Relation Back of Complaint

Published June 2014 by Ted Babbitt

The Supreme Court opinion of Caduceus Properties, LLC v. Graney, 39 Fla. L. Weekly S93 (Feb. 27, 2014) resolves a conflict between the First District Court of Appeal in Graney v. Caduceus Properties, LLC, 91 So. 3d 202 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012) and the Fifth District opinion in Gatins v. Sebastian Inlet Tax District, 453 So. 2d 871 (Fla. 5th DCA 1984) both of which interpreted RCP 1.190(c) on the issue of whether an amended complaint which seeks to add as a party a third party defendant relates back to the filing of the third party complaint for the purpose of statute of limitations.

In Gatins, supra, the Fifth District held that an amended complaint which was filed against a third party defendant was timely under the statute of limitations so long as the third party defendant had been impleaded prior to the running of the statute of limitations even though the statute of limitations had run at the time of the amended complaint.  This was with the proviso that the claim of the plaintiff related to the same issues as were raised in the third party complaint.

In the First District case of Graney v. Caduceus Properties, a third party defendant was joined after the statute of limitations had run and the trial court denied a motion for involuntary dismissal based upon the statute of limitations.  On appeal, the First District reversed the trial court and held that relation back under RCP 1.190(c) was only permitted where there was a mistake or a misnomer in identifying a party defendant and that that rule had no application to adding a party defendant.

The Supreme Court in Caduceus v. Graney, supra, resolved the conflict between the District Courts by holding that an amended complaint against a third party defendant filed after the statute of limitations has expired relates back under Rule 1.190(c) to the filing of the third party complaint so long as plaintiffs’ claims arose from the same conduct transaction or occurrence as was set forth in the third party complaint.  The Court adopted the dissenting opinion in the First District case holding at S95:

As Judge Van Nortwick pointed out in his dissent in

Graney, the purpose underlying statutes of limitations –

namely, preventing lack of notice and prejudice to

the defendant – is not implicated where the plaintiff’s

amended complaint relates back to the filing of the

third-party complaint, as long as the third party was

brought into the suit prior to the expiration of the statute

of limitations and the plaintiff’s claims concern

the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence at

issue in the third-party complaint.  See Graney, 91

So. 3d at 229 (Van Nortwick, J., dissenting).

 

In other words, in determining whether a time-barred

amendment to a pleading that names a third-party

defendant as a party defendant relates back to the

date of the third-party complaint, the key inquiry is

whether the third-party complaint put the third-party

defendant on notice of the conduct, transaction, or

occurrence from which the plaintiff’s claims against

that defendant arose.  If so, then the statute of

limitations should not bar such claims.  Therefore,

in a case in which the third-party complaint puts the

third-party defendant on notice of the conduct,

transaction, or occurrence from which the plaintiff’s

claims arose, and the third-party defendant is

already a party to the lawsuit when the plaintiff

seeks to name the third-party defendant as a

party defendant, the plaintiff’s amended complaint

naming the third-party defendant as a party

defendant should relate back to the timely

filed third-party complaint.

 

The Supreme Court rejected the First District’s conclusion that Rule 1.190(c) should be applied only where there is a mistake or misnomer and relied upon those cases which hold that Rule 1.190(c) should be liberally construed and that the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure reject form over substance to allow cases to be resolved on the merits whenever possible.  In addition, the Court reasoned that adding a third party defendant as a defendant does not introduce a new party but merely recharacterizes an existing party.  The Court reconfirmed the precedent of those cases which hold that the relation back doctrine does not apply where an entirely new defendant is sought to be brought in after the statute of limitations has expired.  The Court pointed out that the third party defendant had been in the lawsuit for years and was actively involved in the litigation rather than being an entirely new defendant who was a stranger to the ligation.  The Court holds at S95:

Accordingly, we conclude that an amended

complaint filed after the statute of limitations

period has expired, naming a party who was

previously a third-party defendant as a party

defendant, relates back under rule 1.190(c)

to the filing of the third-party complaint.  For

the amended pleading to be timely in this

situation, the third-party complaint must have

been filed prior to the expiration of the

statute of limitations and the plaintiff’s claims

in the amended complaint must arise from

the same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence”

set forth in the third-party complaint.

 

This case holds that an amended complaint which adds a third party defendant as a defendant after the statute of limitations has expired relates back to the filing of the third party complaint and will withstand a statute of limitations defense so long as the third party complaint was filed prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations and the allegations of the amended complaint arise from the same conduct, transaction or occurrence set forth in the third party complaint.

 

NOTE:  BECAUSE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE REQUESTED COPIES OF PAST ARTICLES, A COMPILATION OF THESE ARTICLES IS NOW AVAILABLE TO MEMBERS OF THE PALM BEACH COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION, FREE OF CHARGE, BY EITHER CALLING (561) 684-2500 OR GOING TO THE BAR’S WEBSITE.