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COLBERT v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

June 27, 1996

VELLEN COLBERT, et al.
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BARTLE

 Bartle, J.

 June 27, 1996

 This is an action alleging civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as various state law torts. Before the court is the motion of the defendants, the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia police commissioner, and three police officers, to dismiss plaintiffs' amended complaint.

 This case has a prolonged procedural history. In May, 1995, plaintiffs Vellen Colbert and Elaine Wallace Colbert instituted this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. The complaint initially named as defendants only the Philadelphia police commissioner and three unnamed police officers denominated as John Doe Police Officer, Jane Doe Police Officer #1, and Jane Doe Police Officer #2. According to the complaint, the police illegally arrested plaintiff Vellen Colbert on June 3, 1993, after allegedly beating him.

 The defendant police commissioner, mistakenly believing that plaintiffs' had stated a federal civil rights claim, removed the case to this court. Upon review of the complaint, the court found that no federal claim was pleaded and by Order dated August 10, 1995 remanded the action to the Court of Common Pleas.

 On April 3, 1996, some ten months after the action had been instituted, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in the Court of Common Pleas. This pleading not only contained state law claims but also claims under the federal constitution. In addition to the police commissioner, the amended complaint for the first time named the City of Philadelphia as a defendant, and substituted as defendants police officers Marvin King, Janice Little, and Karen Lee for the unidentified John and Jane Does. The amended complaint was served on April 4, 1996. After the defendants removed the action to this court, *fn1" they filed the pending motion to dismiss.

 A complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure only where "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59, 104 S. Ct. 2229 (1984). All well pleaded factual allegations in the complaint are assumed to be true and are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421, 23 L. Ed. 2d 404, 89 S. Ct. 1843 (1969).

 We first address the motion of the three police officers to dismiss as time barred the federal civil rights claims against them. It is well settled that § 1983 claims filed in the federal courts sitting in Pennsylvania are subject to a two year statute of limitations. Bougher v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 882 F.2d 74, 78 (3d Cir. 1989); 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5524(7).

 The incident giving rise to this lawsuit allegedly occurred on June 3, 1993. The three police officers were not joined by name until April 3, 1996, well beyond the two year statute of limitations period. As defendants recognize, however, the analysis does not end here. We must determine whether the federal claims relate back to the original complaint in accordance with the provisions of Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. That rule states in relevant part:

 
(c) Relation Back of Amendments. An amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when ...
 
(2) the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading, or
 
(3) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted if the foregoing provision (2) is satisfied and, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for service of the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment (A) 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 (B) 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.

 Rule 15(c) is intended to ameliorate the harsh result of strict application of the statute of limitations by "preventing parties against whom claims are made from taking unjust advantage of otherwise inconsequential pleading errors to sustain a limitations defense." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15, Advisory Committee Note to 1991 Amendment. The theory behind Rule 15(c) is that once litigation involving particular conduct has been instituted, the statute of limitations should not preclude amended claims that arise out of the same conduct, ...


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