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Legal Memorandum: Relation Back of Amendments to a Complaint

Issue: In the Virgin Islands, whether an amendment to a timely complaint to substitute a reference to a ‘John Doe’ defendant with the name of the proper defendant relates back to the original complaint when the amendment occurs outside the statute of limitations, and the new defendants are not affiliated with previously named defendants and had no prior actual or constructive notice of the lawsuit.

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Amendment; Relation back theory; Requirements
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 266 F.3d 186; 347 F. Supp. 2d 215; 550 F.2d 171
Cited Statutes: Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, Rule 15(c), Rule 15(c)(3), Rule 15(c)(1)
Date: 11/01/2005

Under such circumstances, it appears the amendment does not relate back.  In the Virgin Islands, the relation back of amendments to a complaint is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15.  See Etienne v. Oyake, 347 F. Supp. 2d 215 (D.V.I. 2004).  Under Rule 15(c), an amendment relates back to the original complaint when (1) the law that provides for the statute of limitations for the action permits relation back; (2) a new claim or defense “arose out of the conduct, transaction or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading”; or (3) the amendment changes a party or the naming of a party and three conditions are met.

First, the amendment must arise out of the same conduct, transaction or occurrence set forth in the original complaint.  Second, the newly added defendant must have “received such notice of the institution of the action that the party will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits” within 120 days after leave to amend is granted or good cause shown.  Finally, the newly added defendant must have known or should have known “that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against the party.”

Generally, the Third Circuit has recognized the use of a fictitious name for an unknown defendant as a mistake of identity for Rule 15(c)(3) purposes.  See Varlack v. SWC Caribbean, Inc.,