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Arroyo v. Pleasant Garden Apartments

September 18, 1998

JULIE ARROYO,
PLAINTIFF,
V.
PLEASANT GARDEN APARTMENTS; STOCKTON STATION APARTMENTS; FEDERAL HOME MORTGAGE CORPORATION ("FREDDIE MAC"); JOHN DOES 1-100; ABC PARTNERSHIP; XYZ CORPORATION; INDIVIDUALLY, JOINTLY, SEVERALLY AND/OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stephen M. Orlofsky United States District Judge

HON. STEPHEN M. ORLOFSKY

OPINION

ORLOFSKY, District Judge:

Defendant, Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie Mac"), has filed a motion for summary judgment, on the ground that the Plaintiff's state common law negligence claims are time-barred. More specifically, Freddie Mac argues that Plaintiff's amendments to her original Complaint, which add Stockton Station Apartments, for which Freddie Mac was the real party in interest, and Freddie Mac as defendants, do not relate back to the original Complaint. In response, Plaintiff, Julie Arroyo ("Arroyo" or "Plaintiff"), argues that the Second Complaint and the Amended Complaint do relate back to the filing of the original Complaint, because Stockton Station Apartments and Freddie Mac were within the description of fictitious defendants identified in the original Complaint. Arroyo claims that, as a result of the relation back of these amendments, her claims survive the expiration of the limitations period.

Arroyo filed her original Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County, Law Division on March 17, 1997. On April 11, 1997, she amended this Complaint, adding Stockton Station Apartments as a defendant. Then, Freddie Mac, who was the real party in interest for Stockton Station Apartments, removed the case to federal court on July 17, 1997, pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 1452(f). This Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to § 1452(f), which provides that: "all civil actions to which [Freddie Mac] is a party shall be deemed to arise under the laws of the United States, and the district courts of the United States shall have original jurisdiction of all such actions, without regard to amount or value." Further, Freddie Mac may remove to federal court any action in which it is a party in any court not a federal district court. See § 1452(f). Further, Freddie Mac may remove at any time before trial, "by following any procedure for removal of causes in effect at the time of removal." Id.

This case presents the novel issue of whether a state court action which is time-barred by the statute of limitations may be resuscitated by removal to this court. For the reasons which follow, I conclude that removal to federal court cannot resurrect a case that is legally dead in state court. Because Arroyo's claim was barred by the statute of limitations prior to removal to this court, I shall grant Freddie Mac's motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Arroyo has alleged various counts of negligence on the part of a variety of defendants that led her to slip and fall on some egg residue as she walked down the front steps of her apartment building on March 26, 1995. See Amended Compl. According to the allegations in her Amended Complaint, Arroyo's fall resulted in "severe and permanent injuries," leaving her "unable to tend to her business," and forcing her to incur "substantial medical bills." Id. ¶ 3.

Until March 31, 1995, the building in which Arroyo lived was called Stockton Station Apartments, however, some time before the alleged accident, Arroyo received notification from her rental office that the name of the building was changing to Pleasant Garden Apartments. See Affidavit of Julie Arroyo, dated November 21, 1997 ("Arroyo Aff."), ¶ 4; Affidavit of Robyn C. Nettle, dated November 19, 1997 ("Nettle Aff."), ¶ 2. The building is located at 550 North 30th Street, Camden, New Jersey. See Arroyo Aff. ¶ 2.

On September 11, 1995, Plaintiff's counsel, Carlos M. Morcate, Esq., sent a letter to Pleasant Garden Apartments at the North 30th Street address, which provided notice of his representation and requested the name of the building's insurance carrier. See Affidavit of Carlos M. Morcate, Esq., dated November 21, 1997 ("Morcate Aff."), ¶ 2.

Morcate sent a second letter on October 29, 1996, inquiring about the lack of an answer to his first letter. See id. ¶ 3. On November 8, 1996, Morcate received a response, which asked for information about Arroyo. See id. ¶ 4. In December, 1995, Morcate forwarded this information and, soon after, he was instructed to forward a letter of representation to CT Management in Maryland. See id. ¶¶ 4- 5. After no response arrived, Morcate sent additional letters to CT Management on January 8, 1997, and on February 11, 1997. See id. ¶ 6. These, too, went unanswered. See id.

On March 17, 1997, Arroyo filed her initial Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County, Law Division. See Compl. This Complaint alleged negligence on the part of Pleasant Garden Apartments and numerous fictitious defendants for "creating or allowing to exist an inherently dangerous condition." Compl. First, Second, & Third Count ¶ 2. Additionally, the Complaint alleged that both "ABC Partnership" and "XYZ Corporation, failed to properly supervise, train, manage and/or control its employees John Does 1-100, there by [sic] allowing the aforementioned dangerous condition to exist." Id. Third Count & Fourth Count ¶ 4.

The manager of Pleasant Garden Apartments responded by letter on March 18, 1997, informing Plaintiff's counsel that "Pleasant Garden Apartments was not in existence at the time this incident was [alleged] to have occurred." Morcate Aff. ¶ 8 & Ex. F (March 18, 1997 letter). As a result of receiving this information, Plaintiff's counsel amended the original Complaint and named Stockton Station Apartments as a defendant. See Morcate Aff. ¶ 9; Affidavit of William P. Cunningham, Esq., dated October 31, 1997 ("Cunningham Aff."), at Ex. B (Second Complaint, filed on April 11, 1997). This Second Complaint was filed on April 11, 1997, and was served on Stockton Station Apartments on May 16, 1997. See Morcate Aff. ¶¶ 9-10.

Freddie Mac filed a notice of removal on July 17, 1997, transferring the action to this Court. See Cunningham Aff., at Ex. C (Notice of Removal). Magistrate Judge Joel B. Rosen held a scheduling conference on August 27, 1997. See id. ¶¶ 4-5 & Ex. C (Notice of Removal); Morcate Aff. ¶ 11. At that conference, Magistrate Judge Rosen directed Plaintiff's counsel to file an Amended Complaint in this court, naming Freddie Mac as a defendant, "as they were the party in interest for `Stockton Station Apartments' for the time in question." Cunningham Aff. ¶ 5. Morcate filed an Amended Complaint in this Court on ...


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