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AMENDING COMPLAINTS - CALIFORNIA LAW

Summary: California courts generally are to liberally permit amendments to the Complaint during any stage of the case if the defendant is not prejudiced by the delay; such includes adding a new cause of action after the statute of limitations has run if the cause of action is based on the same general set of facts alleged in the original complaint; further included is an amendment naming a fictitious Doe defendant whose name Plaintiff was ignorant of at the time of the original complaint.

1. MOTIONS FOR LEAVE (PERMISSION) TO AMEND ARE "LIBERALLY" GRANTED BY COURTS.

 A court may, in the furtherance of justice, allow a party to amend any pleading on any terms as may be proper. California Code Civil Procedure 473(a) and 576. Pleading Examples: Complaint or Answer to Complaint.

There is a general policy in this state of great liberality in allowing amendment of pleadings at any stage of the litigation to allow cases to be decided on their merits. (Desny v. Wilder (1956) 46 Cal.2d 715, 751.)

See also Klopstock v. Superior Court. (1941) 17 Cal.2d 13, 19; Nestle v. City of Santa Monica (1972) 6 Cal.3d 920, 939; Hirsa v. Superior Court (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 486, 488-489.

"…it is a rare case in which ‘a court will be justified in refusing a party leave to amend his pleadings so that he may properly present his case.’ (Citations omitted.) If the motion to amend is timely made and the granting of the motion will not prejudice the opposing party, it is error to refuse permission to amend and where the refusal also results in a party being deprived of the right to assert a meritorious cause of action or a meritorious defense, it is not only error but an abuse of discretion. (Citations omitted.)" (Morgan v. Superior Court (1959) 172 Cal.App.2d 527, 530.)

"Generally, leave to amend must be liberally granted (Nestle v. City of Santa Monica (1972) 6 Cal.3d 920, 939), provided there is no statute of limitations concern, nor any prejudice to the opposing party, such as delay in trial, loss of critical evidence, or added costs of preparation. (Hirsa v. Superior Court (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 486, 490.)" Solit v. Taokai Bank, Ltd. (1999) 68 Cal.App.4th 1435, 1448.

Despite the policy of great liberality in granting leave to amend, a trial court may deny an otherwise proper amendment if there was an unwarranted delay in bringing the motion to amend. (Atkinson v. Elk Corp. (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 739, 761.) To deny leave [permission] to amend based on an unreasonable delay in moving for leave to amend, however, the opposing party must have been misled or prejudiced by the delay (Kittredge Sports Co. v. Superior Court (1999) 213 Cal.App.3e 1045, 1048.

2. A COURT MAY ALLOW A PLAINTIFF TO AMEND THE COMPLAINT TO ADD A FICTITIOUSLY NAMED PARTY.

"When the plaintiff is ignorant of the name of a defendant, he must state that fact in the complaint…, and such defendant may be designated in any pleading or proceeding by any name, and when his true name is discovered, the pleading or proceeding must be amended accordingly." Code of Civil Procedure 474.

"It is not enough, of course, simply to name `Doe' defendants. Rather, the complaint must allege that they were responsible in some way for the acts complained of."
See Winding Creek v. McGlashan (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 933.

"In keeping with this liberal interpretation of section 474, it is now well established that even though the plaintiff knows of the existence of the defendant sued by a fictitious name, and even though the plaintiff knows the defendant's actual identity (that is, his name), the plaintiff is "ignorant" within the meaning of the statute if he lacks knowledge of that person's connection with the case or with his injuries." General Motors Corporation v. Superior Court (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 580, 593‑594.

"If the identity of the Doe defendant is known but, at the time of the filing of the complaint the plaintiff did not know facts that would cause a reasonable person to believe that liability is probable, the requirements of section 474 are met. 'Section 474 allows a plaintiff in good faith to delay suing particular persons as named defendants until he has knowledge of sufficient facts to cause a reasonable person to believe liability is probable.' (Dieckmann v. Superior Court (1985) 175 Cal.App.3d 345, 363.) 'The fact that the plaintiff had the means to obtain knowledge is irrelevant.' (General Motors Corp. v. Superior Court, supra, 48 Cal.App.4th at p. 594.) "In short, section 474 does not impose upon the plaintiff a duty to go in search of facts she does not actually have at the time she files her original pleading." (Id. at p. 596.)"  McOwen v. Grossman (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 937.

