By Michael T. Fraser, Esq., Associate, Saxon, Gilmore, Carraway & Gibbons, P.A.
The relation-back doctrine, found in Rule 1.190(c), Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, holds that amended pleadings, filed after the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations, are permitted because all subsequent pleadings to the original complaint “relate back” to the date of the original complaint’s filing. The Florida Supreme Court, in Caduceus Properties, LLC v. Graney, 2014 WL 763137 (Fla. 2014), recently resolved a district court of appeal split regarding the application of the relation-back doctrine to third party defendants. Specifically, in Graney, the Florida Supreme Court held that a plaintiff, after the expiration of the statute of limitations, is permitted to add a party defendant to the case, provided that: (1) the new party defendant had already been a named third party defendant based on the same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence”; and (2) the statute of limitations had not already run when the new defendant was originally named a third party defendant. In so holding, the Florida Supreme Court adopted the reasoning of the Fifth District’s decision in Gatins v. Sebastian Inlet Tax District, 453 So. 2d 871 (Fla. 5th DCA 1984), and rejected the reasoning of the First District in Graney v. Caduceus Properties, LLC, 91 So. 3d 22 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012), from which the instant appeal was taken.
Caduceus Properties, LLC (“Caduceus”) owned a building, whose heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (“HVAC”) unit began malfunctioning in 2005. The architect for the building, Michael Lee Gordon (“Gordon”), had subcontracted the design of the HVAC system to KTD Consulting Engineers, Inc. (“KTD”) and its principal, William G. Graney (“Graney”). Caduceus sued Gordon in 2006 for the malfunctioning HVAC, and Gordon impleaded Graney in 2007, pursuant to Rule 1.180, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.
Ultimately, Gordon’s third party complaint was dismissed because Gordon failed to comply with a court order; thereafter, Gordon filed for bankruptcy. However, in June of 2010, after the statute of limitations had run on Caduceus’ original action, Caduceus, among other things, sought to add KTD and Graney as party defendants. KTD and Graney filed motions to dismiss based on the untimeliness of the claim, which the circuit court denied. The First District Court of Appeal, however, reversed, stating that “[r]elation back should only be permitted where there is a mistake or misnomer in identifying a party defendant, not a mistake in failing to add a party defendant.” The Florida Supreme Court reversed.
In reversing, the Florida Supreme Court explained that statutes of limitations are designed to protect defendants from prejudice resulting from stale claims. There is no prejudice, however, the Court held, when a defendant is named as a party defendant in a case after the defendant had already been a named third party defendant as a result of the same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence” alleged in the third party complaint. Indeed, Florida’s strong public policy favoring the resolution of cases on their merits, coupled with Florida’s judicial policy of freely permitting amendments to pleadings for the same reason, formed the basis of the Court’s holding.
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