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Ayres v. Berks County Sheriff's Dep't

March 9, 2010

JAMES AYRES, PLAINTIFF
v.
BERKS COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, BERKS COUNTY AND JOHN DOES 1-10 DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry S. Perkin United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint filed February 9, 2010. The Response of Defendants Berks County and the Berks County Sheriff's Department to Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint was filed on February 17, 2010.*fn1 A Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint was filed by Plaintiff on February 26, 2010. Having reviewed and considered the contentions of the parties, the Court is prepared to rule on this matter.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 8, 2009, Plaintiff, James Ayres, commenced this action by filing a Complaint against the Berks County Sheriff's Department, the County of Berks, the City of Reading Police Department, and John Does 1-10. See Docket No. 1. The Complaint alleged causes of action under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution*fn2 against all Defendants for an incident that allegedly occurred on February 2, 2008. See Docket No. 1. On November 5, 2009, by Order of the Court approving a Stipulation of Voluntary Dismissal of the parties, all false arrest and malicious prosecution claims against all Defendants, as well as any other claims against Defendant City of Reading, incorrectly identified as the City of Reading Police Department, were voluntary dismissed with prejudice. See Docket No. 27. Plaintiff's excessive force and Monell*fn3 claims against Berks County, the Berks County Sheriff's Department and John Does 1-10 remain. See Docket No. 27.

Pursuant to this Court's Rule 16 Scheduling Order, all discovery in this case was completed on January 11, 2010. See Docket No. 25. Within the time period permitted for discovery, counsel for Plaintiff took the depositions of Berks County Deputy Sheriffs Steven A. Walls, Jr. and Tracey Leese.*fn4 After the close of discovery, on February 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant motion seeking leave to amend his Complaint to identify two of the John Doe Defendants as Deputy Sheriffs Steven Walls and Tracey Leese. See Docket No. 31. Defendants Berks County and the Berks County Sheriff's Department filed their response on February 17, 2010 contending, inter alia, that the statute of limitations has run and Plaintiff has failed to proffer any legitimate reason why an amendment should be permitted at this late date. See Docket No. 34.

II. DISCUSSION

Claims, such as those in this case, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are subject to state statutes of limitations governing personal injury actions. See Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-250, 109 S.Ct. 573, 581-582, 102 L.Ed. 2d 594 (1989); Garvin v. City of Philadelphia, 354 F.3d 215 (2003). The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for personal injury actions applicable here is two years. Lake v. Arnold, 232 F.3d 360, 368-369 (3d Cir. 2000), 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5524(7). Federal district courts permit the use of Doe defendants for pleading purposes until plaintiffs can determine the unknown actors' identities. See Williams v. Lower Merion Township, 1995 WL 461246, at *3 (E.D. Pa. 1995)(citations omitted). However, a district court does not have to wait indefinitely for a plaintiff to identify and serve Doe defendants. Id., citing, Glaros v. Perse, 628 F.2d 679, 685 (1st Cir. 1980). If it appears that reasonable steps are not taken to learn the identity of the true party and add him as a defendant, claims against unknown defendants should be dismissed with prejudice. Id., citing, Rodriguez v. City of Passaic, 730 F. Supp. 1314, 1319 n.7 (D. N.J. 1990).

Plaintiff's claims arise from events which allegedly occurred on February 2, 2008. See Complaint at Docket No. 1. Two years from February 2, 2008 is February 2, 2010. Therefore, the last day for Plaintiff to file a complaint within the statute of limitations was Tuesday, February 2, 2010. Plaintiff's motion to amend his Complaint was filed on February 9, 2010, after the statute of limitations had expired.*fn5

Because the statute of limitations has run as to Deputy Sheriffs Steven Walls and Tracey Leese, Plaintiff must attempt to avail himself of Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure*fn6 which provides for the relation back of amendments. Replacing the name John Doe with a party's real name amounts to the changing of a party or the naming of a party under Rule 15(c), and thus the proposed amendments will relate back only if the three conditions specified in that rule are satisfied. Garvin, 354 F.3d at 220, citing, Varlack v. SWC Caribbean, Inc., 550 F.2d 171, 174 (3d Cir. 1977). The conditions Plaintiff must show are as follows:

(1) that the claim against the parties to be added arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth in the original complaint, (2) that within the 120-day period for service of the summons and original complaint, the parties to be added have received notice of the institution of the action such that they will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (3) that within that same 120-day period of time, the parties to be added must have known, or should have known, that 'but for a mistake,' they would have been named as defendants in the first place.

Garvin, 354 F.3d at 222, citing, Singletary v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 266 F.3d 186, 194 (3d Cir. 2001).

There appears to be no dispute that the proposed amendments naming Deputy Sheriffs Steven Walls and Tracey Leese as Defendants in this matter satisfy the first condition that Plaintiff is required to meet. That is, the claims to be asserted against Deputy Sheriffs Steven Walls and Tracey Leese arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth in the original complaint. Therefore, the first requirement is satisfied.

The second requirement has been interpreted by the Third Circuit as containing two prongs, notice and the absence of prejudice, each of which must be satisfied. Smith v. City of Philadelphia, 363 F. Supp. 2d 795 (E.D. Pa. 2005)(Brody, J.), citing, Garvin, 354 F.3d at 222. The notice prong of the second requirement demands that the parties to be added received, within 120 days of the filing of the original complaint, notice of the action. Smith, 363 F. Supp. 2d at 799. The notice required by Rule 15(c) can be actual or constructive. Id. Plaintiff does not contend, nor does he produce any evidence to prove, that Deputy Sheriffs Steven Walls and Tracey Leese received actual notice of his action by August 6, 2009, which is 120 days after the filing of his Complaint.*fn7

When a plaintiff chooses to rely on constructive notice to satisfy the requirements of Rule 15(c), he can demonstrate such notice either through the "shared attorney" method or the "identity of interest" method. Id.; Garvin, 354 F.3d at 223-227. The shared attorney method requires that a plaintiff demonstrate that there was "some communication or relationship" between the attorney for the named defendants and the parties sought to be added as defendants prior to the expiration of the 120-day period for service of the summons and complaint. Smith, 363 F. Supp. 2d at 799; Garvin, 354 F.3d at 225. The identity of interest method requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the circumstances surrounding the ...


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