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Case Number: 00-3579
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Plaintiff's Attorney: Wayne A. Rodney of Rodney & Associates, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Defendant's Attorney: D. Michael Fisher, Attorney General, Gregory R. Neuhauser, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Calvin R. Koons, Senior Deputy Attorney General, John G. Knorr, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Description: This is an appeal from a grant of summary judgment for defendants Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC), State Correctional Institute at Rockview (SCI- Rockview), and former Superintendent of SCI-Rockview, Joseph Mazurkiewicz, in a 42 U.S.C. S 1983 civil rights lawsuit brought against them by Dorothy Singletary, the mother of Edward Singletary, a prisoner who committed suicide while incarcerated at Rockview. The plaintiff does not appeal from the grant of summary judgment for PADOC and SCI-Rockview. She does appeal the District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Mazurkiewicz, but there is plainly no merit to this challenge for there is no evidence that Mazurkiewicz exhibited deliberate indifference to Edward Singletary's medical needs.
In her original complaint, the plaintiff also included as defendants "Unknown Corrections Officers." The only chance for the plaintiff to prevail depends on her ability to succeed in: (1) amending her original complaint to add as a defendant Robert Regan, a psychologist at SCI-Rockview, against whom the plaintiff has her only potentially viable case; and (2) having this amended complaint relate back to her original complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(3) so that she overcomes the defense of the statute of limitations. Rule 15(c)(3) provides for the "relation back" of amended complaints that add or change parties if certain conditions are met, in which case the amended complaint is treated, for statute of limitations purposes, as if it had been filed at the time of the original complaint.
The District Court denied the plaintiff 's motion for leave to amend because it concluded that the amended complaint would not meet the conditions required for relation back under 15(c)(3). Rule 15(c)(3) has two basic parts, both of which must be met before relation back is permitted. First, 15(c)(3)(A) requires that the party that the plaintiff seeks to add has received, within a certain time period, sufficient notice of the institution of the action that the party is not prejudiced. In addition to actual notice (which is not claimed here) Rule 15(c)(3)(A) cognizes two means of imputing the notice received by the original defendants to the party sought to be added: (i) the existence of a shared attorney between the original and proposed new defendant; and (ii) an identity of interest between these two parties. Second, 15(c)(3)(B) requires that the party sought to be added knew or should have known that, but for a mistake, the plaintiff would have named him in the original complaint.
We conclude that the District Court was correct in ruling that the amended complaint did not meet the notice requirements of Rule 15(c)(3)(A). The plaintiff cannot avail herself of the "shared attorney" method of imputing notice to Regan because the defendants' attorney was not assigned to this case until after the relevant notice period under Rule 15(c)(3). Furthermore, the "identity of interest" method is not open to the plaintiff because Regan was not high enough in the administrative hierarchy of SCI- Rockview to share sufficient interests with any of the original defendants.
The District Court also found that the plaintiff did not meet the requirement of Rule 15(c)(3)(B)--that Regan knew (or should have known) that, but for a mistake, the plaintiff would have named him in the original complaint. The correct legal interpretation of 15(c)(3)(B) is not settled, and it is unclear whether the plaintiff 's original complaint, which included as defendants "Unknown Corrections Officers," meets 15(c)(3)(B)'s mistake requirement. More precisely, because the plaintiff simply did not know of Regan's identity, it is an open question whether failure to include him originally as a defendant was a "mistake" under Rule 15(c)(3)(B). Resolution of the question whether lack of knowledge can constitute a mistake is important in civil rights cases. For example, a person who was subjected to excessive force by police officers might not have seen the officers' name tags, and hence would likely need discovery to determine the names of his attackers, although he cannot get discovery until he files his S 1983 complaint. If this person were prevented from having his complaint relate back when he sought to replace a "John Doe" or"Unknown Police Officers" in his complaint with the real names of his assailants, then he would have to file his complaint substantially before the running of the statute of limitations on his claim in order to avoid having his claim end up being barred. This would render the S 1983 statute of limitations much shorter for this person than it would be for another complainant who knows his assailants' names.
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Click the case caption above for the full text of the Court's opinion.
Outcome: For the above reasons, the District Court's grant of summary judgment for the defendants and the court's relation back only when the to-be-added defendants had timely notice of the lawsuit and knew that the lawsuit was really meant to be directed at them. We do not think that fairness requires that a plaintiff be barred from adding newly named parties as defendants when these newly named parties (1) knew about the lawsuit within the relevant time period, (2) knew they were the ones targeted, and (3) had the information as to their correct names but withheld that information from the plaintiff --indeed, we believe that fairness requires that a plaintiff in such a situation should be allowed to add the newly named defendants to his complaint.
We also note that Rule 15(c)(3)(B)'s mistake requirement has been held to be met (and thus relation back clearly permitted) for an amended complaint that adds or substitutes a party when a plaintiff makes a mistake by suing the state but not individual officers in a S 1983 action. See Lundy v. Adamar of New Jersey, Inc., 34 F.3d 1173, 1192 n.13 (3d Cir. 1994) (Becker, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (listing cases in which plaintiffs have been permitted to have their complaints relate back when they made mistakes in the naming of defendants in their complaints, including naming states and state agencies instead of state officials in S 1983 cases). We think that it makes no sense to allow plaintiffs who commit such a clear pleading error to have their claims relate back, while disallowing such an option for plaintiffs who, usually through no fault of their own, do not know the names of the individuals who violated their rights. This disparity of treatment of S 1983 plaintiffs seems to have no principled basis and should not be codified in our Rules of Civil Procedure.
All of the commentators who address this issue (at least those that we found in our research) call for Rule 15(c)(3) to allow relation back in cases in which a "John Doe" complaint is amended to substitute real defendants' names. See Edward H. Cooper, Rule 15(c)(3) Puzzles at 3-5 (November 1999) (unpublished manuscript, on file with the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Rules Committee Support Office); Carol M. Rice, Meet John Doe: It is Time for Federal Civil Procedure to Recognize John Doe Parties, 57 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 883, 952-53 (1996); Steven S. Sparling, Note, Relation Back of "John Doe" Complaints in Federal Courts: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You , 19 Cardozo L. Rev. 1235 (1997) (arguing that the structure, purpose, history and development of Rule 15(c) all cut in favor of allowing relation back of amended John Doe complaints).
Plaintiff's Experts: Unknown
Defendant's Experts: Unknown
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