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THOMAS v. MITCHELL-BRADFORD CHEM. CO.

March 22, 1984

ROSEMARY THOMAS, As Administratrix of the estate of HUTSON THOMAS, ROSEMARY THOMAS, Individually, MORRIS THOMAS AND ROSEMARY THOMAS, Plaintiffs, against MITCHELL-BRADFORD CHEMICAL COMPANY, A Division Of MESSING CORPORATION, Defendant; MITCHELL-BRADFORD CHEMICAL CO., INC., Third-Party Plaintiff, against PRECISION HEAT TREATING COMPANY, INC., E.I. DUPONT de NEMOURS COMPANY AND INDEPENDENT CHEMICAL CORPORATION, Third-Party Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

McLAUGHLIN, District Judge

 This is a motion by plaintiffs to amend their complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15. Defendant Mitchell-Bradford Chemical Co., Inc. ("Mitchell-Bradford") and third-party defendant Precision Heat Treating Company, Inc. ("Precision Heat Treating Company, Inc. ("Precision") oppose the motion and cross-move for summary judgment dismissing the original complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion to amend is granted, and the amendment relates back to the date of the filing of the original complaint for statute of limitations purposes.

 Facts

 Plaintiff, Rosemary Thomas, brought this action in the New York State Supreme Court "as administratrix" of the estate of Hutson Thomas, her father. (It turns out that she is not the administratrix.) She alleged that defendant Mitchell-Bradford supplied certain chemicals, including one known as "Black Magic," to decedents employer, and that exposure to this chemical resulted in Hutson Thomas' death. Defendant removed this action to this Court based upon diversity of citizenship and subsequently impleaded third-party defendants Precision (the decedent's employer), E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company ("DuPont") and Independent Chemical Corporation ("Independent").

 Plaintiff now seeks to amend the complaint to name Louleta Thomas, decedent's wife and executrix of his estate, as plaintiff. Rosemary Thomas states that she was inadvertently named as administratrix in the original complaint. The error was not discovered until pretrial discovery revealed that Louleta Thomas had been named executrix of the estate of Hutson Thomas. Plaintiffs, therefore, seek to amend the caption of their complaint to reflect the real party in interest.

 Defendant Mitchell-Bradford and third-party defendant Precision claim that under the New York law which governs the case, plaintiff Rosemary Thomas lacks the capacity to sue and that defendants are therefore entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint.Mitchell-Bradford also argues that amendment should be denied on the ground that plaintiffs' undue delay in making their motion has resulted in prejudice to the defendants. Finally, Mitchell-Bradford contends that even if amendment of the complaint is allowed under Rule 15(a), it should not relate back under Rule 15(c). In that case, the complaint would have to be dismissed because the applicable statutes of limitation have run.

 Discussion

 I. Choice of Law

 In this diversity-based action, state substantive law controls. Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 82 L. Ed. 1188, 58 S. Ct. 817 (1938). The New York statute creating the cause of action for wrongful death (Estates, Powers and Trusts Law ("EPTL") § 5-4.1) states that such an action may be brought by the duly appointed personal representative of a decedent who is survived by distributees. Similarly, EPTL § 11-3.2 states that, while a personal injury action survives the death of the injured party, it may be brought only by the decedent's personal representative. It is clear, therefore, that Louleta Thomas, the executrix, not plaintiff Rosemary Thomas, is the only person who may bring this suit. Because State law determines capacity to sue, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 17 (b), this action may be maintained only if a curative amendment is permitted.

 This determination requires inquiry into "whether state or federal law controls the allowance and relation back of the amendment sought here." Davis v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 615 F.2d 606, 610 (4th Cir., cert. dismissed, 448 U.S. 911, 101 S. Ct. 25, 65 L. Ed. 2d 1141 (1980). Under New York law and amendment would not be permitted because the naming of the wrong plaintiff is a "jurisdictional" defect that cannot be saved from the statute of limitations by the device of an amendment that relates back. Goldberg v. Camp Mikan-Recro, 42 N.Y. 2d 1029, 369 N.E.2d 8, 398 N.Y.S.2d 1008 (1977). Under federal law, however, amendment and relation back clearly could be granted. See discussion infra. I hold that federal law applies.

 This is not a question of first impression in the Second Circuit. In Ingram v. Kumar, 585 F.2d 566 (2d Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 940, 59 L. Ed. 2d 499, 99 S. Ct. 1289 (1979), the court stated:

 We have no problem in finding that Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 15(c) applies in federal courts notwithstanding a possibly more restrictive state practice. Strong federal policies underlie Rule 15(c). . . . Application of the federal standards for relation back will not significantly impair state interests or encourage forum shopping.

 Ingram v. Kumar, supra, 585 F.2d at 570 n.5; citing 6 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1503 at 535 (1971 & 1977 Supp.). A Federal Rule of Civil Procedure applies in a diversity action where it merely "alters the mode of enforcing state-created rights." Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 473, ...


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