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Doe v. Gill

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 6, 2019

JOHN DOE and JAMES DOE, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
SALLY J. GILL, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Jeffrey L. Poulson, Judge.

         On interlocutory appeal, the plaintiffs appeal the district court's ruling requiring them to amend or restate their petition to bring their lawsuit in their real names.

          Dean A. Fankhauser of Fankhauser Rachel, PLC, Sioux City, for appellants.

          John S. Moeller of John S. Moeller, PC, Sioux City, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., Doyle, J., and Mahan, S.J. [*]

          POTTERFIELD, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         The question before us is whether John Doe and James Doe, who are both HIV positive, [1] can proceed in an action against Sally Gill for disseminating information about their diagnoses without using their own names in the public court filings.

         John and James filed their lawsuit asking for monetary damages and alleging Gill had invaded their privacy, intentionally inflicted emotional distress, interfered with their business relations, and violated Iowa Code chapter 141 (2017). At the same time, they also filed a protected information disclosure form, which provided their real names and the necessary identification information. The lawsuit proceeded under the names John and James Doe until Gill filed a motion to require the plaintiffs to prosecute their case in the names of the real parties at interest. John and James resisted, and the district court held an unreported hearing on the issue.

         The court ultimately granted Gill's motion, stating:

No procedure exists in the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure for the filing of plaintiff John Doe petitions in Iowa.
The court is concerned with the practicalities of how this case could be tried to a jury without identification of the plaintiffs. Protection of confidential information in the restated or amended petition may be addressed by appropriate motions to increase security setting on any amended or substituted petition.

         John and James appeal.

         First, John and James assert this matter is in equity and thus we may fashion an equitable solution. But this is properly an action at law. See Weltzin v. Nail, 618 N.W.2d 293, 297 (Iowa 2000) (noting that in determining whether an action is one in equity or at law, "the remedy sought is of minimal importance-it is the nature of the cause of action, i.e. where the case is properly docketed, that is the deciding factor"); Biermann v. Guaranty Mut. Life. Ins. Co., 120 N.W. 963, 964 (Iowa 1909) ("Generally speaking, equity has no jurisdiction where there is an adequate remedy at law."); Wenger v. Crooked Creek Shooting Preserve, No. 07-1643, 2008 WL 2520787, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. June 25, 2008) (providing torts claims are normally tried at law). Moreover, the district court also understood this to be an action at law, as it noted in its ruling that the case would ultimately be tried to a jury. See Weltzin, 618 N.W.2d at 296-97 (acknowledging there is generally no right to a jury trial in cases brought in equity).

         John and James acknowledge Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.201, which provides, in part, "Every action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest." However, they assert that Iowa Rules of Electronic Procedure provide for the confidential filing in this instance and maintain the rules related to electronic procedure control. See Iowa R. Elec. P. 16.103 ("To the extent these rules are inconsistent with any other Iowa court rule, ...


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