Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Rufus King, III, Trial Judge)
Before Ferren, Schwelb, and Farrell, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ferren
FERREN, Associate Judge: This is an appeal from a Superior Court order granting summary judgment for the defendant in a personal injury action. The court ruled that the plaintiff's amended complaint, correcting the defendant's name, was barred by the statute of limitations because it did not "relate back" to the date of the original complaint within the meaning of Super. Ct. Civ. R. 15 (c). Contrary to the trial court's ruling, we conclude that plaintiff-appellant's amended complaint did not change the party against whom she asserted her claim and that the relate-back provision of the second sentence of Super. Ct. Civ. R. 15 (c) is therefore inapplicable. Accordingly, the statute of limitations does not bar appellant's action. We reverse and remand.
Appellant Pritchett was injured on January 27, 1987, when she slipped and fell on ice and snow in the employee parking lot of the United States Postal Service facility at 900 Brentwood Road, N.E. She filed her original complaint on December 21, 1989, and gave the following information in designating the "Defendant" party in the case caption:
Bethesda, Maryland 20817-3518
The Johnson Avenue address is appellee Stillwell's home address.
In her complaint, Pritchett alleged that: in 1987 "A & A Snow Removal" had been under contract with the United States Post Office to remove ice and snow from its employee parking lot at the Brentwood Road facility; "the Defendant" had the duty to exercise reasonable care in its ice and snow removal; "the Defendant" breached its duty on January 27, 1987; and as a direct and proximate result of that breach, Pritchett had fallen and injured herself. Appellant claimed $500,000 in damages. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to obtain service on Lee Stillwell at both his residence and place of work, the process server finally served the summons and complaint on Stillwell's mother on March 28, 1990, at Stillwell's home address.
On August 3, 1990, Stillwell responded with a motion to dismiss, asserting that "A & A Snow Removal Company" was not a corporation and that under District of Columbia law a business may not be sued in its "common name." On August 8, Pritchett filed an amended complaint identifying "LEE STILLWELL T/A A & A SNOW REMOVAL CO." as the defendant. Counsel for Stillwell accepted service. On August 9, Stillwell filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Pritchett's action was time barred under the three year statute of limitations, D.C. Code § 12-301 (8) (1989). Specifically, Stillwell contended that, based on the date of the amended complaint, August 8, 1990, "Stillwell was not named as a defendant until more than three years after the cause of action accrued" on January 27, 1987. Therefore, according to Stillwell, under Super. Ct. Civ. R. 15 (c) "the amended complaint does not relate back to the original date of filing," December 21, 1989.
In his affidavit attached to the memorandum of points and authorities in support of the motion, Stillwell admitted that in 1987 he owned and operated a sole proprietorship "known as A & A Snow Removal" and that A & A was under contract to perform snow removal services for the Postal Service at 900 Brentwood Road, N.E. He also stated that he first saw a copy of Pritchett's complaint and summons "in March, ...