients as well as her request for punitive damages.7
(d) Outcome: The court denied both requests.8
(e) Special Notes: While this case did not address the legality or propriety of proceeding under a pseudonym, the Plaintiff filed suit as “Jane Doe,” likely because her claims were premised on sexual abuse.
- An individual wishing to file suit under a pseudonym should consider filing a motion with the court seeking its permission to do so at the time the complaint is filed. The motion should outline the basis for the request, such as sensitive/embarrassing facts, the desire for privacy, etc.
- Verifications may need to be signed using the individual’s legal name, but can be placed under seal to maintain the plaintiff’s privacy.
- In addition to the cases discussed herein, see, e.g., Doe v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Case No. 2012 1935, 2013 WL 8338870 (Ct. Com. Pl. Jun. 13, 2013) (in which individuals alleging sexual abuse by priests filed suit under fictitious names); Doe v. Eckerd Corp., Case No 10479 of 2009, 2014 WL 11300399 Ct. Com. Pl. Jun. 12, 2014) (in which guardian of minor children who filed claims based on sexual assault at construction site used pseudonyms for herself and her children). ↩
- Doe v. Zarkin, 40 Pa. D & C 4th 100, 104 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1998). ↩
- Id. at 106. ↩
- Id. ↩
- Id. at 107. ↩
- Doe v. Curran, 45 Pa. D & C 4th 544, 546-47 (Pa. Com. Pl. 2000). ↩
- Id. at 547. ↩
- Id. at 557. ↩