Monday, July 30, 2007

Litigation - New Fourth Circuit Opinion - "John Doe" Defendants

Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an opinion further refining its previous holdings on relation-back of amended pleadings. In Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir. July 25, 2007), the Court specifically reaffirmed its decision in Locklear that the replacement of a “John Doe” placeholder defendant with an actual defendant does not trigger the relation back doctrine. Specifically, the Court held:

Moreover, the majority of courts agree that Rule 15(c)(3) does not permit substitution for “Doe” defendants after the limitations period has run. See, e.g., Wayne v. Jarvis, 197 F.3d 1098, 1103-04 (11th Cir.1999); Jacobsen v. Osborne, 133 F.3d 315, 321 (5th Cir.1998); Baskin v. City of Des Plaines, 138 F.3d 701, 704 (7th Cir.1998); see also Locklear, 457 F.3d at 367. In denying substitutions of new defendants for “Doe” defendants, some courts base their analysis on the Rule's “mistake” language. See Wood v. Worachek, 618 F.2d 1225, 1230 (7th Cir.1980) (“Rule 15(c)(2) permits an amendment to relate back only where there has been an error made concerning the identity of the proper party and where that party is chargeable with knowledge of the mistake, but it does not permit relation back where, as here, there is a lack of knowledge of the proper party”).

Thus, for example, substitutions for “Doe” defendants after limitations have run would be barred by the two separately stated requirements of Rule 15(c)(3) that focus on the new party. Rule 15(c)(3)(A) requires that the change not prejudice the party being substituted for Doe, and Rule 15(c)(3)(B) requires that the new party knew or should have known within the limitations period that but for a mistake, it would have been a party. Most parties substituted for “Doe” defendants would be protected against being added either because they were prejudiced or because they did not have proper notice. Moreover, while parsing among different kinds of mistakes does not typically aid application of the Rule, naming Doe defendants self-evidently is no “mistake” such that the Doe substitute has received proper notice.

As a result of the decision in Praxair, it remains the law in the 4th Circuit that suing a “John Doe” defendant does not preserve the statute of limitations against any real defendant.

1 comment:

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