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Worthington v. Wilson

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff sued Defendants in state court, on the date before the statute of limitations ran, for violation of his civil rights, but did not identify three of the parties. Defendant removed the case to federal court and Plaintiff later moved to amend the complaint to include the identity of two of the unknown parties. Defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that the statute of limitations had run against the two later identified parties.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, adding an additional party by amendment of the pleadings only relates back to the date of the original complaint if the parties originally listed were listed by “mistake.” “Mistake” means the wrong name, not listing “unknown” or something else to indicate lack of knowledge or identity of the party.

    Facts. Worthington, Plaintiff, was arrested by two police officers who allegedly twisted Plaintiff’s hand and broke it. Exactly two years later, Plaintiff filed a complaint in state court against Peoria Heights, Illinois and three unknown police officers, Defendants, claiming the police officers violated his civil rights. Peoria Heights removed the action to federal court. Four months later, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which named the real identity of the two officers as Defendants. Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint on the grounds that the statute of limitations had run and that the complaint failed to state a proper claim under 42 U.S.C. Section: 1983 and for sanctions. There was a hearing in front of the magistrate and the magistrate recommended that the motion to dismiss and the motion for sanctions be allowed. Plaintiff filed an objection to the recommendation. The court held an additional hearing on the pending motions.

    Issue. Does Plaintiff’s amendment of its complaint to identify the two police officers “relate back” to the date the original complaint was filed under Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?

    Held. No.
    Under the old version of Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party later added by amendment must receive actual notice of the action pending against it before the statute of limitations runs in order for the amendment to relate back to the date of the original complaint.
    Under the new version of Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the party need only be “aware” of the action pending against it within 120 days of the complaint being filed in order to relate back to the date of the original complaint.
    The failure to name parties due to lack of knowledge is not naming different parties by “mistake.” Therefore, the exception for “mistake” under Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not apply if the party seeking amendment did not initially know the identity of the party. Therefore, Plaintiff’s later amendment to include the identity of the police officers does not relate back to the date the complaint was originally filed.
    Illinois state law pertaining to relation back does not govern the issue. State law only applies when the state law addresses an issue the federal law does not. Because it is clear that Seventh Circuit precedent states that unknown parties are not mistaken parties subject to the “relation back” rule, the federal law addresses the issue. Thus, federal law applies.

    Discussion. This case articulates the rule of “relation back” under Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, it shows a situation where relation back does not apply, particularly in the case where a party is listed as “unknown.” Finally, the Court holds that Rule 15(c)’s “relation back” rule and exceptions to the same applies when there is an issue regarding whether the statute of limitations is tolled.


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