March 18, 2014

Court Of Appeals Panels Disagree On Effective Date Of Amended Complaint

Category: Civil Procedure, Claims & Defenses | Author: | Share:

It is a rare and special occasion when different panels of the Indiana Court of Appeals disagree over an issue. So cases like Magic Circle Corp. v. Schoolcraft, ___ N.E.3d ___ (Ind. Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2014), Cause No. 49A02-1306-PL-552, really pop out. The issue is whether a claim against a defendant newly added in an amended complaint is timely if the court does not grant the motion to amend until after the statutory period runs.

Schoolcraft died as the result of an accident involving a mower manufactured by Magic Circle. Less than two years later, his estate filed a wrongful death claim against Magic Circle. The day before the statutory period, the estate amended the complaint to add defendants who manufactured parts of the mower. The trial court granted the motion 10 days after the statutory period ran. The new defendants argued that the amendment was untimely because the motion for leave to amend was not granted within the statutory period. The trial court denied their motion and an appeal ensued.

In a decision involving similar circumstances, A.J.’s Auto Sales, Inc. v. Freet, 725 N.E.2d 955 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000), a prior panel held that an amendment became effective on the date the trial court granted the motion. But the panel here chose to follow “the rule applied in the majority of state and federal jurisdictions,” i.e. that for the purposes of the statute of limitations, the timeliness of the amendment should be based on when the motion to amend is filed, rather than when it is granted. Thus, it ended up affirming the trial court’s decision.

What the panel refers to as the majority rule is not of incredibly recent vintage. Each of the decisions it cites predates the decision in A.J.’s. Thus, this decision reflects a fundamental disagreement over the proper application of the law, rather than a shift in the larger legal world. It will be interesting to see if transfer is sought and granted on this issue.

Lesson:

    The most recent Indiana Appellate decision on the issue holds that an action against a defendant added to an amended complaint is commenced when the motion for leave to amend is filed.

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