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Martinez v. Dale

Martinez v. Dale, 2020 UT App 134 (Orme, J., majority; Christiansen Forster, J., concurring; Pohlman, J., concurring)

Statute of Limitations

A mother’s daughter drank alcohol at a bar and got into an accident. The mother commenced a lawsuit against the bar. She first filed a complaint naming the wrong bar as the defendant. Then she filed an amended complaint naming an individual who she believed owned the bar, and she served the amended complaint on the registered agent of the bar. Two years after her daughter’s accident, the mother discovered that the individual did not own the bar, but a company owned the bar, and the individual held a stake in the company. She filed a second amended complaint and again served the registered agent of the bar. The company moved for summary judgment, arguing that the complaint was untimely and that the second amended complaint did not relate back under Utah R. Civ. P. 15(c). The district court agreed. The Utah Court of Appeals reversed, holding:

  • The district court improperly concluded that the second amended complaint did not relate back under Rule 15(c). The mother’s failure to name the company in the amended complaint was a simple technical defect. The amended complaint was served on the registered agent of the bar, who was also the registered agent for the company. The second amended complaint relates back under Rule 15(c) because the error in naming the entity doing business was simply a technical defect in identification, and the company was sufficiently alerted to the proceedings within 120 days of the filing of the first amended complaint.
  • The district court improperly granted summary judgment because genuine issues of material fact existed about whether the statute of limitations should have been tolled because of the daughter’s mental incapacity.
  • Concurrence (Pohlman, J.): The concurring judge believed that the naming of the individual rather than the company in the amended complaint was not a technical misnomer but a substantive mistake. But the judge reasoned that the misnomer test is not a rigid pigeonhole and rather the ultimate inquiry under Rule 15(c) is whether the correct party will be prejudiced, and the majority correctly reasoned that the company was not prejudiced.

Read the full court opinion

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