Ruiz v. Chappell, 2020 COA 22, addresses the important issue of when an amended complaint relates back to the filing of an original complaint for time barred claims. The issue in this case was whether Marissa Ruiz could proceed with her case against Rachel Chappell even though her complaint against Chappell was filed after the statute of limitations had run. Marissa Ruiz initially brought a timely claim against 7-Eleven following a slip and fall at a 7-Eleven store that was franchised by Chappell. 7-Eleven filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it was not the correct defendant. According to 7-Eleven, Chappell had agreed in the franchise agreement to be responsible for the walkway in front of her 7-Eleven store. Under the Colorado Premises Liability Act, the trial court granted 7-Eleven’s summary judgment motion. It held that 7-Eleven did not have control of the walkway as a result of the franchise agreement and therefore could not be liable for Ruiz’s damages. Ruiz did not appeal this ruling, but instead filed a claim against Chappell, even though the statute of limitations had run.
Chappell immediately filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court converted the motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. Chappell’s motion argued that Ruiz’s complaint did not relate back to the date of the original filing and therefore was time-barred. The district court granted Chappell’s motion and Ruiz appealed.
In its opinion, the Appellate Court set forth three requirements for determining whether an amended complaint relates back to the filing of the original complaint under C.R.C.P. 15(c). The requirements are: 1) that the claim arise out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence as set forth in the original complaint; 2) that the new defendant must have received notice of the action such that she would not be prejudiced in maintaining her defense on the merits; and, 3) that the new defendant knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the new defendant, the action would have been brought against her.
The Appellate Court used the rationale in the Krupski case to provide guidance regarding Ruiz’s claim. Krupski v. Costa Crociere S.p.A., 560 U.S. 538 (2010). In Krupski, the Supreme Court stated that the lower court chose the wrong starting point. According to the Krupski court, the focus should have been on whether the proposed new defendant knew or should have known that the suit would have been brought against the new defendant if the plaintiff had not been mistaken regarding the new defendant’s identity. Thus, in Ruiz’s case, the Colorado Appellate Court found the district court first needed to determine whether Chappell knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against her absent a mistake by Ruiz.
In its opinion, the Appellate Court distinguished Lavarato v. Branney, 210 P.3d 485 (Colo. App. 2009). In Lavarato, the plaintiff sued a doctor. After the statute of limitations had run, the plaintiff discovered he had failed to sue a second doctor based on different actions and responsibilities. Because the plaintiff did not make a mistake in identity, the court precluded the action against the second doctor. Applied to the current case, the Appellate Court stated that if Ruiz made a deliberate decision to sue 7-Eleven rather than Chappell, then her claim would be time-barred as her failure to sue Chappell would not have been a mistake.
The Appellate Court reversed and remanded the case to district court, directing the trial court to first determine whether Ruiz made a deliberate choice to sue 7-Elevan rather than Chappell. If the court determines this was a deliberate choice of Ruiz, her claim against Chappell would be precluded. However, if the trial court determines it was a mistake by Ruiz, then the court must determine whether: a) Chappell knew or should have known that she would have been sued but for the mistake, and b) she received notice of the commencement of the action such that she would not be prejudiced in defending the suit. For those practicing regularly in the civil world, be careful who you sue, but if you don’t know who a defendant is and realize your mistake afterwards, refer back to the Ruiz case.
Elle J. Byram is a native Midwesterner, born and raised in the Kansas City area. Elle earned her law degree at the University of California Davis, School of Law. She earned her Bachelors in Psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder as well as a Masters in clinical psychology at Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, CA. Elle has worked for small and large firms doing litigation, corporate work and technology.
Desiring to start her own practice, Elle stepped out of the corporate world in 2013 and began her own solo firm focused on family law, estate planning and probate administration. Elle's practice focuses primarily in family law, where Elle litigates divorces, represents victims of domestic violence and assists in every other aspect of family law.