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Doe v. Archdiocese of Atlanta

Court of Appeals of Georgia

July 15, 2014

DOE
v.
ARCHDIOCESE OF ATLANTA et al

Cert. applied for.

Pleadings; pseudonym. Fulton State Court. Before Judge Porter.

Don C. Keenan, Robertson, Bodoh & Nasrallah, Mathew G. Nasrallah, for appellent.

Smith, Gambrell & Russell, Stephen M. Forte, Dana M. Richens, for appellees.

DILLARD, Judge. Doyle, P. J., and Miller, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 865

Dillard, Judge.

Jane Doe appeals from the trial court's dismissal of her lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Holy Cross Catholic Church (collectively, " the Church" ), on the ground that the suit, filed using a pseudonym, was a legal nullity. Because we hold that the trial court erred in concluding that the complaint was void, we reverse. We further hold that the trial court has the discretion to consider whether Doe is entitled to proceed under a pseudonym and, therefore, remand the case for consideration of that issue in a manner consistent with this opinion.

[328 Ga.App. 325] The undisputed facts are as follows. On September 4, 2012, Doe filed a complaint against the Church using the pseudonym " Jane Doe" and alleged that she, now the age of majority, had been the victim of childhood sexual abuse from a former Church employee. Three days later, Doe's counsel sent the Church a copy of the complaint with a letter revealing Doe's identity and explaining that, " given the sensitive nature of the allegations," the complaint had been filed under a pseudonym in order " to protect the identity and avoid future injury to [Doe]" and asking the Church to advise if it objected to her doing so.[1] And then on September 14, 2012, Doe filed a " notice of disclosure of identity of plaintiff Jane Doe," in which she identified herself under seal to the trial court. Each of the foregoing actions transpired prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations on Doe's claims.[2]

The Church answered and filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that Doe's complaint was a procedural nullity because it had not been filed in the name of a real person and that, as the statute of limitations had since expired, she could not amend her complaint so as to relate back to the originally filed pleading. The trial court agreed and dismissed Doe's lawsuit with prejudice. This appeal follows.

We begin by noting that this case involves two independent issues for our consideration. The first is whether Doe's filing of a lawsuit using a pseudonym rendered it a nullity, such that Doe is now barred--due to the expiration of the statute of limitations--from amending the complaint or otherwise litigating her claims against the Church. If not, the second question is whether Doe must

Page 866

amend her complaint so as to reveal her identity, or whether she may proceed with the lawsuit using a fictitious name. For the reasons set forth infra, we answer the first question in the negative and remand this case to the trial court for it to exercise its discretion in determining the second issue.

1. In general, Georgia law mandates that parties to a lawsuit identify themselves in their respective pleadings[3] and that every action be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.[4] And prior to the passage of the Civil Practice Act, the Supreme Court of [328 Ga.App. 326] Georgia, in Western and Atlantic R. Co. v. Dalton Marble Works,[5] held that if a lawsuit is " brought in a name which is neither that of a natural person, a corporation, nor a partnership, it is a mere nullity" [6] and, as such, cannot be amended by inserting the name of the proper party in interest, " there ...


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