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July 02, 2015

Adding parties to the litigation pursuant to the “relation-back" doctrine


Adding parties to the litigation pursuant to the “relation-back" doctrine
Crawford v City of New York, 2015 NY Slip Op 05267, Appellate Division, First Department

Barry E. Crawford initiated a lawsuit naming the City of New York and certain “John Does” as defendants. He later filed a motion to amend his complaint to substitute certain named New York City police officers in the place of the “John Does” initially named in his complaint relying on the "relation-back doctrine".*

Supreme Court granted Crawford’s motion; the Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s action “on the law.”

The Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court “improvidently granted” Crawford’s motion to amend his complaint to add the individually named defendants in lieu of the "John Doe" defendants he had initially listed in his complaint after the statute of limitations expired under color of the relation-back doctrine. The court noted that Crawford did not deny that he was aware of the proper identity of these “John Doe” defendants four-and-one-half months prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations but waited another two years to move to amend his complaint after filing “a note of issue.”

The court explained that  there was no "mistake" by Crawford as to the proper identity of the parties within the meaning of the relation-back doctrine and that the “John Doe defendants" had every reason to believe that Crawford did not intend to sue them and that the matter had been laid to rest as far as these “John Doe” defendants were concerned.

* Essentially the application of the “relations back doctrine” permits something done “today” to be treated as if it were done at an “earlier” time, i.e., permitting a “later identified” individual to be sued in his or her own name rather than as an earlier named “John Doe” defendant.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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