Satcher v. Amerson et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B Propst on 11/13/2012. (AVC)
2012 Nov-13 AM 10:17
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CHRISTOPHER HEARD, as personal
representative of the Estate of
LARRY AMERSON, et al
This cause comes on to be heard on the Motion to Strike filed by the defendants Larry
Amerson, Matthew Wade, Eric Starr, Brent Cobb and Calhoun County, Alabama on November
The issue is whether the plaintiff can appropriately name "Defendants A-Z" as fictitious
parties in § 1983 cases where the statute of limitations is determined by state law. The 11th
Circuit case cited by the plaintiff in support of his argument that the answer is "yes" is Saxon v.
ACE Industries, Inc., 254 F.3d 959, 963 (11 th Cir. 2001) which is a diversity case. The plaintiff
asks the court to apply this holding in a federal question case where the statute of limitations is
supplied by the forum state law. The case of Mann v. Darden, 630 F. Supp. 2d 1305 (M.D. Ala.
2009) interprets Saxton as being applicable to federal question/state statute of limitations cases:
The defendants correctly note that Saxton was a case involving diversity-ofcitizenship jurisdiction, but the defendants do not offer any reason that Saxton’s
holding does not apply equally to federal-question cases in which state law similarly
provides the applicable statute of limitations. . . Rule 15(c)(1)(A) clearly
contemplates application in certain federal-question cases, and the Notes make clear
that Saxton’s general holding is meant to include federal-question cases in which
state law provides the statute of limitations.
Mann, 630 F. Supp. at 1311.
The Mann court draws a distinction “between suing a party that is truly a fiction and
suing a party that is real but referring to that party by a ‘fictitious name.’” Id. at 1312. The court
cites the Eleventh Circuit case of Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210 (11th Cir. 1992) to support this:
It is important to distinguish suing fictitious parties from real parties sued under a
fictitious name. There may be times when, for one reason or another, the plaintiff is
unwilling or unable to use a party’s real name. Also, one may be able to describe an
individual (e.g., the driver of an automobile) without stating his name precisely or
Mann, 630 F. Supp. at 1312 (citing Dean, 951 F.2d at 1215-1216). The Mann court also noted
“federal courts typically will allow the use of a fictitious name in the caption so long as it appears
that the plaintiff will be able to obtain that information through the discovery process.” Id. at
1315. The Mann case is somewhat distinguishable from the situation at hand. The court in Mann
makes clear that:
The original complaint described each of the defendants as police officers with a
numbered designation and a description of the time, place, and nature of their
respective conduct rather than their given names. When Mann filed this suit, she also
filed a motion seeking early discovery for the purpose of uncovering the actual names
of the officers who participated in her tasing. . . .
Id. at 1310.
In contrast to the specificity noted by the court in the Mann case, this plaintiff’s amended
25. John Doe A-Z are those persons, entities and corrections officers who were
deliberately indifferent to Mr. Reaves’ serious medical needs and caused the violation
of his clearly established constitutional rights and whose identities are currently
unknown to the Plaintiff, but who will be added to the complaint when they are
identified through forthcoming discovery efforts in this case.
In Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734 (11th Cir. 2010), the Eleventh Circuit upheld the district
court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s §1983 claim “against John Doe.” 598 F.3d at 738. In a
frequently quoted opinion, the court stated:
As a general matter, fictitious-party pleading is not permitted in federal court. See,
e.g., New v. Sports & Recreation, Inc., 114 F.3d 1092, 1094 n. 1 (11th Cir. 1997). We
have created a limited exception to this rule when the plaintiff’s description of the
defendant is so specific as to be “at the very worst, surplusage.” Dean v. Barber, 951
F.2d 1210, 1215-1216 (11th Cir. 1992). In this case, however, Richardson identified
the defendant as ‘John Doe (unknown Legal Name), Guard, Charlotte Correctional
Institute’ in his complaint. . . .Thus, the description in Richardson’s complaint was
insufficient to identify the defendant among the many guards employed at CCI . . .
At least the plaintiff here repeatedly refers to involved correction officers. While Richardson
may be applicable, this court concludes that there may be involved correction officers who are
not truly fictitious, but real parties who are sued under a fictitious name.
The court notes that even the named parties may be an overload by the plaintiff. The
court will grant the plaintiff a sixty (60) day discovery period to determine who are clearly
appropriate defendants, including both the actually named and those sued under a fictitious name.
The plaintiff should with ten (10) days after said discovery period move to dismiss any parties
who should not have been designated as defendants.
This the 13th day of November, 2012.
ROBERT B. PROPST
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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