United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.
I. Statement of Facts and of the Case
This matter comes before the Court on a motion to reconsider a decision authorizing the Plaintiff to file an amended complaint which named a new Defendant, Sergeant Nestor, and related back to the date of the Plaintiff's initial filing. For the reasons set forth below, we will deny this request.
Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint on August 7, 2012. (Doc. 1.) In the complaint, Plaintiff, a resident of the City of York, claimed that he was arrested by unidentified York City Police Officers on August 6, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff alleged that after he was handcuffed, he was struck in the chest by an unnamed individual officer. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff claimed that when he was struck by the officer, he was not resisting arrest, or otherwise failing to comply with the officer's instructions. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleged that the assaulting officer was an officer with the York City Police Department, and that this officer had "received extensive training in the proper arrest of an individual who appears to have committed a crime." (Id. at ¶ 13.) In addition to these allegations, Plaintiff claimed that the York City Police Department is the police department for the City of York, and that the department employed the officer alleged to have assaulted Plaintiff during the course of his arrest. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-11.) Plaintiff claimed that following his assault and arrest, he was charged with a number of crimes, including multiple firearms and drug offenses, and receiving stolen property. Plaintiff alleged that he has experienced physical and psychological injuries as a direct and proximate cause of the assault - an assault that Plaintiff claims was "video recorded by a citizen of York City, Pennsylvania and placed on You-Tube." (Id. at ¶¶ 22-25.) The Plaintiff initially brought claims against an unnamed police officer, the City of York, and the York City Police Department under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of the United States Constitution; a claim for money damages for unspecified violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and a claim for assault and battery under Pennsylvania common law.
Following the filing of this complaint, counsel entered appearances for the Defendants. While Attorney Gonzales limited his notice of appearance to the City of York, and the York Police Department, (Doc. 5.), Attorney Hoyt, the York City solicitor, entered an appearance on behalf of all defendants, including the unnamed police officer described in Montanez's complaint. (Doc. 3.)
On October 19, 2012, approximately 70 days after the filing of the complaint, the parties submitted a join case management plan in this case. (Doc. 6.) For the Defendants, that case management plan clearly suggested that counsel had communicated with the officers who participated in Montanez's arrest, since the report described the arrest from the perspective of these unnamed officers, stating:
On August 6, 2010, officers from the York City Police Department were dispatched to the 700 block of East Market St. for a report of a man with a gun. Officers observed the Plaintiff who matched the description of the suspect, exited their unmarked vehicle and ordered Plaintiff to the ground. Plaintiff ignored these commands, and ran away. Plaintiff tripped and fell on the curb where he was tackled by one of the officers. At that time, a gun fell from Plaintiff's pants. Plaintiff attempted to escape the grasp of the officer and began to actively resist. Another officer drive-stunned Plaintiff with his tazer to gain control of Plaintiff and to stop him from fighting with the officers. It took several officers to gain control of Plaintiff and place him in handcuffs. As officers were walking Plaintiff to a waiting vehicle for transportation back to headquarters, Plaintiff stepped into the right side of an officer and wiped his bloody forehead onto the officer's uniform. That officer pushed Plaintiff away from him using his elbow and forearm in a rapid movement and in reaction to Plaintiff's attempt to wipe blood and bodily fluids onto the officer.
(Doc. 6, p. 3.)
On November 2, 2012, the City of York and the York City Police Department moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 10.) We granted this motion, dismissing the complaint with respect to the City of York, without prejudice to the filing of an amended complaint by the plaintiff. (Docs. 18, 24.) On June 11, 2013, we also clarified this ruling on a motion for reconsideration, stating that the plaintiff was still permitted to pursue claims against the still unidentified York police officers who allegedly assaulted him. (Doc. 24.)
In the meanwhile Plaintiff's counsel made what he described as "numerous request[s]" for the identity of this police officer from defense counsel, requests which were unavailing, as defense counsel declined to provide the name of this officer. (Doc. 25.) Indeed, defense counsel acknowledged that Plaintiff's counsel sought this information regarding the identity of the police officer involved in this incident in late 2012, while a motion to dismiss was pending in this case, and again requested this information informally in April, 2013. (Doc. 39.) Notably, in these communications defense counsel did not claim confusion regarding the identity of the unnamed officer; instead counsel indicated that they knew the identity of the officer but simply declined to disclose this information to Plaintiff's counsel. Despite receiving these repeated informal requests from the Plaintiff's attorney, defense counsel had concluded as a tactical matter that they would not comply with these requests until they receive a formal discovery demand from the Plaintiff. (Id.) It is uncertain if this position was clearly communicated and understood by Plaintiff's counsel.
After several months of stalemate on this issue, in order to resolve the simple issue of identifying this Defendant the Court then convened a conference with counsel. (Doc. 27.) At this conference it became apparent to the Court that defense counsel knew the identity of the officer but had made a tactical decision not to provide that information, except in response to a specific discovery demand compelling this disclosure. Accordingly, on September 11, 2013, we issued an order directed the Plaintiff to propound discovery demands identifying the officer allegedly involved in this incident, and further instructing defense counsel to promptly identify this unnamed officer for the Plaintiff. (Doc. 28.)
Following this exchange of discovery the Plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint to specifically identify the police officer that he alleged assaulted him, Sergeant Roger Nestor. We granted this motion, (Doc. 42.), finding that the criteria established by Rule 15(c)(1) for amendment of pleadings that relate back to the date of the Plaintiff's initial filing were satisfied. In particular, we found at the outset that the first requisite of Rule 15(c) was met here since the amendment asserted a claim against Sergeant Nestor that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out - or attempted to be set out - in the original pleading, as required by Rule 15(c).
We noted that there were two other conditions which also must be met under Rule 15(c) before an amended complaint can relate-back to the date of the initial filing. First, the newly named party must have "received such notice of the institution of the action [within the 120 day period prescribed for service of the original complaint] that the party will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits." Fed. R. Civ. P., Rule15(c)(1)(C)(i). In addition there is yet another condition prescribed by Rule 15(c), that the newly named party must have known, or should have known, that "but for a mistake" made by the Plaintiff concerning the newly named party's identity, "the action would have been brought against" the newly named party in the first place. Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii).
Turning to Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii)'s requirement that the newly named party must have known, or should have known, that "but for a mistake" made by the Plaintiff concerning the newly named party's identity, "the action would have been brought against" the newly named party in the first place, we found that it was clear that Sergeant Nestor would have been named in the Plaintiff's original complaint but for persistent and profound confusion on the part of the Plaintiff regarding the true identity of the officer that he alleged assaulted him. Therefore, this element of the relation-back doctrine was satisfied here. See Singletary v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corr. , 266 F.3d 186, 200-01 (3d Cir.2001) (noting that a "mistake" can be when a ...