Later-Filed Claims May Be Barred When “Relation Back Rule” Doesn’t Apply

March 27, 2016

In the recent case of Bracy v. McDonald, the Tennessee Court of Appeals provide a refresher of how the “relation back rule” works under Tn. R. Civ. P. 15.03.

Plaintiff Martin W. Bracey, Jr. was involved in a very serious car collision with a tractor trailer that occurred on August 31, 2012. Bracey suffered horrible injuries, including the loss of one arm, and subsequently filed a lawsuit on July 10, 2013 naming the driver of the tractor trailer, Otis McDonald, and Conard Transportation, Inc. The complaint alleged negligence on behalf of the driver and asserted that Conard was liable under a theory of respondeat superior.

On March 25, 2014, Plaintiff amended his complaint (First Amended Complaint) to add additional defendants, described in the court’s opinion as Employee Solutions, LLC and the Ingram Defendants. In the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleged that McDonald was driving the tractor trailer pursuant to an agreement among the named defendants and that, accordingly, McDonald was an agent or employee of each of the defendants.

Employee Solutions and the Ingram Defendants both moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint on the grounds that the lawsuits against them were time-barred. Shortly after the filing of these motions, Plaintiff moved to amend in order to assert that Plaintiff could not have reasonably discovered the identity of the Employee Solutions and the Ingram Defendants as necessary parties until discovery was underway. Plaintiff further asserted that their involvement was fraudulently concealed.

Because the lawsuit against Employee Solutions and the Ingram Defendants was filed more than a year after the injury occurred, the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations unless the First Amended Complaint related back to the original complaint pursuant to Rule 15.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. This rule permits such an amendment to change or add a party if

within the period provided by law for commencing an action or within 120 days after commencement of the action, the party to be brought in by amendment (1) has received such notice of the institution of the action that the party will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (2) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against the party.
Tn. R. Civ. P. 15.03.

Plaintiff argued in his brief on appeal that Employee Solutions and the Ingram Defendants knew of the accident and had notice of the filing of the lawsuit within 120 days of the commencement of the action. The Court, reviewing both amended complaints, found no such allegation. In addition, the Court observed that the First Amended Complaint was filed a full seven months after the applicable statute of limitations expired and more than 120 days after the commencement of the action on July 10, 2013. Thus, the relation back rule was not met.

The Court also found that the allegations against Employee Solutions and the Ingram Defendants concerning their agency or employer/employee relationship with the defendant McDonald were conclusory and insufficient to state a claim for relief against them. Moreover, the Court found that the First Amended Complaint contained no factual allegations that would equitably estop Employee Solutions and the Ingram Defendants from asserting a statute of limitations defense or to support a claim of fraudulent concealment. Thus, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the claims against Employee Solutions and the Ingram Defendants.

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