Court of Appeals hears arguments, re: “Jane Doe” status for sexual assault victims

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Zochowski Law, PLLC, 100 E. Big Beaver Rd., Ste. 900, Troy, MI 48083

Contact: Scott Zochowski

Telephone: (248) 548-6800

On Tuesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals heard the case of Jane Doe v. Vidal Borromeo and Beaumont Hospital. The case addresses privacy rights of sexual assault survivors. Although the Plaintiff (“Ms. Doe”) won a $500,000 judgment in the lower court based on a sexual assault claim, the trial judge ordered for her real name to be made public.

The victim’s request to keep her name out of the public record was supported by an amicus (or “friend of court”) brief filed by the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, a nonprofit advocacy group. In a rare move, the Court of Appeals allowed the Coalition to participate in the oral argument before a panel of judges. The Coalition was represented by Troy, Michigan lawyer Scott Zochowski.

Mr. Zochowski stated that the Court of Appeals ruled on this issue before in its 1982 decision in Doe v. Bodwin. “The Court has held that it is appropriate to allow a party to a case to use a fictitious name when the case involves disclosure of ‘information of a private nature.’ Although the Bodwin opinion did not specifically list sexual assault in its examples, I cannot imagine circumstances with any more private information.” The appeal asks the Michigan courts to expand current case law to include victims of rape and sexual assault under “Jane Doe” status in civil lawsuits.

The Coalition has stressed that the idea of what is “public” has changed since 1982. New electronic case filing systems can easily be searched online by anyone with a computer or smart phone, potentially allowing access to any item filed as an exhibit in a lawsuit. This could include transcripts with graphic descriptions of a sexual assault, medical records of a victim and other sensitive information. Studies estimate that 60% of sexual assaults already go unreported in the US. (US Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2006-2012) “Denying victims the option of ‘Jane Doe’ status in these sort of cases will have a chilling effect on reporting and prosecution by sexual assault survivors,” argued Mr. Zochowski.

The case has been submitted for a final a decision from the Court, to be entered at a future date.

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