Does Rule 15(b) (Constructive Amendment of Pleadings at Trial with Permission or on Consent) Apply at Summary Judgment? Is That Rule the Last Word on Whether Issues Not Pled Can Be Litigated on Summary Judgment? Circuit Split

Tank v. Burlington Res. Oil & Gas Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166382 (D.N.D. Nov. 22, 2013):

But, even if the Amended Complaint did not include an alternative request for payment of royalty and penalty interest for the Lassen Well, defendants have argued from the outset that this was the more appropriate remedy over lease cancellation if the court disagreed with their safe-harbor arguments. In addition, the Tanks asked for penalty interest as an alternative remedy in the briefing on the motions for summary judgment and defendants responded on the merits. In fact, not only was the issue fully litigated, the court denied the request for lease cancellation, in part, based on the availability of payment of penalty interest as a more appropriate remedy in this case. Consequently, for this reason also, the court rejects defendants' argument that the only issue in play with respect to the untimely payment of royalty with respect to the Lassen Well was that of lease cancellation. See, e.g. First Union Nat. Bank v. Pictet Overseas Trust Corp., Ltd., 477 F.3d 616, 622-24 (8th Cir. 2007) (concluding that an affirmative defense not pled in the answer was litigated by the parties upon summary judgment); Torry v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 399 F.3d 876, 879 (7th Cir. 2005) ( ourt can resolve issues not raised in the complaint that have been litigated upon summary judgment with the implied consent of the parties); People for Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Doughney, 263 F.3d 359, 367-68 (4th Cir. 2001); Cruz v. Coach Stores, Inc., 202 F.3d 560, 569-70 (2d Cir. 2000); cf. Farmland Industries, Inc. v. Morrison-Quirk Grain Corp., 54 F.3d 478, (8th 1995) (holding that issue raised during a pretrial conference and in the pretrial order was a "constructive amendment" of the pleadings); but see Flintlock Const. Services, LLC v. Well-Come Holdings, LLC, 710 F.3d 1221, 1227-28 (11th Cir. 2013); Crawford v. Gould, 56 F.3d 1162, 1168-69 (9th Cir. 1995). 

Footnote 3.     As indicated by the foregoing cases, the federal circuit courts are split on whether Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(b) applies at the summary judgment stage and whether that rule is the last word on the subject of whether issues not raised in the pleadings can be litigated upon summary judgment by "constructive amendment." See Liberty Lincoln-Mercury, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 676 F.3d 318, 326-27& n.7 (3rd Cir. 2012) (citing cases from the Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits stating Rule 15(b) does apply and cases from the D.C., Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits saying it does not); Ahmad v. Furlong, 435 F.3d 1196, 1203 n.1 (10th Cir.2006) (noting split among the circuits and within some of the circuits). It does not appear the Eighth Circuit has ruled on the issue with respect to matters not raised in the complaint, but, as noted above, it has addressed the issue with respect to an affirmative defense not pled in the answer.

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