Prosecuting or Defending a Civil Lawsuit Under a Fictitious Name

Last month, the Illinois Appellate Court issued a rare opinion interpreting section 2-401(e) of the Code of Civil Procedure, which allows a litigant to appear under a fictitious name upon a showing of “good cause.” In  Doe v Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 2014 IL App (1st) 140212, a group of plaintiffs filed complaints against Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation alleging that the defendants negligently allowed a cryogenic tank to fail causing damage to semen and testicular tissue stored in the tank. Most plaintiffs suffered from cancers which were likely to significantly interfere with their ability to engage in ordinary reproductive activities.

In affirming the trial court’s order allowing the use of pseudonyms, the court recognized that the use of pseudonyms is disfavored and reserved for “exceptional circumstances” involving “highly personal” matters such as abortion, adoption, sexual orientation, and religion.  Applying a balancing test, the court found that plaintiffs’ reproductive health and medical treatments were “extremely private and sensitive topics” and that individual privacy concerns outweighed the public’s interest in open court proceedings.

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