Should you list Doe Defendants in federal court complaints?

No. While naming “Does from 1 through 50, inclusive,” may be a common practice in California state court complaints, naming Doe defendants is generally not done in federal court. The naming of Doe defendants in federal question cases should be permissible when the complaint alleges why a defendant’s real name was not known. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 390, fn. 2 (1971). However, some federal courts have dismissed claims against Doe defendants, holding that Doe pleading is improper in federal court. See Graziose v. Am. Home Prod. Corp., 202 F.R.D. 638, 643 (D. Nev. 2001) (finding that there is no provision in the federal rules permitting the use of fictitious defendants).

Even when permissible, a federal court may limit the number of Doe defendants that can be listed in a complaint. In the Central District of California, Local Rule 19-1 provides that no complaint or petition shall be filed that includes more than ten (10) Doe or fictitiously named parties. The Eastern, Southern, and Northern Districts of California currently have no Local Rules addressing the number of Doe defendants that may be named in a complaint or petition.

Instead of naming a laundry list of Doe defendants, as is typical in CA state court, federal practitioners should instead move under FRCP 15 to amend the complaint before trial to add newly discovered defendants.

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