The First Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court ruling that overturned a verdict in a personal injury action against the company that made the industrial paper-cutting knife that allegedly caused the plaintiff’s injury. Coons v. Indus. Knife Co., Inc., Nos. 09-1489, 09-1791 (1st Cir., decided September 10, 2010).  

Industrial Knife, the defendant found liable, had been added by amended complaint in May 2005, some four years and eight months after the plaintiff was injured. Industrial Knife asserted a statute-of-limitations defense (i) in its answer to the amended complaint, (ii) in an untimely joint motion to dismiss and (iii) at the close of plaintiff’s case in a motion for judgment as a matter of law. After the trial court entered judgment on the jury verdict against Industrial Knife, the company filed a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), again asserting that the claims against it were time-barred. The trial court agreed.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that Industrial Knife waived the statute-of-limitations defense by “failing to raise it through a timely pre-trial motion or a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.” According to the court, “a party does not waive a properly pleaded defense by failing to raise it by motion before trial.” And while the court agreed that a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law filed after trial under Rule 50(b) “is the standard way to raise a limitations defense that has been rejected by the jury,” the court noted that Rule 59(e) authorizes the correction of a “manifest error of law,” into which category this issue fell. Because the defendant filed its 59(e) motion within the time allowed for a 50(b) motion, the trial court was correct, according to the appeals court, in construing it through the lens of Rule 50(b). Assessing the issue under either rule, the court found the complaint against Industrial Knife untimely, because it was filed outside the three-year limitations period.  

As for whether the amended complaint was timely under an exception to the statute of limitations, that is, whether it “related back” to the filing of the original timely-filed complaint, the court agreed with Industrial Knife’s argument that it could not relate back because the notice requirement of Rule 15(c)(1)(c) had not been met. Because the plaintiff had not raised or briefed whether the amended complaint might relate back under applicable state law, the court found the argument forfeited.