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Miller v. Panther II Transportation, Inc.

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

March 12, 2019

JOHN MILLER, Plaintiff,


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff John Miller originally brought this lawsuit against Defendant Panther II Transportation, Inc. (“Panther”), alleging that he was injured when Panther's employee pulled away from a loading dock while he was using a forklift in the back of the box truck. After the statute of limitations had run, Mr. Miller sought leave to amend his Complaint to allege claims against William Hall, who allegedly drove the box truck, and Expediter Services, LLC (“Expediter”), which may have employed Mr. Hall. Panther opposed the Motion to Amend, arguing that the proposed amended complaint would not relate back to the filing of the original Complaint. The Court granted Mr. Miller's Motion to Amend, noting the odd posture of Panther attempting to raise Expediter's affirmative defense and the paucity of the record. The dispositive issue for relation back, the Court held, was not what the plaintiff knew at the time the statute of limitations ran, but whether the newly-joined party “knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity.” [Filing No. 34 at 2.]

         Now, Expediter, one of the newly-joined parties, has filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that it had no reason to believe it would have been sued but for a mistake and that Mr. Miller's suit is therefore time-barred. [Filing No. 61.] Expediter's Motion should have been styled a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. But Mr. Miller recognized this fact and took the opportunity to submit evidence in response. Cf.Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d) (“All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.”). The undisputed evidence provides no basis for relation back, rendering Mr. Miller's claim against Expediter untimely under the applicable statute of limitations. The Court, construing Expediter's Motion as a motion for summary judgment, GRANTS the Motion for the reasons described below.


         Legal Standard

          As alluded to above, a threshold issue in assessing Expediter's Motion is determining the applicable legal standard. Expediter has filed its Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), which provides a mechanism for challenging the legal sufficiency of a complaint, arguing that Mr. Miller's Complaint is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. “Dismissing a complaint as untimely at the pleading stage is an unusual step, since a complaint need not anticipate and overcome affirmative defenses, ” except in the rare situation where the plaintiff “alleges facts sufficient to establish a statute of limitations defense.” Sidney Hillman Health Ctr. of Rochester v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 782 F.3d 922, 928 (7th Cir. 2015). This would be such a situation given that the dates set forth in the Amended Complaint establish its untimeliness, except that Mr. Miller has raised the relation-back doctrine to resist the application of the statute of limitations. Expediter anticipated this (which is unsurprising, given the procedural history of this matter), and therefore submitted a declaration from its president in support of its Motion. Expediter's decision to present “matters outside the pleadings” means that it should have filed its motion as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, consistent with the ordinary procedure for resolving affirmative defenses. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Sidney Hillman, 782 F.3d at 928.

         The result is that the Court must either exclude Expediter's evidence or treat the motion “as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Mr. Miller likewise recognized that resolving Expediter's Motion required consideration of outside evidence, having submitted numerous exhibits in opposition. He also affirmatively asserts that the Court “should construe the Motion under [Rule 56] as a Motion for Summary Judgment.” [Filing No. 76 at 9.] Based upon this affirmative assertion and recognition that Expediter's Motion should be resolved under the parameters of Rule 56, cf. Sansone v. Brennan, 2019 WL 1062288 (7th Cir. 2019) (publication pending) (“Waiver is intentionally abandoning a known right.”), the Court concludes that all parties have received “a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Accordingly, the Court treats Expediter's Motion as a motion for summary judgment. As noted, Mr. Miller anticipated the treatment of Expediter's Motion as one for summary judgment, and he responded accordingly, also submitting matters outside the record. He has therefore had a full opportunity to be heard, and Expediter's motion is ripe for consideration.

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeFed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those facts are not outcome determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2005). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not suffice to defeat summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable factfinder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).



          The following factual background is set forth pursuant to the standards detailed above. The facts stated are not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light most favorable to “the party against whom the motion under consideration is made.” Premcor USA, Inc. v. American Home Assurance Co., 400 F.3d 523, 526-27 (7th Cir. 2005).

         As the Court summarized in its Order dated July 6, 2018 granting Mr. ...

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