Todd v. City of LaFayette, Alabama et al

Filing 103

OPINION AND ORDER directing that defendant Steve Smith's 51 motion for summary judgement is granted as to the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against him. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 9/23/13. (scn, )

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IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, EASTERN DIVISION MERRILL TODD, ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) v. ) ) CITY OF LAFAYETTE, et al., ) ) Defendants. ) CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:12cv589-MHT (WO) OPINION AND ORDER Relying on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff Merrill Todd brings this lawsuit naming as defendants the City of LaFayette and police officers Jerome Bailey, Larry Clark, Terry Woods, capacities. Bailey, and Steve Smith, in their individual The first count in his lawsuit contends that Clark, Woods, and Smith violated his constitutional rights by using excessive force against him; the second count asserts that the City of LaFayette violated his constitutional rights by negligently hiring, retaining, and failing to supervise the four police officers; and the final count is a state-law battery claim against the four police officers. Jurisdiction for the federal claims is proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal state-law question) claim and is 1343 (civil properly rights), before the and court the under supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. This case is currently before the court on Smith’s motion for summary judgment on Todd’s § 1983 claim, based on Smith’s assertion of a statute-of-limitations defense.* For the reasons that follow, Smith’s motion for summary judgment on the § 1983 claim is granted. I. BACKGROUND Todd’s original complaint, filed July 6, 2012, was filed within claims. the However, statute he of did limitations not name for Smith § 1983 in that complaint; he named Smith in an amended complaint filed * Smith also seeks summary judgment on the grounds of qualified immunity and insufficient evidence; because the statute-of-limitations issue is conclusive as to the § 1983 claims, the court does not reach Smith’s other arguments. 2 on August 30, 2012. By that time the two-year statute of See Owens limitations for his § 1983 claim had expired. v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235 (1989) (holding that § 1983 claims look to the general state-law limitations statute for personal-injury actions); 1975 Ala. Code § 6-2-38(l) (providing a two-year personal-injury actions). statute of limitations for Todd argues that the amended complaint relates back to the date he filed the original complaint and is therefore timely. As this court explained in its previous opinion and order, Todd v. City of LaFayette, 2013 WL 1084296 (M.D. Ala. 2013), Alabama’s state-law fictitious-party practice allows relation-back, but Todd must first prove that this amendment satisfies Alabama-relation-back prerequisites. Subsection (c)(1)(A) of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 provides that an amendment relates back to the original pleading when “the law that provides the applicable statute of limitations allows relation back.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(A). 3 In Saxton v. ACF Industries, 254 F.3d 959 (11th Cir. 2001) (en banc), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated that this provision requires application of state-law relation-back principles, including Alabama fictitious-party practice, when state law supplies the statute of limitations. at 960. Id. Though Saxton was a diversity suit, this court has previously determined that Saxton’s logic and the purpose of subsection (c)(1)(A) support applying Saxton’s holding to federal-question lawsuits where state law provides the statute of limitations. Mann v. Darden, 630 F. Supp. 2d 1305, 1311 (2009) (Thompson, J.); see also Notes of Advisory Committee on 1991 Amendments (“Whatever may be the controlling body of limitations law, if that law affords a more forgiving principle of relation back than the one provided in this rule, it should be available to save the claim.”). As stated in Saxton, under Alabama law a plaintiff can avoid the bar of the statute of limitations if: “(1) the original complaint adequately 4 described the fictitious defendant; (2) the original complaint stated a claim against plaintiff was the ignorant fictitious of the defendant; true identity (3) the of the defendant; and (4) the plaintiff used due diligence to discover the defendant’s true identity.” 254 F.3d at 965 (citing Jones v. Resorcon, 604 So. 2d 370, 372-73 (Ala. 1992)). In its previous opinion and order, Todd v. City of LaFayette, 2013 WL 1084296 (M.D. Ala. 2013), this court explained that there was insufficient evidence in the record for it to find that Todd had established the third and fourth of these requirements. The court thus ordered Todd to produce evidence answering two questions, designed to settle the relation-back issue: (1) When did plaintiff Todd first learn defendant Steve Smith’s identity? (2) What efforts did plaintiff Todd and his attorney take to discover defendant Smith’s identity? In response to the court’s opinion and order, Todd explained that although LaFayette Police Chief Vines told him that Smith hit him with a truck, he was given this 5 information while in the hospital recovering from the attack. He explains that he could not remember what Chief Vines told him because he was still “out of it.” Todd Aff. (Doc. No. 97, Ex. 1) at ¶ 4. According to Todd, the next he heard about Smith hitting him with a truck was at a press conference held in relation to this lawsuit on July 25, 2012. Todd states that his family and witnesses attended the press conference at the courthouse to answer media questions. A family member, either his cousin or his aunt, told Todd: “[Y]ou remember getting hit with Someone said they hit you with a truck.” the Id. truck. Todd then asked who hit him, and the same family member reminded Todd that Chief Vines told him it was Smith. Todd says he then asked his lawyer to add Smith to the lawsuit, because he wanted everyone who hurt him to be held responsible; and his lawyer said he would and that there was still time to add Smith. Although Todd does not state when he told counsel to add Smith to the lawsuit, 6 it is clear from the filing that counsel was present at See Pl. Resp. (Doc. No. 97) this same press conference. at ¶ 2 (“Todd advised... counsel that it was at the press conference that we held shortly after the defendants were served with the original complaint that his witnesses spoke to him again about the incident and that he had not ‘been around them in a while to talk with them.’ After responding to questions from the media, Todd and his witnesses counsel gathered about around their counsel individual and were recollections telling of the accident.”) (emphasis added). II. DISCUSSION Todd’s evidence in response to the court’s questions shows that he knew Smith’s identity by July 25, 2012, at the latest. The statute of limitations was not set to expire until August 7, 2012. Therefore Todd had 13 days–-nearly two weeks--to amend his complaint and name Smith before the statute of limitations would run. 7 The court does not need to reach the question of whether Todd made diligent efforts to discover Smith’s identity and the need to include him in this suit, because it is clear from Todd’s statements that he knew both Smith’s identity and Smith’s connection to the lawsuit well before the statute of limitations expired on his federal claim. Todd waited a month after learning this information to amend the complaint and name Smith. allow the relation back of Alabama law does not needlessly untimely amendments. Most troubling is the fact that Todd’s counsel was present at this same press conference and assured Todd that he would file the amendment in a timely manner. is evident from the foregoing, he did not do so. As The result is that Todd’s § 1983 claim must be dismissed, and Smith’s motion for summary judgment on this claim granted. As explained in the court’s previous opinion and order Todd v. City of LaFayette, 2013 WL 1084296 (M.D. 8 Ala. 2013), Todd’s state-law-battery affected by this decision. claim is not Smith’s motion for summary judgment on the state-law claim is still pending and will be addressed in a separate opinion. *** Accordingly, it is ORDERED that defendant Steve Smith’s motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 51) is granted as to the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against him. DONE, this the 23rd day of September, 2013. /s/ Myron H. Thompson UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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