Senate committee to hear bill permitting plaintiffs in all civil cases to proceed anonymously

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear a measure that would allow plaintiffs in civil matters, as a default, to pursue their claim using a pseudonym unless the defendant objects.

Sponsored by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, AB 2185 by Assembly member David Chiu (D-San Francisco) would limit who could challenge the plaintiff’s use of a pseudonym to only a party in the proceeding. If a party fails to challenge the plaintiff’s use of a pseudonym, the court would be required to allow the plaintiff to proceed anonymously and to shield from public disclosure the plaintiff’s name in the proceedings and records.

Opposed by CNPA, the bill would allow the defendant and other parties to obtain the plaintiff’s identity while keeping it secret from the public.

If a party challenges the plaintiff’s desire for anonymity, AB 2185 provides the court with criteria to weigh when determining the plaintiff’s need for anonymity.

The criteria include the constitutional standards required before a court record can be sealed or court proceedings can be closed but then it adds a few additional factors such as: whether identification of the plaintiff poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm to either the party identified or to innocent nonparties; whether the plaintiff legitimately fears that revealing his or her identity could subject him or her to imminent actions that could result in his or her removal from the United States; and the age of a person whose privacy interests are sought to be protected.

The bill does not require the court to articulate it’s findings on the record once it makes a determination. Also, since the court is required to recognize the plaintiff’s mere assertion that he or she needs to proceed anonymously, there is no requirement that the public be notified that the plaintiff wants to proceed anonymously.