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AGM v. Mental Health Center A

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

October 6, 2016

AGM, Plaintiff,
v.
MENTAL HEALTH CENTER A, DOCTOR A, MEDICAL GROUP B, DOCTOR B, HOSPITAL C, Defendants.

          Pro se Plaintiff

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL R. CHERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Seal Record and Proceed Anonymously [DE 4], filed by Plaintiff AGM on March 2, 2016; a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) [DE 28], filed by Mental Health Center A and Doctor A on May 10, 2016; a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint [DE 32], filed by Medical Group B and Doctor B on May 23, 2016; a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [DE 34], filed by Hospital C on May 23, 2016; and a Motion for Summary Ruling [DE 42], filed by Hospital C on June 17, 2016. For the reasons set forth in this Opinion and Order, the motions are granted and all claims are dismissed without prejudice.

         MOTION TO SEAL

         On January 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Complaint with this Court, with her full name in the caption. In the Motion to Seal Record and Proceed Anonymously, filed on March 2, 2016, Plaintiff asks the Court to “seal her identity” and to allow her to proceed anonymously by her initials.

         Northern District of Indiana Local Rule 5-3 provides: “No document will be maintained under seal in the absence of an authorizing statute, Court rule, or Court order.” N.D. Ind. L.R. 5-3(a). In the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the general presumption is that judicial records are public, but this can be overridden when “the property and privacy interests of the litigants . . . predominate in the particular case” such that “there is good cause for sealing a part or the whole of the record.” Citizens First Nat'l Bank v. Cincinnati Ins. Co., 178 F.3d 943, 945 (7th Cir. 1999); see also Forst v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 602 F.Supp.2d 960, 974 (E.D. Wis. 2009). The bar is quite high: “[a]ny step that withdraws an element of the judicial process from public view makes the ensuing decision look more like fiat and requires rigorous justification” by the Court. Hicklin Eng'g, L.C. v. Bartell, 439 F.3d 346, 348 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10 requires that a complaint name all of the parties. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly voiced [its] disfavor of parties proceeding anonymously, as anonymous litigation runs contrary to the rights of the public to have open judicial proceedings and to know who is using court facilities and procedures funded by public taxes.” Doe v. Village of Deerfield, 819 F.3d 372, 376-77 (7th Cir. 2016). Thus, in order to “proceed anonymously, a party must demonstrate ‘exceptional circumstances' that outweigh both the public policy in favor of identified parties and the prejudice to the opposing party that would result from anonymity.” Id. at 377 (citing Doe v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield United of Wis., 112 F.3d 869, 872 (7th Cir. 1997); Doe v. City of Chicago, 360 F.3d 667, 669-70 (7th Cir. 2004)).

         Whether to allow a party to proceed anonymously is left to the district court's discretion. Village of Deerfield, 819 F.3d at 376. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recognizes that, in some situations, a litigant's use of a fictitious name is warranted, such as protecting the identities of “‘children, rape victims, and other particularly vulnerable parties.'” Id. at 377 (quoting Blue Cross, 112 F.3d at 872). Fear of a retaliation is also often a compelling ground in favor of anonymity. Id. (citing City of Chicago, 360 F.3d at 669); see also Doe ex rel. Doe v. Elmbrook Sch. Dist., 658 F.3d 710, 721 (7th Cir. 2011) (affirming the use of fictitious names when plaintiffs, who were minor children and their parents, had legitimate fears of future retribution in a case involving religious freedom). In contrast, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has found that a plaintiff's “fear of disclosure of his medical and psychiatric information through litigation was insufficient to warrant the plaintiff's anonymity.” Blue Cross, 112 F.3d at 872.

         Plaintiff, whose Complaint is based on an involuntarily confinement for suicide risk, argues that Defendants' actions related to her involuntary confinement violated her rights, and, thus, she is required to pursue the action to clear her name and her credit. She reasons that any search of her name for a background and security clearance check will identify this cause of action. Thus, she asks the Court to seal her identity because the relevant information is medical in nature and highly sensitive.