"...the plaintiff does not relinquish her rights under section 474 simply because she has a suspicion of wrongdoing arising from one or more facts she does know." General Motors Corp. v. Superior Court (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 580.


3. DEFENDANTS ARE NOT BE PREJUDICED BY THE PROPOSED AMENDMENTS.

 A. When an Amended Complaint is not barred by the Statute of Limitations.

Relation Back - Fictitious Defendants: Where a complaint sets forth, or attempts to set forth, a cause of action against a defendant designated by a fictitious name and his true name is thereafter discovered and substituted by amendment, he is considered a party to the action from its commencement so that the statute of limitations stops running as of the date of the earlier pleading. Austin v. Massachusetts Bonding and Insurance Co. (1961) 56 Cal.2d 596, 599.

Relation Back Doctrine - New Causes of Action: Even when a plaintiff seeks to add new legal theories or causes of action, the amended complaint relates back to the date of the filing of the original complaint and thus avoids the bar of the Statute of Limitations so long as recovery sought in both pleadings is based upon the same general set of facts. Smeltzley v. Nicholson Manufacturing Co. (1977) 18 Cal.3d 932, 939‑940; See also Kittredge Sports Co. v. Superior Court (Marker, U.S.A.) (1989) 213 Cal. App. 3d 1045, 1048; Hirsa v. Superior Court (Vickers) (1981) 118 Cal. App. 3d 486, 489.

Example cases:

In the California Supreme Court case of Grudt v. City of Los Angeles (1970) 2 Cal.3d 575, plaintiff sued the city under the respondeat superior theory alleging that police officers had intentionally killed her husband. The amended complaint charged that the city was liable for its own negligence in retaining officers known to be dangerous. Even though the plaintiff's amended complaint added a significant new dimension to the original, the court determined that the amendment was based "on the same general set of facts" as the original complaint" and allowed the amendment to be made.

In Smeltzley v. Nicholson Manufacturing Co. (1977)18 Cal. 3d 932, 939, plaintiffs original complaint alleged injuries caused by defendant's failure to provide him with a safe work place. After the statute of limitations had run, plaintiff amended the complaint to add a previously unnamed defendant as a party and a separate cause of action alleging that his injuries were also caused by a defective machine manufactured by the previously unnamed defendant. The Court of Appeal ruled that because the injuries alleged stemmed from the same set of facts, plaintiffs' amended complaint related back to the original complaint and was therefore not barred by the statute of limitations. The Court of Appeal found that the relation back precedent rests on the fundamental policy that cases should be decided on their merits.


B. The Amended Complaint is not to delay the trial or necessitate added preparation costs.  Hirsa v. Superior Court (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 486, 490.


4. REQUIREMENTS RELATING TO THIS TYPE OF MOTION.

 "A motion to amend a pleading before trial must:

(1) Include a copy of the proposed amendment or amended pleading, which must be serially numbered to differentiate it from previous pleadings or amendments;

(2) State what allegations in the previous pleading are proposed to be deleted, if any, and where, by page, paragraph, and line number, the deleted allegations are located; and

(3) State what allegations are proposed to be added to the previous pleading, if any, and where, by page, paragraph, and line number, the additional allegations are located."

California Rules of Court, Rule 3.1324(a).

 
       "A separate declaration must accompany the motion and must specify:

(1) The effect of the amendment;

(2) Why the amendment is necessary and proper;

(3) When the facts giving rise to the amended pleading were discovered; and

(4) The reasons why the request for amendment was not made earlier."

California Rules of Court, Rule 3.1324(b).

 

Other procedural articles: Motion for Relief from Default per CCP 473

                                                   Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is informational, only. The subject matter and applicable law is evolving and/or constant state of change.  This advice is based on California law.  No legal advice is given and no attorney/client or other relationship is established or intended.  The information provided is from general sources, and I cannot represent, guarantee or warrant that the information contained in this website is accurate, current, or is appropriate for the usage of any reader. It is recommend that readers of this information consult with their own counsel prior to relying on any information on this website.

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