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Camden Vicinage Keith Browning v. Safmarine

November 7, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel Schneider United States Magistrate Judge

[Doc. No. 21]


This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's "Second Motion to Amend Complaint" [Doc. No. 21]. Plaintiff is seeking to amend his complaint to substitute Jaco Trader Shipping, Ltd ("Jaco") for named defendant Safmarine, Inc. ("Safmarine"). The Court received defendants' response [Doc. No. 23] and the parties' supplemental submissions [Doc. Nos. 34, 36, 37]. The Court also heard oral argument. For the reasons to be discussed, plaintiff's motion is GRANTED.

Since the parties are familiar with the facts and procedural history of the case, only a brief summary will be set forth herein. Plaintiff filed his complaint in New Jersey state court on March 10, 2011, and the action was removed to this court on April 28, 2011. The named defendants, all represented by the same counsel, are: Safmarine, Inc., Safmarine Container Lines, N.V., Maersk Line, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S and A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. The complaint arises out of an accident that occurred on March 13, 2008 aboard the vessel Safmarine Douala. Complaint ¶10 [Doc. No. 1-2]. Plaintiff alleges that at the time of his accident he was a longshoreman employed by Delaware River Stevedores. Id. at ¶9. Plaintiff alleges that when he filed his complaint he was under the impression that the subject vessel was owned by Safmarine. During the course of the case defense counsel informed plaintiff that the actual owner was Jaco. On July 29, 2011, plaintiff filed his first motion to amend his complaint to name Jaco. On October 24, 2011, the Court denied the motion on the ground that it was futile. See October 24, 2011 Order [Doc. No. 16].*fn1 The Court found that since plaintiff's accident occurred on March 13, 2008, and his motion to amend was not filed until more than two years later on July 29, 2011, the claim against Jaco was barred by the statute of limitations. The Court denied plaintiff's request to "relate back" his amended pleading pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c). The Court held that although plaintiff argued that notice of the filing of the complaint was imputed to Jaco because of its identity of interest with the defendants, "plaintiff has not supplied evidence of this." Tr. 18:23-19:1.

Subsequent to the Court's October 24, 2011 Order denying plaintiff's motion to amend, the parties completed fact discovery. On May 30, 2012, defendants filed their motion for summary judgment. In their motion defendants argued, inter alia, that they "did not own or charter the ship [Safmarine Douala]." Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 2 [Doc. No. 20-1]. They also argued, "none of the defendants . . . had anything whatsoever to do with the alleged incident on March 13, 2008" (id.), and that the owner of the Safmarine Douala was "Jaco Trader Shipping Ltd." Id.

On June 1, 2012, plaintiff filed the instant motion to amend. Plaintiff alleges, and defendants do not contest, that the facts supporting the motion were learned in discovery taken after plaintiff's first motion to amend was denied on October 24, 2011. Like its first motion to amend, plaintiff's present motion also seeks to add Jaco as a party defendant. Plaintiff argues he now presents evidence that supports his contention that his amended complaint relates back to the filing of his original complaint. Plaintiff argues that because the same law firm, Palmer Biezup & Henderson LLP ("Palmer"), represented Jaco and the defendants, the firm's knowledge regarding the filing of plaintiff's complaint should be imputed to Jaco.


The parties agree that unless the proposed amended complaint relates back the amendment naming Jaco is futile because it is barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiff acknowledges that his sole basis for arguing the amended complaint relates back is Rule 15(c).*fn2 In relevant part Rule 15(c) reads as follows:

(1) An amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when:

(A) the law that provides the applicable statute of limitations allows relation back;

(B) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out - or attempted to be set out in the original pleading; or

(C) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and complaint, the party to be brought in by amendment:

(i) received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and

(ii) knew, or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake ...

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