June 07, 2010

Supreme Court Decides Krupski v. Costa Crociere, S.p.A.

On June 7, the Supreme Court decided Krupski v. Costa Crociere, S.p.A., No. 09-337, holding that, when a complaint is amended to correct a misidentified defendant, the amendment will "relate back" to the date on which the complaint was originally filed if the "correct" defendant knew or should have known, within 120 days after the complaint was filed, that it would have been named as the defendant but for the plaintiff's error. Whether and when the plaintiff knew the identity of the correct defendant, and how promptly the error was corrected, are largely irrelevant.

Wanda Krupski was injured while on a cruise on a ship owned by Costa Crociere, S.p.a. ("Crociere"). Her ticket, which was issued by Costa Cruise Lines ("Cruise"), a subsidiary of Crociere, identified Crociere as the carrier and required written notice of any claim to be sent to Crociere or its agent. Krupski gave notice, however, to Cruise, and when negotiations were unsuccessful, she filed a complaint shortly before the statute of limitations expired, naming only Cruise as a defendant and alleging that it "owned, operated, managed, supervised and controlled" the ship on which she was injured. Cruise repeatedly informed Krupski that Crociere was the ship's owner and operator.

When Krupski eventually moved after several months to amend her complaint to add Crociere as a defendant, the district court allowed the amendment but then dismissed the claim against Crociere as time-barred. The court held that Krupski had not made a "mistake" about the identity of the correct defendant within the meaning of Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which specifies the conditions under which an amendment adding a party to a case relates back to the original date of filing, because she knew about Crociere's existence when she first filed the complaint and should have known that it, rather than Cruise, was the correct defendant. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing with the district court's reasoning and adding that the amendment also should not relate back because Krupski had unduly delayed in seeking to amend.

The Supreme Court reversed unanimously. Rule 15(c) provides that an amendment adding a new party relates back if, within 120 days after the complaint was originally filed, the added party "received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending" and "knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity." Under this language, the Court held, relation back depends on what the party to be added knew or should have known, not on the amending party's knowledge or how promptly that party moved to amend. Contrary to the district court's rationale, the fact that Krupski knew about Crociere's existence did not preclude the finding that she had made a mistake by naming Cruise as the defendant. A "deliberate but mistaken choice" of defendant is still a mistake under the Rule. The allegations of Krupski's complaint made clear that she intended to sue the party that "owned, operated, managed, supervised and controlled" the ship, and Crociere knew that it, not Cruise, was that party. The Court also rejected the Eleventh Circuit's alternate ground for its ruling, holding that relation back is mandatory if Rule 15(c)'s requirements are met. A court does not have discretion to deny relation-back based on a plaintiff's lack of diligence in correcting her error.

Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito joined. Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

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