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Miller v. Panther II Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 6, 2018

JOHN MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
PANTHER II TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Plaintiff 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.]

         Through 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(C).

         The 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 complaint.

         I.

         Standard of Review

         The 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).

         II.

         Background

         This 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.]

         Through 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.]

         On 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 decision.

         III.

         Discussion

         Mr. 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 ...


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