The law generally requires plaintiffs to file lawsuits using their real names, because defendants have the right to face and respond to their accusers. However, there are times when filing a lawsuit anonymously is necessary to prevent further harm from befalling the plaintiff (e.g. retaliation from defendant). Whether you'll be able to file the suit using a pseudonym depends on the laws in your state and other factors. Here's what you need to know.
The Reason for Anonymity Is Critical
The most important thing a judge will consider when deciding whether to let a lawsuit from an anonymous plaintiff proceed is why the person wants to remain essentially faceless. If the judge doesn't feel the plaintiff's reason for wanting to stay anonymous trumps the defendant's rights (or the public's right to know), then he or she will reject the plaintiff's attempt to remain nameless.
Although judges make their decisions on a case by case basis, there are a few situations where it's more likely a judge will rule in your favor. You may be able to continue suing anonymously if:
- There's a risk of retaliation against you (the retaliation can come in any form)
- You are legally a minor
- It will prevent highly sensitive information from being released
- No one is opposed to you remaining anonymous
- The publicity of the case will have a severe negative impact on your life
For instance, in the case of Doe vs. Rostker, the plaintiff was allowed to remain anonymous to prevent the disclosure of his alcoholism from affecting his social or professional standing.
It's best to discuss your reasoning with your attorney, who can help you decide if it will be acceptable to a judge. You can then discuss other options for protecting your privacy if it seems like your request will be denied.
Your State Law Will Inform the Judge's Opinion
Judges do have some flexibility when it comes to deciding whether to allow a plaintiff to use a pseudonym. However, most try to stick to the law to prevent future legal problems arising. For instance, letting a plaintiff sue anonymously could be grounds for an appeal. Thus, you need to also consider what the laws in your state say about filing an anonymous lawsuit and follow any procedures required.
For example, Georgia doesn't require filings to contain the plaintiff's name, so a plaintiff can continue using a pseudonym. In Mississippi, however, filings must contain the name of all parties, though the courts do permit the use of only first names in certain pleadings.
You can usually find out what your state's rules regarding anonymous pleadings by consulting an attorney, but you can also obtain some of the same information by searching online. Even if your state requires full disclosure from the plaintiff, there may be ways around the law, so it's always a good idea to follow up with an attorney for more information and advice.
Anyone Can Challenge Your Anonymity
Even though you may be granted anonymity by a judge, it's important to understand that anyone can challenge your use of pseudonym and ask the court to disclose your identity. Of course, the objector would need to furnish proof that the right to disclosure is more important than your privacy concerns.
For instance, a journalist can object to your anonymity on the grounds that the First Amendment guarantees the right of access to public legal matters. If the First Amendment concerns outweigh your reasoning for using a pseudonym, then you may be required to put your name on your lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit anonymously can be a very complex matter. It's best to have a personal injury attorney assist you to ensure you get the outcome you want.