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Burruss v. Riley

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

March 3, 2017

BENJAMIN BURRUSS, Plaintiff,
v.
GARNETT RILEY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Benjamin Burruss filed this action against defendants Albemarle County, Virginia and several police officers with the Albemarle County Police Department, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. This case is presently before the court on the plaintiffs motion for leave to amend his complaint. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs motions will be denied.

         Background

         On November 18, 2015, plaintiff Benjamin Burruss ("Burruss") filed suit against five law enforcement agents, Albemarle County, Virginia, and "John Does 1-10, " alleging that defendants violated his constitutional rights during an incident that occurred on November 21, 2013. On January 25, 2015, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the court dismissed counts I and II of the plaintiffs original complaint with respect to the actions taken by law enforcement agents after they obtained an Emergency Custody Order ("ECO"). Burruss v. Riley, ___ F.Supp.3d ___, 2016 WL 3360532, at *5(W.D.Va. June 14, 2016).

         Burrus now seeks to name the "John Doe" defendants and to clarify certain allegations regarding his claims about the ECO. The defendants oppose plaintiffs motion to amend, arguing that any attempt to amend the factual allegations relating to the ECO would be futile, as the court has already dismissed plaintiffs claims as they relate to actions taken after issuance of the ECO. Defendants also contend that the amended complaint would not relate back, and plaintiffs claims would thus be time-barred. See A Soc'y Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 348 (4th Cir. 2011) ("With regard to § 1983 and equal-protection claims, the statute-of-limitations period for both is two years."). The instant matter has been fully briefed, and the parties advised the court that they do not request a hearing. The issue is ripe for review.

         Discussion

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1) provides for relation back of an amendment to a complaint when

(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
(C) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against who a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment:
(i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and
(ii) knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B), (C). When a proposed amendment changes the name of a party, the amending party must satisfy the requirements set forth in Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(i) and (ii). Robinson v. Clipse. 602 F.3d 605, 608 (4th Cir. 2010). When the amending party seeks to add a defendant, the focus is on whether that proposed defendant "knew or should have known that it would have been named as a defendant but for an error." Krupski v. Costa Crociere, 560 U.S. 538, 548 (2010).

         Here, it is without debate that the naming of the John Doe defendants satisfies Rule 15(c)(1)(B), that the "amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out... in the original pleading." Therefore, the relevant question is whether the named individuals, within the period of time provided by Rule 4(m), [1] "received such notice of the action that [they] w[ould] not be prejudiced" and "knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against [them], but for a mistake." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C)(i), (ii).

         "[T]he majority of courts agree that Rule 15(c)(3) does not permit substitution for 'Doe' defendants after the limitations period has run." Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 470 (4th Cir. 2007). While Rule 15(c)(3)(B) speaks broadly of a "mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, " there is a difference between a mistake due to a lack of knowledge and a mistake due to a misnomer. See Locklear v. Bergman & Beving, 457 F.3d 363, 366-67 (4th Cir. 2006). "[N]aming Doe defendants ...


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