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Merritt v. Gullo

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 15, 2017

ROBERT MERRITT, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN GULLO, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Robert Merritt has filed a Motion to Amend his Complaint. ECF No. 62. For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.

         I. Introduction

         Merritt filed his Complaint in this matter pro se on September 24, 2014, alleging, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that on October 17, 2012, while Merritt was in the Northampton County Prison, Defendant Correctional Officer Steven Gullo violated Merritt's rights under the Eighth Amendment when Gullo punched Merritt in the back of the head for no reason and applied handcuffs with excessive force, causing Merritt serious injury. In June 2017, counsel was appointed to represent Merritt. ECF No. 47. In October 2017, Merritt, through his counsel, filed the present Motion to Amend his Complaint to (a) add allegations against Defendant Steven Gullo in his official capacity as a Northampton County Correctional Officer and (b) name Northampton County as an additional defendant. Specifically, Merritt seeks to add a claim, under Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), that the County had a policy of “guaranteeing job protection to officers who violate prisoners' Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, ” and that this policy caused his injuries in this case. Pl.'s Mot. 2.

         Merritt's Motion to Amend was filed after the two-year statute of limitations for his proposed § 1983 claims had expired. Because the limitations period on Merritt's claims has run, the proposed amendment will be permitted only if it can “relate back” to the original, timely filed, complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1).[1] That Rule provides that an amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when:

(A) the law that provides the applicable statute of limitations allows relation back;
(B) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out-or attempted to be set out-in the original pleading; or
(C) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment:
(i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and
(ii) knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1).

         Because Merritt seeks to amend his pleading to add the County as a party, [2] he must satisfy the requirements of Rule 15(c)(1)(C). Thus, in order to benefit from the “relation back” provision, Merritt must establish that: (1) the proposed amendment arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth in the original Complaint; (2) the County had notice of the action within 120-day period[3] for service subsequent to the filing of the original Complaint such that it will not be prejudiced in maintaining the action; and (3) the County knew or should have known that but for a mistake of identity of the proper party, it would have been named in the original Complaint.

         With respect to the first and second elements, Merritt contends that his proposed amendment arises from Gullo's alleged assault and that the County had timely notice of his lawsuit. With respect to the third element, Merritt contends that he failed to name the County as a defendant because he mistakenly believed-based on his misunderstanding of a ruling issued by the Honorable Timothy J. Savage in a previous case of Merritt's-that he was permitted to sue only Gullo in this action.[4]

         II. The County did not know, nor should it have known, that Merritt's action would have been brought against it, but for ...


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