The Supreme Court Decides That Using a Fictitious Name Is Not Sufficient In Itself To Dismiss A Case, Absent of Showing of Bad Faith. – Relation Back Applies.

In the case of Santiago v. Bliss the Plaintiff filed a personal injury claim. Plaintiff was injured significantly while operating a punch press for his employer. He filed a product liability complaint against the entity that manufactured the punch press.

In his complaint the plaintiff used the name “Juan Ortiz,” the name he was known by at his place of employment. He also used a false birthday. He used the name in interrogatories. The defense was unaware until his deposition that the name was false. There was no evidence as to the knowledge of the plaintiffs attorneys. Defendant refused to answer whether he had ever used a false social security number or filed tax returns under the false name.

During his deposition he testified that his real name, at birth, was “Rogasciano Santiago,” but that he also used the name “Juan Ortiz”. The defense filed a motion to dismiss because he had used the wrong name. The Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, with leave of court, identifying the Plaintiff as Rogasciant Santiago” f/k/a “Juan Ortiz”. The circuit court denied the Motion to Dismiss. The circuit court certified the question of the appellate court presenting the issue of whether the court should dismiss the case as a sanction and whether the original complaint was a nullity because the Amended complaint did not relate back.

The appellate court held that the circuit court may dismiss the complaint as a sanction.

The Supreme Court found that the court should not dismiss this complaint in this case. The court found that the trial court can only dismiss as a sanction if the record shows deliberate and continuing disregard for the court’s authority. Additionally, a court must find that lesser sanctions are inadequate.

As there is no indication on the record that either of these factors are appropriate the trial court should re-institute the case.

Justice Karmeier concurred. Karmeier felt there was insufficient evidence to determine why the party had used a false name. He also felt that the majority confused the concepts of fictitious party and fictitious names as if they are one and the same. He used the example of “John Doe” complaints, where there really is a person, just named differently. He believed that because Juan Ortiz was a real person that he could use a false name and pursue the case. He felt the matter should be remanded to determine why the plaintiff used a false name. If the purpose was bad – defraud the defendants – he should not be allowed to proceed.

Justice Burke concurred because he believed the statute required the plaintiff to have a reasonable opportunity to add the necessary party – the plaintiff – before dismissing the case.

Justice Thomas dissented. He felt the original Complaint was a nullity because it had the wrong name. He would find that suits brought fictitiously are void ab initio.