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Price v. Gonzalez

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

June 11, 2018

ANNE M. PRICE, Appellant,
STACY GONZALEZ; JOSE GONZALEZ and SARA GONZALEZ, and the marital community composed thereof, Respondents.

          Appelwick, C.J.

         Price sued the wrong defendant. The trial court dismissed, because the statute of limitations expired before the proper defendant received notice. Price argues that this was error, because her amendment to the complaint relates back to the original filing of the complaint. We affirm.


         Stacy Gonzalez rear-ended Anne Price. Price's declaration describes the exchange of information that occurred immediately after:

The driver who hit me was an emotional mess - she was crying, had labored breathing, and was shaking. I was very worried for her. I asked her if she was okay and she said no. She said she had just left her doctor's office[1] and her heart was not good. That made me even more worried for her, so I asked again if she as okay. She said no, but that she was on her way to another doctor's appointment. I said that we should call the police or an ambulance but she insisted that we not.
I suggested we exchange information, so we both went to our cars to get that. I didn't have any paper handy, so my mother gave me a receipt that she had, so I could write on the back of it. I walked back to the other driver and she handed me her insurance card; her hand was shaking. I gave her my insurance card and we each wrote down the other's contact information. The other driver did not write down her name and information on a piece of paper and give it to me - she gave me her insurance card and I wrote down her contact info on my mom's slip of paper....
At no time did the other driver tell me her name, otherwise I would have written it down. The only ID [(identification)] she gave me was her insurance card, she did not show me her driver's license. Based on the information the driver handed to me, I believed her name was Sara Gonzalez.

         In fact, Sara Gonzalez was Stacy's[2] mother.

         On November 13, 2015, the last day before the statute of limitations expired, Price filed a summons and complaint for personal injuries against Sara Gonzalez. Sara's answer stated that Price had sued the wrong defendant.

         The trial court granted Price leave of court to amend her complaint. On January 27, 2016, over two months after the statute of limitations had expired, Price amended her complaint to name Stacy as a defendant, in addition to Sara and Jose Gonzalez.[3] On February 4, 2016, within 90 days of the filing of the original complaint, Sara's attorney accepted service on behalf of both Sara and Stacy. On September 2, 2016, the defendants moved to dismiss. They argued that the amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint, because Stacy, the proper defendant, did not receive notice within the statute of limitations period, as required by CR 15(c). The trial court granted this motion, because "defendant Stacy Gonzalez did not receive notice of the institution of the action mistakenly brought against her mother within the period of time provided by law for commencing the action against her which was three years from the date of the November 13, 2012 accident."

         Price appeals.


         Price makes two arguments. First, she argues that her amended complaint relates back to the original complaint under CR 15(c). Second, she alternatively argues that Washington courts should change their interpretation of CR 15(c) to conform to the federal rule that allows relation back of pleadings within 90 days of the expiration of the statute of limitations.

         The trial court granted summary judgment to Gonzalez, because it found that Stacy did not receive notice of the institution of the action within the statute of limitations, as required by CR 15.[4] This court reviews de novo a trial court's decision to grant summary judgment. Lakey v. Puget Sound Energy, Inc., 176 Wn.2d 909, 922, 296 P.3d 860 (2013). It performs the same inquiry as the trial court, and will affirm an order of summary judgment when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. It reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Id.

         I. Relation Back

         Price first argues that she satisfied the requirements of CR 15(c). Our Supreme Court has described the purpose CR 15(c) as follows:

Plaintiffs occasionally sue incorrect defendants by mistake and do not realize who the correct defendants are until after the statute of limitations period expires. We have a court rule that deals with that scenario: CR 15(c). If plaintiffs amend their complaint and meet the requirements of that rule, we treat their amended complaint as "relat[ing] back to the date of the original pleading, " and thus timely.

Martin v. Dematic, 182 Wn.2d 281, 288, 340 P.3d 834 (2014) (alteration in original) (quoting CR15(c)).

         CR 15(c) has two textual and one judicially created requirements. Id. at 288. The first and second (textual) requirements are:

[W]ithin the period provided by law for commencing the action against the original party, the party to be brought in by amendment (1) has received such notice of the institution of the action that the new party will not be prejudiced in maintaining her or his defense on the merits, and (2) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against the new party.

CR 15. Third, Washington courts have followed federal courts and added an "inexcusable neglect" prong, which disallows relation back if the error was due to inexcusable neglect. Martin, 182 Wn.2d at 289.

         The party seeking for its amended complaint to relate back has the burden to prove these three conditions are satisfied. Id. at 288-89. But, CR 15(c) is to be liberally construed on the side of allowance of relation back of an amendment after the statute of limitations has run, particularly where the opposing party will be put to no disadvantage. Perrin v. Stensland, 158 Wn.App. 185, 194, 240 P.3d 1189 (2010).

         A. Notice Within the ...

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