Better Late Than Never (PA)
In Fennell v. Tacu, et al., the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania examined whether the plaintiff would be allowed to amend his complaint to add additional defendants three days after the statute of limitations had run.
Under the facts of the case, the plaintiff, a Pennsylvania state trooper, was injured during a traffic stop when a tractor trailer rolled backward, striking the plaintiff’s vehicle, and causing him injury. The plaintiff filed suit against the driver and his employers on a theory of negligence. The defendants answered and submitted their initial disclosures. Upon review of those disclosures and through plaintiff’s own research, plaintiff determined that the initial defendants lacked enough coverage and assets to cover plaintiff’s injuries, and that the defendants were composed of multiple shell companies that should be treated as one entity. Plaintiff then requested leave to file an amended complaint to include additional entities alleged to be liable under veil piercing theories. However, the theories of negligence and the occurrences alleged remained the same. Defendants objected, noting the statute of limitations had expired.
The Court observed that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow for liberal amendment of pleadings, however, where, as here, the statute of limitations had expired, the party must show that the additional parties and claims relate back to the initial pleading. Specifically, the court noted that Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C), in part, provides that an amendment relates back in this scenario if the plaintiff can establish that the amended pleading relates to the same conduct described in the initial complaint, was served properly under Rule 4(m), the new defendant had notice, and that the new defendant knew or should have known but for mistaken identity, it would have been named in the initial complaint. The Court also noted that the amendment shall not result in unfair prejudice to the non-moving party.
Here, the Court found the first prong of Rule 15(c)(1)(C) was met as the claims against the additional defendants arose from the same accident alleged in the initial complaint. As to the second prong, the Court determined that since the added defendants were alleged to be owned and controlled by the same individuals and entities as the initial defendants, notice could be imputed to those entities. Similarly, for the third prong, the Court found that based upon the close relationship of the additional defendants, those parties must have or should have known plaintiff would file suit against them if he had known their identities. Finally, in granting plaintiff’s request, the Court declined to find that amendment would prejudice the defendants, as defendants failed to demonstrate how the amendment would substantially prejudice their defense.
Thanks to Benjamin Ferrell for his contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.