Caduceus, the plaintiff at trial, leases a portion of a building to Tallahassee Neurological Clinic (TNC). The building architect, Michael Gordon, subcontracted with KTD Consulting Engineers (KTD) and its principal, William Graney, to design an HVAC system for the building. In 2005, the HVAC system began to fail, and continued to have problems. Caduceus filed suit against Gordon in July 2006, with whom it was in privity of contract. In 2007, Gordon filed a third-party action against KTD and Graney, alleging that they were liable for all or part of Caduceus’ claim against Gordon. Gordon’s third-party complaint was subsequently dismissed for failure to comply with a court order, and he declared bankruptcy, which automatically stayed the litigation against him. In 2010, after the statute of limitations relating to the original claim had run, Caduceus sought to amend its complaint to add TNC as a party plaintiff and KTD and Graney as party defendants. The motion to amend was granted, and KTD and Graney moved for involuntary dismissal. The motion to dismiss was denied by the trial court, and judgment was entered against the defendants following trial.
On appeal, the First District Court of Appeal (DCA) held that the amended complaint could not relate back to the filing of the original complaint. The DCA certified conflict with the Fifth DCA decision in Gatins v. Sebastian Inlet Tax District, 453 So.2d 871 (Fla. 5th DCA 1984) that an amended complaint related back to the filing of third-party complaint for statute of limitations purposes, and First DCA’s decision was appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court started out by noting that the First DCA had improperly framed the issue as whether the relation back of the amended complaint reached to the original complaint; rather, the Court pointed out, the issue considered should have been whether or not the amended complaint related back to the third-party complaint.
The Court then noted that Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(c) provides that an amended complaint relates back to the original pleading “[w]hen the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading.” The Court pointed out that when the claims set forth in an amended complaint arise out of the same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence” set out in the third-party complaint, Florida’s judicial policy of freely permitting amendments to pleadings so that cases may be resolved on the merits would be served by allowing such amendment in this case. The Court also noted that the purpose of statutes of limitations is to prevent long delays in the filings of lawsuits and the prejudice to defendants from the unexpected enforcement of old claims. That purpose was not implicated in this matter, as the defendants were put on notice by the third-party complaint filed within the limitations period that the defendants might be held liable based on the occurrences alleged.
Therefore, the Court held that rule 1.190(c) provides that an “amended complaint filed after the statute of limitations period has expired, naming a party who had previously been made a third-party defendant as a party defendant, relates back […] to the filing of the third-party complaint….[T]he third-party complaint must have been filed prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations and the plaintiff’s claims in the amended complaint must arise from the same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence” set forth in the third-party complaint.” (Op. at 14-15)