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Seventh Circuit: Falsely Accused Man, Conviction Expunged, Cannot Sue Anonymously

By Christopher Zoukis

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that a man who was falsely accused of a crime and later had his record expunged cannot sue for malicious prosecution anonymously.

John Doe alleged that he was arrested in the Village of Deerfield, Illinois based on false statements given to the police by Lisa Batchelder and Gary Zalesny. Although Village of Deerfield authorities became aware of the falsity of these statements, they refused to dismiss the case against Doe. Doe was acquitted, and his arrest and prosecution records were later expunged.

Doe anonymously sued Batchelder, Zalesny and the Village of Deerfield for violation of his right to equal protection and for malicious prosecution under Illinois state law. Doe claimed that his arrest and prosecution were "conducted in retaliation for a previous lawsuit he filed against a Village of Deerfield police officer."

The defendants all moved for dismissal of the suit for failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a), which requires the true names of the parties in the caption of a lawsuit. The District Court granted the dismissal without prejudice, and Doe appealed.

The appellate court first looked at whether the denial of leave to proceed anonymously is an immediately appealable order, a question of first impression in the Seventh Circuit. After reviewing the law and opinions of sister circuits, the court held that it was an immediately appealable order.

Unfortunately, though Doe "won the jurisdictional battle," the appellate court upheld the dismissal of his case. Balancing Doe's interests -- having to use his real name would "defeat the purpose of his criminal expungement" and lead to embarrassment -- against the public's right to know the identity of parties in federal litigation, the court ruled in favor of full disclosure.

Upholding the district court, the Seventh Circuit noted that Doe "had not presented exceptional circumstances justifying use of a fictitious name in a civil suit he voluntarily filed."

Because Doe's case was dismissed without prejudice, nothing in the court's order would prevent him from refiling, using his real name.

Case:  Doe v. Village of Deerfield, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Case No. 15-2069 (April 12, 2016).

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Related legal case

Doe v. Village of Deerfield



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