Satcher v. Amerson et al

Filing 19

MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B Propst on 11/13/2012. (AVC)

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FILED 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 EASTERN DIVISION CHRISTOPHER HEARD, as personal representative of the Estate of HORACE REAVES Plaintiff, v. CV 1:12-2581-RBP LARRY AMERSON, et al Defendants. MEMORANDUM OPINION 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 1, 2012. 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 correctly. 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 complaint states: 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 2 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 3

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