Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Rule 15(c) Does Not Permit Relation Back of Amendment Adding New Plaintiffs Whose Claims Are Untimely, Except in Cases of Misnomer, of Misdescription, of Change in Capacity in Which Suit Is Brought, to Add Real-Party-in-Interest or in a Class Action

From Asher v. Unarco Material Handling, Inc., 596 F.3d 313 (6th Cir. 2010):

The parties agree that the question of whether Rule 15(c) permits relation back of an amendment adding otherwise untimely plaintiffs and their claims to a timely-filed complaint is an issue of first impression for our circuit. Nevertheless, in urging Rule 15(c)'s applicability to their claims, the new plaintiffs concede significant ground. They acknowledge "that this Court has on several occasions made blanket statements to the effect that amendments which add a party to the original suit cannot relate back for limitation purposes." Undeterred, the new plaintiffs seek to limit that rule to a plaintiff's attempt to add a defendant to the action after the statute of limitations has expired, noting that this court's prior decisions have addressed only that scenario. ***

The new plaintiffs' position is untenable. "[T]he precedent of this circuit clearly holds that 'an amendment which adds a new party creates a new cause of action and there is no relation back to the original filing for purposes of limitations.'" [Citations omitted.]***

Rule 15(c)(1)(B) allows relation back of an amendment asserting a "claim or defense," but it does not authorize the relation back of an amendment adding a new party. Similarly, Rule 15(c)(1)(C) permitting relation back of an amendment changing a party or its name applies, by its plain language, to changes to defendants. See Rule 15(c)(1)(C) (authorizing relation back of an amendment that "changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted[.]") (emphasis added). Although various courts have extended the relation-back provisions of Rule 15(c)(1)(C) to amendments changing identities of plaintiffs, [citations omitted], the type of "changes" permitted are limited to corrections of misnomers or misdescriptions. See In re Kent Holland Die Casting & Plating, Inc., 928 F.2d at 1450; Cox v. Treadway, 75 F.3d 230, 240 (6th Cir. 1996) (holding that substitution of a "John Doe" defendant with a named party is not a misnomer but a "change in parties" that does not relate back); Young, 305 F.3d at 15 (stating that relation back applies when the original plaintiffs and the new plaintiffs have a "sufficient identity of interest" or "a fairly advanced degree of privity"); Leachman v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 694 F.2d 1301, 1309, 224 U.S. App. D.C. 326 (D.C. Cir. 1982) ("The point of the courts' consideration of identity of interest is that that factor ensures that the old and new plaintiffs are sufficiently related so that the new plaintiff was in effect 'involved in [the proceedings] unofficially from an early stage.'") (quoting 3 J. Moore, Moore's Fed. Practice P 15.15 [4.-1], at 15-220 (1982)); Advisory Comm. Notes to 1966 Amends. to FED. R. CIV. P. 15(c) (clarifying that the purpose behind Rule 15(c)(1)(C)'s authorization to make corrections to defendants or their names was to protect the rights of a private party who timely sued an officer or agency of the United States but "mistakenly named as defendant the United States, the Department of HEW, the 'Federal Security Administration' (a nonexistent agency), and a Secretary who had retired from the office nineteen days before."); id. (referencing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a), which "provide[s] that no action shall be dismissed on the ground that it is not prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest until a reasonable time has been allowed for correction of the defect in the manner there stated.").

In urging relation back of their claims, the new plaintiffs did not seek to correct a misnomer or misdescription of a proper party plaintiff already in court, nor did they attempt "to change the capacity in which [they] sue[d]; or to substitute or add as plaintiff[s] the real party interest; or to add additional plaintiffs where the action, as originally brought, was a class action." Hill v. Shelander, 924 F.2d 1370, 1376 (7th Cir. 1991) (describing circumstances under which "[a] plaintiff may usually amend his complaint under Rule 15(c)") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Instead, they attempted to circumvent the statute of limitations, adding new parties and new claims.

Both the Third and District of Columbia Circuits have rejected plaintiffs' attempts to invoke Rule 15(c)'s relation-back provisions under these circumstances. See Nelson, 60 F.3d at 1011, 1015 (holding that Rule 15(c) does not "permit relation back of an amendment to a pleading that names new plaintiffs after expiration of the statute of limitations when those new plaintiffs are neither substituted nor have shown mistake concerning identity[,]" even though both groups of plaintiffs "allege[d] injury by the same conduct described in the original pleading, [and] the evidence relevant to a defense against these new claims would be the same as the evidence relevant to a defense against the original claims."); Leachman, 694 F.2d at 1308 (holding that "a corporation wholly owned by an existing plaintiff can[not] be added to an action under rule 15 after the statute of limitations has run when the corporation seeks to allege a claim for damages that, although it arises out of the same occurrence as the original claims, was not asserted by the original plaintiff in the original complaint."). ***

In arguing that Unarco and Atlas had notice of their claims because they were aware of the original plaintiffs' timely claims, the new plaintiffs' view of notice is myopic. See Young, 305 F.3d at 15-16 ("[W]e repudiate the conceit that an action filed by one plaintiff gives a defendant notice of the impending joinder of any or all similarly situated plaintiffs. Such a rule would undermine applicable statutes of limitations and make a mockery of the promise of repose."). Similarly unavailing is the new plaintiffs' contention that Unarco and Atlas would not be prejudiced by their addition to the lawsuit, inasmuch as Unarco and Atlas were already defending against the original plaintiffs' claims. See id. at 17 ("[W]hile [the] original complaint may have given [defendant] reason to fear that other shareholders might pursue similar claims, such minimal notice hardly suffices to avert undue prejudice to [defendant] within the meaning of Rule 15(c)(3) should we permit relation back.").

If the drafters of Rule 15(c) had intended to permit relation back on these facts, the rule would have so stated.

Share this article:


Recent Posts