What’s in a name?

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law, and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal-injury. His column “Law and Wellness” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s blog is written by Karen Munoz.

The Illinois Supreme Court, in Rogasciano Santiago v. E.W. Bliss Company et al. 2012 IL 111792, recently handed down its decision with respect to the filing of a complaint using a fictitious name without leave of the court. Also discussed was whether the circuit court should dismiss a plaintiff’s cause of action with prejudice as the plaintiff’s amended complaint with the correct name does not relate back to the initial filing.

The issue in this employment law case involved a complaint filed under the name “Juan Ortiz.” The plaintiff was known as “Juan Ortiz” by his employers. When the plaintiff was being deposed, he stated his name was “Rogasciano Santiago,” but that he also used the name “Juan Ortiz.” Santiago assumed the name Ortiz to gain employment in the United States. Santiago had a separate ID card for Ortiz with a different date of birth. The circuit court allowed the plaintiff to file a second amended complaint to add the name “Rogasciano Santiago” as the plaintiff’s name.

The defendant’s motion to dismiss was denied when they argued that the plaintiff’s complaint was null and void as it was not filed in the plaintiff’s real name. The appellate court was charged with deciding if the case should be dismissed with prejudice as a sanction for the misfiling or if the case should be dismissed as the limitations period has expired and the amended complaint did not relate back to the initial filing. The appellate court held that where a plaintiff intentionally files a case under a fictitious name, without the permission of the court, then the court must dismiss the case as the original complaint is a nullity, the limitations period has expired and the amended complaint cannot relate back to the initial finding.

The majority of the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the appellate court and remanded the case to circuit court to determine on the facts of the case if the plaintiff showed deliberate and continuing disregard for the court’s authority. The circuit court is also to decide if a finding of lesser sanctions is inadequate to remedy both the harm to the judiciary and the prejudice to the opposing party. Regarding the validity of a complaint filed under a fictitious name, the Supreme Court held that the original complaint is not a nullity, per se, and an amended complaint rectifying the complainant’s name may relate back to the initial filing.

Justice Robert R. Thomas in his dissenting judgment stated that the original complaint was a nullity as it is in derogation of the common law and so there is nothing for a subsequent complaint to relate back to. The majority view was that dismissal of a complaint is justified only when (1) there is a clear record of willful conduct showing deliberate and continuing disregard for the court’s authority; and (2) a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate to remedy both the harm to the judiciary and the prejudice to the opposing party.

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