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A Plaintiff's Perspective in Filing an Amended Complaint

A Plaintiff's Perspective in Filing an Amended Complaint

A civil lawsuit generally has a time limitation in which the injured party must file a lawsuit by or they will forever waive their rights to file a claim. So what can you do if you file a claim in time but realize after the statute of limitations that you failed to include all the claims you wanted in front of the court? Have you waived your right to make these claims or is there a possibility to include these claims after the statute of limitations? If the claims are evolving from the same occurrence and/or are simply amplifying the existing claims, you will likely be able to amend your Compliant to include the omitted allegations. This article identifies the law that will support an amended of the Complaint under these circumstances in a Federal Court. 

Standard of Law

Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures is the applicable Rule regarding an amendment of a Complaint. Some of the relevant portions read:

A.The Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint:

            (a) Amendments Before Trial.

                 (1) Amending as a Matter of Course. A party may amend its pleading once as a     matter of course within:

                 (A) 21 days after serving it, or

                 (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b)(e), or (f), whichever is earlier.

                (2) Other Amendments. In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires. (emphasis added).

The Rule further reads:

(c) Relation Back of Amendments.

(1) When an Amendment Relates Back. An amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when:

      (A) the law that provides the applicable statute of limitations allows relation back;

      (B) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out—or attempted to be set out—in the original pleading; or (emphasis added)

Pursuant to Fed. Civ. R. 15(a)(2), “The court should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires.”  Seee.g.,Coe v. Bell, 161 F.3d 320, 341 (6thCir. 1988).  The rule is part of a “liberal policy of permitting amendments to ensure the determination of claims on the merits.”  Marks v. Shell Oil Co., 830 F.2d 68, 69 (6thCir.1987). The Court in Marks held:

Under the Federal Rules, a party amending a pleading after a responsive pleading has been served “may amend his pleading only by leave of court ... and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). A court's refusal to grant leave to amend is reviewable under the “abuse of discretion” standard. Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 330-332, 91 S.Ct. 795, 802-803, 28 L.Ed.2d 77 (1971)Tefft v. Seward, 689 F.2d 637 (6th Cir.1982)Estes v. Kentucky Utilities Co., 636 F.2d 1131 (6thCir.1980).2 Though the decision to grant leave to amend is committed to the trial court's discretion, that discretion is limited by Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)'s liberal policy of permitting amendments to ensure the determination of claims on their merits. See Espey v. Wainwright, 734 F.2d 748 (11th Cir.1984).Id at 69

Amendment of a Complaint after the Statute of Limitations

The Courts and the applicable law has long held that if the allegations of the amended claim relates back to the occurrence stated in the initial complaint, as it does here, the allegations will not be barred by the statute of limitations.  Watkins & Son Pet Supplies v. Iams Co., 107 F.Supp.2d 883, 897 (S.D. Ohio 1999); Boerkoel v. Hayes Mfg. Corp. 76 F.Supp. 771, 776 (S.D. Mich. 1948); Hall v. Spencer County, Ky., 583 F.3d 930, 933-934 (6th Cir.2009); and Fed R Civ. P 15(a) (2) and (c). Further, when the Plaintiffs do not seek to state a new cause of action or add a new party; rather, they seek to amend their Complaint to “merely explain, expand or amplify” the existing claims for the occurrence, the motor vehicle incident, it is a permissible amendment. Watkins & Son Pet Supplies v. Iams Co., 107 F.Supp.2d 883,897 (S.D. Ohio 1999); Boerkoel v. Hayes Mfg. Corp. 76 F.Supp. 771, 776 (S.D. Mich. 1948); Hall v. Spencer County, Ky., 583 F.3d 930, 933-934 (6th Cir.2009); and Fed R Civ. P 15(a) (2) and (c). 

If the Plaintiff seeks to include a claim for punitive damages or other damages, it is not a considered a new cause of action. Regardless, when it and the other allegations in the amended complaint “relate back” to the same occurrence, they are permissible amendments. Payne v. A.O. Smith Corp., 578 F.Supp. 733 (S.D. Ohio 1983); Cohen v. Bucey, 158 Ohio St. 159, 168 (1952); Watkins & Son Pet Supplies v. Iams Co., 107 F.Supp.2d 883, 897 (S.D. Ohio 1999); Hall v. Spencer County, Ky., 583 F.3d 930, 933-934 (6th Cir.2009); and Fed R Civ. P 15(a) (2) and (c). 

Even a new legal theory after the statute of limitations in an amended complaint that is “substantially more sophisticated than the original complaint” is proper if evolves from the same occurrence. Hall v. Spencer County, Ky., 583 F.3d 930, 934 (6th Cir.2009).

In considering whether to allow an amendment, the Court may consider any undue delay, lack of notice, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility of amendments. Coe, 161 F. 3d at 341.  If these factors are not present, leave to amend should be “freely given.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S. Ct. 227, 9. L. Ed. 2d 222 (1962).

Arguments that the lack of bad faith, undue prejudice and undue delay do not exist could include following reasons:

  1. The deadline for filing motions to amending the pleadings has NOT passed;
  2. The Complaint was filed only short period before;
  3. The new counsel for Plaintiff has only been involved in the matter since last month;
  4. Defendants have complete access and knowledge of their conduct in this matter, but Plaintiffs have very limited personal knowledge of the respective Defendants conduct in the matter;
  5. Little if any discovery was performed to date;
  6. The case deadlines for Discovery Deadlines and Expert Disclosures has not passed.
  7. The amendment will “merely explain, expand or amplify” the existing claims for the occurrence, the motor vehicle incident; and
  8. The amendment will include a claim for punitive damages or other damages;

     III.CONCLUSION:

Accordingly, under the above law and with the identified factors, a Court is likely to grant a Motion to Amend A Complaint, even after the passing of the statute of limitations

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