US Supreme Court: amendment of complaint admissible in case of identifiable mistake in choosing defendant

Wanda Krupski of Michael Wukoschitzgan tripped over a camera cable and broke her leg while on a cruise ship. Her passenger ticket, which was issued by Costa CruiseLines,identified respondent Costa Crociere S. p. A. as the carrier; required an injured party to submit to the carrier or its agent written notice of a claim; required any lawsuit to be filed within one year of the injury; and designated a specific Federal District Court as the ex-clusive forum for lawsuits such as Krupski’s. The front of the ticket listed Costa Cruise’s Florida address and made references to “Costa Cruises.”After Krupski’s attorney notified Costa Cruise of her claims but did not reach a settlement, Krupski filed a diversity negligence action against Costa Cruise. Over the next several months — after the limitations period had expired — Costa Cruise brought CostaCrociere’s existence to Krupski’s attention three times, including in its motion for summary judgment, in which it stated that Costa Crociere was the proper defendant. Krupski responded and moved to amend her complaint to add Costa Crociere as a defendant.The District Court denied Costa Cruise’s summary judgment motion without prejudice and granted Krupski leave to amend. After she served Costa Crociere with an amended complaint, the court dismissed Costa Cruise from the case. Thereafter, Costa Crociere — represented by the same counsel as Costa Cruise — moved to dismiss, contending that the amended complaint did not satisfy the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), which governs when an amended pleading “relates back” to the date of a timely filed original pleading and is thus timely even though it was filed outside an applicable limitations period. The Rule requires, inter alia, that within the Rule 4(m) 120-day period for service after a complaint is filed, the newly named defendant “knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party’s identity.” Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii). The District Court found this condition fatal to Krupski’s attempt to relate back. It concluded that she had not made a mistake about the proper party’s identity because, although Costa Cruise had disclosed Costa Crociere’s role in several court filings, she nonetheless delayed for months filing an amended complaint. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, finding that Krupski either knew or should have known of Costa Crociere’s identity as a potential party because she furnished the ticket identifying it to her counsel well before the limitations period ended. It was therefore appropriate to treat her as having chosen to sue one potential party over another. Additionally, the court held that relation back was not appropriate because of Krupski’s undue delay in seeking to amend the complaint.U.S. Supreme Court held that the question under Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii) was not whether Krupski knew or should have known Costa Crociere’s identity as the proper defendant, but whether Costa Crociere knew or should have known during the Rule 4(m) period that it would have been named as the defendant but for an error. Nothing in Krupski’s conduct during the Rule 4(m) period suggested that she failed to name Costa Crociere because of anything other than a mistake. In addition, Costa Crociere’s own actions contributed to passenger confusion over “the proper party”.Supreme Court in opinion of June 7, 2010 therefore unanimously decided to reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.Full Supreme Court opinion in case Wanda Krupski v. Costa Crociere SpA available here>>.

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