         The Court finds that the request to seal the entire docket is not justified but that, under all the circumstances, maintaining Plaintiff and Defendants' anonymity on the public docket is justified. As set forth below, all of Plaintiff's claims are being dismissed. Although Plaintiff, pro se, initially filed her complaint with her full name, placing her identity in this lawsuit in the public realm, the fact that none of her claims will survive weighs in favor of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the mental health aspects of the factual allegations. The public's interest in understanding the resolution of this dispute will not be hindered, and the legal conclusions of this Opinion and Order will remain a part of the body of law issued from this Court. Also, it appears that Plaintiff should have brought her claims against Defendants as anonymous entities under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act as all of the state law claims against Defendants fall within the scope of the Act.

         Accordingly, the Court denies the motion as to the request to seal the record and grants the motion as to the request to proceed anonymously, finding that the case should proceed anonymously on the face of the docket as to all parties.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On January 21, 2016, Plaintiff AGM filed a pro se Complaint, bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 and under Indiana state law and making the following allegations. Doctor B worked for Medical Group B and contracted with or was employed by Hospital C as an emergency room doctor. Doctor A was employed by Mental Health Center A. Plaintiff alleges that Hospital C, Medical Group B, and Doctor B formulated a plan to illegally involuntarily commit Plaintiff by detaining her and transferring her to Mental Health Center A in violation of her federal statutory and constitutional rights. She alleges that Mental Health Center A and Doctor A willfully participated in the plan. She alleges that all defendants were acting under color of state law.

         Plaintiff alleges that, at the time of the incident, she was an 18-year-old sophomore at Valparaiso University. At approximately 11:30 p.m. on January 22, 2014, emergency personnel were contacted by Plaintiff's college dormitory resident assistant. Paramedics then transferred Plaintiff to Hospital C. The attending emergency room physician at Hospital C was Doctor B, who listed Plaintiff's chief complaint as a psychiatric evaluation, despite statements from Plaintiff that she was just sad. Doctor B decided to transfer Plaintiff, without her consent, to a psychiatric facility-Mental Health Center A. Plaintiff alleges the absence of any evidence indicating the required elements to involuntarily hold someone. The Physicians' Emergency Statement, signed by Doctor B, indicated that Plaintiff may harm herself; Plaintiff alleges that there was no direct evidence substantiating that finding.

         At Mental Health Center A, Plaintiff maintained repeatedly that she was not suicidal or a harm to herself. Plaintiff alleges that Doctor A coerced Plaintiff, stating that Plaintiff would not be released until she admitted some nefarious intent and agreed to take medication and receive future treatment. Other employees of Mental Health Center A advised Plaintiff that the three-day involuntary confinement would run over the weekend and that she would be detained for five days. Plaintiff alleges that, fearing for her safety, academic performance, and employment, Plaintiff was forced to make untrue statements about her condition to satisfy the physicians at Mental Health Center A to secure her release. Plaintiff was discharged from Mental Health Center A on January 24, 2014, at 5:30 p.m., after approximately 40 hours of involuntary confinement. Plaintiff subsequently lost her only source of income (her employment). Plaintiff alleges that, having graduated with a degree, she is unable to utilize her degree and find a job due to the illegal, unwarranted, and false imprisonment in the mental health facility. She alleges that she has incurred substantial medical fees, costs, and damages.

         Based on these facts, Plaintiff brings claims of false imprisonment, negligence, negligent supervision, assault, and medical malpractice under Indiana law, a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and a violation of procedural due process under the United States Constitution.

         On March 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Seal Record and Proceed Anonymously. On May 10, 2016, Mental Health Center A, Doctor A, Medical Group B, and Doctor B filed a joint response and Hospital C filed a response separately. Plaintiff did not file a reply.

         On May 10, 2016, Mental Health Center A and Doctor A filed a Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff filed a response on May 27, 2016. Mental Health Center A and Doctor A filed a reply on June 2, 2016.

         On May 23, 2016, Medical Group B and Doctor B filed a Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff filed a response on June 16, ...


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