When a plaintiff sues the wrong party and later determines the proper defendant after the statute of limitations has run, the amended complaint against the new party may relate back to the original filed complaint.
When the mistake was merely a misnomer and there is no prejudice to the new party, courts will allow the relation back. Considerations regarding whether the new party and the original defendant share attorneys, physical location, and contact information are relevant to the analysis of conferring misnomer status on the original filing. Moreover, whether the original defendant engages in discovery in order to lull the plaintiff into a false sense of security and buy time will also be considered. Examples of why the original defendant would do so include protecting a parent corporation or for asset protection.
The recent decision of May v. HCA Health Services of Florida, Inc., 40 Fla. L. Weekly D1035 (Fla. 2d DCA May 1, 2015) highlighted the requirements for a claim against the wrong party to relate back to the original filing. In May, the plaintiff sued the Blake Medical Center Auxiliary (“Auxilary”) when the proper defendant should have been HCA Health Services of Florida, Inc. d/b/a Blake Medical Center. The defendant, Auxiliary, answered the complaint and issued eighty-three subpoenas for medical records and thirty-five requests for copies. The parties then stipulated to the substitution of the correct defendant after the statute of limitations period had run. The Court granted summary judgment to the proper defendant on the limitations grounds.
However, the appellate court overturned the summary judgment, holding that the Auxiliary’s participation in discovery, answering of the complaint as well as the shared attorney and address of the two defendants led the plaintiffs to believe they had sued the correct party. Moreover, the appellate court found that there was no prejudice to the correct defendant as it knew or should have known through its counsel that plaintiffs made a mistake or were guilty of a misnomer in naming the wrong party. Lastly, the affirmative defense asserted by the Auxiliary that it was “not a proper party to this action,” was not enough to put plaintiffs on notice.
For plaintiffs, the May decision outlines how a mistake in naming a defendant or an insecurity regarding who to sue may be rectified by defendant’s own actions. For defendants attempting to utilize strategy to be removed from a case as the wrong party, the party must be careful what actions it takes.