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Bender v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 10, 2015

SHERRY BENDER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

GABRIEL W. GORENSTEIN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Sherry Bender, who is proceeding pro se, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of New York, Officer Stanley Joseph, and two defendants who are each identified as "John Doe." Bender now moves to amend the complaint to name the two John Doe defendants (Docket # 18). Defendants oppose the motion (Docket # 20). For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

The complaint alleges that on June 17, 2011, Bender was arrested on the L train platform of the subway station at 14th Street and 8th Avenue. See Complaint, filed June 17, 2014 (Docket # 1) ("Compl."), ¶ 12. Two police officers handcuffed her "very tightly behind her back" and transported her to the jail at 59th Street Columbus Circle, where she was detained for seven hours. Id. ¶¶ 13-15. After some time, one of the unnamed defendants, described in the complaint as the "Lieutenant on duty, " summoned medical services to the jail against Bender's wishes. See id. ¶ 16. Bender was released from jail later that day and given a Desk Appearance Ticket requiring her to appear in the Criminal Court the next day to respond to the charge. Id. ¶ 18; Police Department of the City of New York Desk Appearance Ticket, attached to Compl. The Desk Appearance Ticket was issued and signed by Officer Stanley Joseph the individual defendant who has been named.[1] Officer Joseph was also apparently one of the officers who arrested Bender on the subway platform. See Compl. ¶¶ 3, 12, 25. Bender alleges a number of claims arising out her arrest, including unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest, false imprisonment, excessive force, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, and malicious prosecution. See id. ¶ 10.

Bender filed her complaint on June 17, 2014, three years to the day after her arrest. On November 24, 2014, Bender wrote a letter seeking to "amend the caption only" to add the names of the "recently identified" John Doe defendants. See Letter from Sherry Bender, filed Dec. 17, 2014 (Docket # 18) ("Pl. Ltr."), at 1. Defendants opposed this request in a letter filed December 18, 2014 (Docket # 20) ("Def. Ltr."). We treat this request as a motion to amend the complaint. See generally Aslanidis v. U.S. Lines, Inc., 7 F.3d 1067, 1075 (2d Cir. 1993) ("[R]eplacing a John Doe' with a named party in effect constitutes a change in the party sued.").

II. DISCUSSION

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2) instructs courts to "freely give leave [to amend a complaint] when justice so requires." Accord Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Nonetheless, leave to amend may be denied where there is "undue delay, bad faith, ... undue prejudice to the opposing party..., [or] futility of amendment." Id.; accord Jin v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 310 F.3d 84, 101 (2d Cir. 2002). "An amendment to a pleading is futile if the proposed claim could not withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)." Lucente v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 310 F.3d 243, 258 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Dougherty v. N. Hempstead Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 282 F.3d 83, 88 (2d Cir. 2002)). Thus, an amendment is futile if the claim proposed to be added would be barred by the applicable statute of limitations. See, e.g., Grace v. Rosenstock, 228 F.3d 40, 53 (2d Cir. 2000).

Defendants oppose Bender's request to amend the complaint because they contend Bender's claims against any newly added defendants would be barred by the applicable statute of limitations. See Def. Ltr. at 2. We begin by discussing the statute of limitations issue and then turn to the question of whether any "relation back" doctrine can save Bender's claims against the officers.

A. Statute of Limitations

Section 1983 itself does not provide a statute of limitations. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Hogan v. Fisher, 738 F.3d 509, 517 (2d Cir. 2013). "Thus, courts apply the statute of limitations for personal injury actions under state law." Hogan, 738 F.3d at 517 (citing Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 249-51 (1989) and Pearl v. City of Long Beach, 296 F.3d 76, 79 (2d Cir. 2002)). For § 1983 actions filed in New York, the applicable statute of limitations is § 214 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules ("CPLR"), which allows three years to file suit. See id. (citing Pearl, 296 F.3d at 79 and N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214 (McKinney 2014)). A cause of action under § 1983 accrues when the plaintiff "knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of his action." E.g., Singleton v. City of New York, 632 F.2d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 1980) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

As of June 17, 2011, the date of her arrest, Bender knew of the injuries that form the basis of this action, and thus her cause of action accrued on that date. Bender filed her complaint three years later - that is, on the last day of the limitations period. Her request to amend the complaint to name the two new defendants was made on November 24, 2014, and thus came after the limitations period had expired. See Pl. Ltr. at 1. The fact that Bender named "John Doe" defendants in the original complaint is of no moment. As the Second Circuit has held, "John Doe' pleadings cannot be used to circumvent statutes of limitations because replacing a John Doe' with a named party in effect constitutes a change in the party sued." Hogan, 738 F.3d at 517 (quoting Aslanidis, 7 F.3d at 1075). However, such a substitution is possible where the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c) are satisfied. See id. If those requirements are satisfied, the amendment is deemed to "relate back" to the filing date of the original complaint. Id. Additionally, as described below, state law may provide for "relation back" in some instances.

B. Relation Back

Two provisions of Rule 15(c) are relevant here: Rule 15(c)(1)(C) ...


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