Filing Pseudonymously: Washington


  1. Washington
  1. Washington

    1. Caselaw

      Several reported cases in Washington have Doe plaintiffs bringing privacy claims. The opinions briefly treat the use of pseudonyms, demonstrating it is possible for privacy-tort plaintiffs to protect their identities. The following cases could provide helpful analogies:

      • Doe v. Gonzaga University, 24 P.3d 390 (Wash. 2001), rev’d by 536 U.S. 273 – Doe was elementary education graduate student at Defendant university, whose moral character document, necessary to obtain employment as a teacher, was refused by Defendant, at which point Doe becomes cognizant of various Defendant’s employees’ spread of rumors and stories concerning an improper or forced sexual relationship between Doe and a girlfriend, who herself denies any accusation of rape. Doe sues pseudonymously for inter alia invasion of privacy and defamation. The court notes that although the trial transcript reveals his true name, Doe continues to be identified in the opinion as Doe, as well as the girlfriend who was not a party.

      • Bellevue John Does 1-11 v. Bellevue School District #405, 120 P.3d 616 (Wash. App. 2005) – Does are public school teachers whose sexual misconduct files created by the school board are set to be released to the public. Does challenge the release. The court finds in favor of those Doe plaintiffs who were falsely accused as the public could have no interest in their identities, but not in favor of those Does for whom the accusations were unresolved, yet could plausibly have been true. The Does sue under the state’s mini-FOIA statute; however, the statute does not address suing pseudonymously, and the court does not treat the issue directly.

      • Doe v. Puget Sound Blood Center, 819 P.2d 370 (Wash. 1991) – Doe gets HIV and AIDS from a blood transfusion at Defendant center. The instant matter is an appeal discovery request for the blood donor’s name, which the Court denies. However, the Court also notes that “[t]he actual names of the plaintiff-blood recipient and his wife were disclosed in the original pleadings. Those names have been changed to John and Jane Doe and John Doe's estate substituted for the deceased blood recipient. The file was sealed pursuant to stipulation.” Id. at 372.

      One case demonstrates that Washington courts allow pseudonyms where plaintiffs expose themselves to criminal charges in their civil suits:

      • Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Management (Colorado), LLC, 216 P.3d 1055 (Wash. App. 2009) – Roe challenges resciccion of conditional employment offer after she tests positive for opiates. The Court notes: “The appellant uses the pseudonym Jane Roe’ because the medical use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.” Id. at 1057 n.1.

      Another case demonstrates factors weighing against pseudonyms:

      • Doe v. Corp. of President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 167 P.3d 1193(Wash. App. 2007) – Does sue for sexual abuse as minors. On appeal the court names the plaintiff in the opinion, noting the reasons: “because their identity was reveled and used in their own briefing” and because they are no longer under 18. Id. at 1196 n.2.

      Washington cases also demonstrate that family law claims may be made by pseudonymous plaintiffs. See, e.g., In re Welfare of M.T. 848 P.2d 1302 (Wash. App. 1993) (parental termination; no discussion of pseudonym).

    2. Filing Requirements & Availability of Court Records

      Wash. CR 10 (2009): Form of pleadings and other papers

      (a)(1) “Names of parties 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.”

      Published and unpublished Supreme Court and courts of appeals opinions available at (last visited Apr. 20, 2010). Some historical opinions are available at

    3. Relevant Statutes

      • Wash. GR 15 (2009) presents the rule and procedure for sealing or redacting court records.

      • Wash. GR 31 (2009) states that court records are in general open to public access.

      • Wash. JISCR 15 (2009) pertains to dissemination of information in court records by computer. One factor to be considered before data is released is “(f)(3) Potential for infringement of personal privacy created by release of the information requested.”

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