What if, after filing a complaint with the court, it is discovered that the defendant named in the suit is not the correct party to be served? The Indiana Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue as well as the time allowed for filing an amended complaint which will relate back to the original, pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 15(C).
In Raisor v. Jimmie’s Raceway Pub, Inc., No. 49A05-1010-CT-629, a dispute arose when an underage patron of a local pub allegedly assaulted another pub customer. The victim of the attack attempted to sue the owner of the pub by sending a summons to an address that was registered with the Secretary of State’s office, but the office was vacant and the summons was returned to sender. After a second unsuccessful attempt, the victim’s attorney sent a letter advising the owner of his desire to seek a default judgment against it. The mail carrier delivering the letter noticed that the office was vacant and also that the letter’s address included the name of the pub, which was a few blocks away. The carrier took the letter to the pub, where the true owner read it and asked the attorney for the complaint. The true owner also sent a copy of the suit to the purported owner of the pub, who was unaware of the action. By this time, twenty-three months had passed since the assault and 128 days had elapsed since the filing of the original complaint. The purported owner filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that it was not the true owner of the pub, which the court granted, and the plaintiff filed an amended complaint naming the true owner of the pub. A motion to dismiss/motion for summary judgment was thereafter filed by the true owner, claiming that the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims had run, as well as the 120-day period for filing an amended complaint to add a new party. The trial court granted this motion as well.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and explained how the amended complaint rule operates by stating that “[a]s a general rule, a new defendant to a claim must be added prior to the running of the statute of limitations; however, Trial Rule 15(C) provides an exception to that rule by allowing the amendment to relate back to the date of the original complaint under certain circumstances.” The court continued, “[w]here no more than 120 days have elapsed since the filing of the original complaint and (1) where the claim arises out of the same conduct; (2) the substituted defendant has notice such that he is not prejudiced by the amendment; and (3) the substituted defendant knows or should know that . . . the action should have been brought against him,” then the amended complaint will relate back to the original complaint. This case was unique in that the original complaint was filed so far in advance of the running of the statute of limitations that the 120-day amendment rule had passed before the limitations period was over. The Court explained that “[t]he fact that the [plaintiffs] filed their original complaint earlier should not work to penalize them,” and that “we do not believe that the amended trial rule was designed to shorten the period of time that plaintiffs have to file their claims,” but “as long as Trial Rule 15(C)’s requirements are otherwise met within the statute of limitations, the last date to file an amended complaint would be 120 days after the statute of limitations has expired.”