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Doe v. The American Musical and Dramatic Academy

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 17, 2017

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE AMERICAN MUSICAL AND DRAMATIC ACADEMY, TRUSTEES OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL AND DRAMATIC ACADEMY and JANE DOE, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. PAUL OETKEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a defamation suit arising from an alleged sexual assault on a college campus. Plaintiff, named here as John Doe, is the accused; Defendant, named here as Jane Doe, is the accuser. Jane Doe moves to dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         I. Background

         This case arises from a sexual encounter between John Doe and Jane Doe on the night of March 19, 2015. (Compl. ¶ 15.) At the time, both were students at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (“AMDA”). John Doe claims the sex was consensual; Jane Doe claims it was not.

         Four days after the encounter, Jane Doe filed a grievance with the school, which conducted an investigation. (Compl. ¶ 16.) John Doe was expelled for a year, though the punishment was lessened on administrative appeal. (Compl. ¶¶ 39-41.) John Doe has not returned to AMDA since. (Compl. ¶¶ 57-58.)

         John Doe filed this suit on November 16, 2015, naming only AMDA as a defendant and asserting claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-88, and state law. (Dkt. No. 1.) On November 4, 2016, nearly a year after this suit was filed-and twenty months after the underlying incident-John Doe amended his complaint to add Jane Doe as a defendant. (Dkt. No. 49.) The Amended Complaint asserts three claims against Jane Doe: defamation, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Each of those claims is premised on the allegation that Jane Doe falsely accused John Doe in connection with the March 2015 incident.

         John Doe and AMDA ultimately settled, leaving Jane Doe as the lone defendant. Jane Doe now moves to dismiss, arguing (1) that John Doe's claims against her are time-barred and (2) that the Complaint fails to state a claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must plead “only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when plaintiffs plead facts that would allow “the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint, and ‘draw [ ] all inferences in the plaintiff's favor.'” Goonan v. Fed. Reserve Bank of New York, 916 F.Supp.2d 470, 478 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting Allaire Corp. v. Okumus, 433 F.3d 248, 249-50 (2d Cir. 2006)). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. Discussion

         John Doe does not dispute that New York's one-year statute of limitations for defamation and intentional torts applies to his claims. See N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 215(3). Nor does he dispute that Jane Doe was added as a defendant more than a year after she reported the alleged sexual assault to campus authorities. John Doe's sole argument as to the statute of limitations is that his claims should relate back to the filing of the original complaint.

         It is the plaintiff's burden to establish that an amended claim relates back to the date of the original complaint. See S.A.R.L. Galerie Enrico Navarra v. Marlborough Gallery, Inc., No. 10 Civ. 7547, 2013 WL 1234937, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2013). “[I]f the applicable statute of limitations is determined by state law-as is the case here-courts should assess both the state and federal relation back doctrines and apply whichever law is more generous.” Anderson v. City of Mount Vernon, No. 09 Civ. 7082, 2014 WL 1877092, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2014). Accordingly, the Court assesses both federal and New York law to determine whether either allows relation back.

         A. Relation Back Under Federal Law

         At issue is Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1), which allows relation back if (1) “the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted”; (2) “the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out-or attempted to be set out-in the original pleading”; (3) the new party “received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits” within the period provided by Rule 4(m); and (4) the new party “knew or should have known that the action would have ...


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