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Moore v. Walton, 2024 U.S. App. LEXIS 6713 (3rd Cir. March 21, 2024) (Scirica, C.J.).

This case involves the relation back doctrine and whether Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(C)’s reference to “the period provided by Rule 4(m)” includes any “good cause” extensions granted under that rule.

After the toilet in plaintiff Troy Moore, Sr.’s prison cell exploded, covering him and the entire cell in human sewage, defendant Correctional Officer Saajida Walton refused to let Moore out of his cell to clean up for over eight hours. Initially proceeding pro se, Moore sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing Walton violated his Eighth Amendment rights. However, through no fault of his own, Moore’s original complaint misspelled Walton’s name as “Walden,” and despite the District Court finding “good cause for the delay in service in this case,” Moore was unable to correct the error until well after the statute of limitations on his claim expired.

On the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court denied Moore’s motion and granted Walton’s motion on statute of limitations grounds, reasoning “[t]here is no evidence in the record that Walton knew or should have known of this action before the statute of limitations had run.” Moore’s amended complaint did not relate back to his original complaint under Rule 15(c)(1)(C). In doing so, however, we believe the District Court misapplied the relation back analysis by failing to look to the period for service under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m) in assessing notice, as required by Rule 15(c)(1)(C). Consequently, the District Court did not have occasion to consider whether that notice period incorporates the service extension it previously granted to Moore for good cause under Rule 4(m). Because we hold that Rule 15(c)(1)(C)’s reference to “the period provided by Rule 4(m)” includes any extensions for service granted under that rule for good cause, we will vacate the District Court’s order.

A civil rights action under section 1983 is subject to the personal injury statute of limitations of the state in which the cause of action accrued. See O’Connor v. City of Newark, 440 F.3d 125, 126 (3d Cir. 2006). In Pennsylvania, where Moore’s cause of action accrued, the statute of limitations for personal injury actions is two years. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(7). No one disputes Moore filed the Original Complaint within the applicable statute of limitations; Moore’s claim accrued on September 16, 2013—the date of the incident, and he filed the Original Complaint on June 26, 2014—less than two years later. Nor do the parties dispute Moore filed and served Walton with the Amended Complaint, where he correctly named Walton as a defendant for the first time, after the statute of limitations elapsed. Accordingly, Moore’s claim appears to be time-barred.

“The relation-back doctrine under Rule 15(c) allows a court to treat a later-filed amended pleading as if it had been filed at the time of the initial pleading.” Se. Pa. Transp. Auth. v. Orrstown Fin. Servs. Inc., 12 F.4th 337, 344 (3d Cir. 2021). It thus “ameliorate[s] the running of the statute of limitations.” Singletary v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 266 F.3d 186, 193 (3d Cir. 2001). In particular, Rule 15(c)(1)(C) permits relation back when an amendment to a pleading “changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted.” To do so, three requirements must be satisfied: first, the claim against the newly added defendant must arise “out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out . . . in the original pleading,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C) (requiring satisfaction of Rule 15(c)(1)(B)); second, the newly named party must have “received such notice of the action that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C)(i); and third, the newly named party must have or should have known that “but for a mistake” made by the plaintiff concerning the newly named party’s identity, “the action would have been brought against” the newly named party in the first place, Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C)(ii). See also Singletary, 266 F.3d at 193-94. Critically, the second and third requirements must be satisfied “within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and complaint.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C); see also Urrutia v. Harrisburg Cnty. Police Dep’t, 91 F.3d 451, 458 & n.10 (3d Cir. 1996).

The appropriate place to begin is with the text of the rule. As previously noted, Rule 15(c)(1)(C) requires, in relevant part, that a newly added defendant receive “notice of the action” “within the period provided by Rule 4(m).” Rule 4(m) sets this period as 90 days unless “the plaintiff shows good cause for the failure” to serve. In such a case, Rule 4(m)’s service period is enlarged because the district court “must extend the time for service for an appropriate period.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m) (emphasis added). By referencing only “the period provided by Rule 4(m),” and not “the initial” or “default period provided by Rule 4(m),” the plain text of Rule 15(c)(1)(C) means to include the entire Rule 4(m) service period, which includes any mandatory extensions granted for good cause. Indeed, Rule 4(m) is written as one provision, without a subdivision for the good cause extension mandate. Consequently, Rule 15(c)(1)(C)’s reference to “the period provided by Rule 4(m)” is not limited to just the default 90 days since Rule 4(m) also encompasses the mandatory good cause extension provision.

Accordingly, we hold that Rule 15(c)(1)(C)’s notice period incorporates mandatory extensions granted for “good cause” under Rule 4(m).

It is blackletter law that “[f]iling an amended complaint does not toll the Rule 4(m) service period” for an original complaint. 4B Wright & Miller, supra, § 1137; see also Bolden v. City of Topeka, 441 F.3d 1129, 1148 (10th Cir. 2006) (“[T]he . . . period provided by Rule 4(m) is not restarted by the filing of an amended [*20] complaint . . . .”). “[A]t best, adding a new party through an amended complaint initiates a new . . . timetable for service upon the added defendant.” Lee, 793 F.3d at 898 (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted). Rule 15(c)(1)(C)’s notice requirement “looks to the Rule 4(m) period for serving the original complaint” not an amended complaint. Id. (emphasis omitted); see also Garvin, 354 F.3d at 220 (noting the newly added defendants “must have received notice of the institution of the action within 120 days following the filing of the action” (emphasis added)); Urrutia, 91 F.3d at 459 n.14 (In “a situation where the court orders service of an original complaint . . . and sometime later orders service of an amended complaint[,] . . . . the 120 day period specified by Rule 15(c)[(1)(C)] begins to run on the date service of the original complaint was ordered.”). Accordingly, any good cause extension to the service period for the Amended Complaint would not be included in Rule 15(c)(1)(C)’s notice period.

The court vacated and remanded to the district court to determine in the first instance whether Walton received actual constructive notice of the action by December 17, 2015.

The District Court should address (1) whether Walton received notice of the action by December 17, 2015, and if so (2) whether Moore can demonstrate the absence of prejudice—the final element necessary to satisfy the relation back inquiry, and if so (3) the merits of Moore’s Eighth Amendment claim.