United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
John Miller was injured after falling, along with his
forklift, from the back of a box truck after the truck
allegedly moved away from the loading dock. [Filing No.
1-1 at 3.] Mr. Miller brought suit in state court
against Defendant Panther II Transportation, Inc.
(“Panther”), believing the driver of the
box truck to be the “employee and/or agent”
of Panther and alleging Panther to be vicariously liable for
the driver's negligence. [Filing No. 1-1 at 4.]
the discovery process, Mr. Miller learned that the truck
driver was one William Hall and that Mr. Hall may have been
working for a different company called Expediter Services,
LLC (“Expediter”; together,
“Putative Defendants”). [See Filing
No. 17-10 at 3; Filing No. 17-10 at 7.] After
the statute of limitations had run, Mr. Miller moved to amend
his complaint to join Mr. Hall and Expediter as defendants in
this matter. [Filing No. 17.] Panther opposed Mr.
Miller's Motion, arguing that it was futile because the
statute of limitations had run. However, Mr. Miller argued
that the amendment would relate back to the filing of his
initial Complaint because he told the Putative Defendants
that, but for his mistake in failing to previously identify
them, they would have been named as defendants within the
statute of limitations. Mr. Miller relied upon Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 15(c), which allows an amended complaint
to relate back if (among other things) “the party to be
brought in by amendment . . . knew or should have known that
the action would have been brought against it, but for a
mistake concerning the proper party's identity.”
parties' dispute here raises an important and unsettled
question regarding the role “mistake” plays in
the relation back analysis. Applying Seventh Circuit case law
decided prior to the Supreme Court's decision in
Krupski v. Costa Crociere, 560 U.S. 538 (2010),
Magistrate Judge Tim Baker held that, as a matter of law, the
omission of the Putative Defendants could not constitute a
mistake because Mr. Miller lacked knowledge of the Putative
Defendants at the time he filed this lawsuit. [Filing No.
27.] The Magistrate Judge therefore denied Mr.
Miller's Motion to Amend as futile. Mr. Miller timely
objected to the Magistrate Judge's Order. [Filing No.
30.] The Court concludes, however, that the focus on the
plaintiff's knowledge and the unequivocal rule that lack
of knowledge cannot suffice for a “mistake” is
incompatible with the Supreme Court's directive in
Krupski. Therefore, as detailed below, the Court
SUSTAINS Mr. Miller's Objection and
GRANTS Mr. Miller leave to amend his
Magistrate Judge ruled on Mr. Miller's Motion to Amend, a
quintessentially nondispositive motion generally subject to
deferential review, see Hall v. Norfolk S. Ry.
Co., 469 F.3d 590, 595 (7th Cir. 2006), 469 F.3d at 595;
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), and
additionally recommended that the Court enter partial
judgment, a quintessentially dispositive action subject to
de novo review, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
The Court must “modify or set aside any part” of
the Magistrate Judge's Order on the Motion to Amend
“that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). As the disjunctive standard
set out in Rule 72(a) suggests, factual findings and some
mixed questions of law and fact are reviewed for clear error.
Cf., e.g., U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n ex rel.
CWCapital Asset Mgmt. LLC v. Village at Lakeridge, LLC,
138 S.Ct. 960, 967 (2018) (“In short, the standard of
review [of a bankruptcy court's decision] for a mixed
question all depends-on whether answering it entails
primarily legal or factual work.”). The contrary-to-law
standard, however, requires the Court to sustain an objection
whenever a nondispositive order “fails to apply or
misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of
procedure.” Pain Ctr. of SE Ind., LLC v. Origin
Healthcare Sol'ns, LLC, 2014 WL 6674757, at *2 (S.D.
Ind. 2014) (internal quotations omitted). Therefore, as is
usually (but not always) the case with review of judicial
decisions, the Court reviews the Magistrate Judge's legal
conclusions de novo. Compare Id.
and U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 138 S.Ct. at
965 with Dassey v. Dittmann, 877 F.3d 297,
302 (7th Cir. 2017) (explaining standard of review for state
habeas petitions under federal statute as “whether the
[legal] decision was unreasonably wrong under an objective
standard”). Here, Mr. Miller's sole objection is
that the Magistrate Judge's Order applied the incorrect
legal standard for relation back. The Court thus reviews both
the challenged legal holding of the Magistrate Judge's
Order and its dispositive recommendation that the Court enter
partial judgment under the de novo standard, as if
it were considering the matters in the first instance. The
Court's review of a nondispositive order is generally
limited to the issues raised by the parties' objections,
as “[a] party may not assign as error a defect in the
order not timely objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).
lawsuit arises out of a November 18, 2015 incident when Mr.
Miller and the forklift he was operating fell out of the back
of a box truck when the truck began to drive away from the
loading dock. [Filing No. 1-1 at 3.] On October 11,
2017, Mr. Miller brought suit against Panther in state court,
alleging that the incident occurred as a “result of the
negligence of [Panther's] employees and agents.”
[Filing No. 1-1 at 4.] On November 8, 2017, Panther
removed the matter based upon the Court's diversity
jurisdiction. [Filing No. 1.]
discovery, Mr. Miller learned that Mr. Hall was the driver of
the box truck and that he was (or may have been) an employee
of Expediter. On December 22, 2017, Mr. Miller's counsel
mailed a letter to Mr. Hall explaining that “when this
lawsuit was filed, I did not know your involvement with this
accident” and that “it has now become necessary
to add you as a party defendant in this lawsuit.”
[Filing No. 17-10 at 3.] On January 9, 2018, Mr.
Miller's counsel mailed a similar letter to counsel for
Expediter, explaining Mr. Hall had given a statement that he
was an employee of Expediter at the time of the incident.
[Filing No. 17-10 at 7.] The letter stated: “I
understand that Mr. Hall may be mistaken in this assertion,
but this is what he said. If I had known this information
previously, I would have named Expediter . . . as a party
defendant in this lawsuit . . . .” [Filing No.
17-10 at 7.]
February 28, 2018, after the statute of limitations had run,
Mr. Miller moved for leave to amend his complaint to allege
claims against the Putative Defendants. [Filing No.
17.] On May 14, 2018, the Magistrate Judge denied Mr.
Miller's Motion. [Filing No. 27.] Mr. Miller
timely objected to the Magistrate Judge's Order,
[Filing No. 30], and his Objection is now ripe for
Miller raises just one objection to the Magistrate
Judge's Order, arguing that the Order applied the
incorrect standard for relation back in denying his Motion
for Leave to Amend Complaint on futility grounds. [Filing
No. 30.] Mr. Miller argues that, in determining whether
an amended complaint relates back to a timely, earlier-filed
complaint, recent cases require the Court to look not to ...