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Johnson-Krumm v. City of Seaford

United States District Court, D. Delaware

May 10, 2019

CAROL ANN JOHNSON-KRUMM, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of JUSTIN M. JOHNSON, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SEAFORD, SEAFORD POLICE DEPARTMENT, LT. RICHARD JAMISON, SGT. THOMAS LEE, CPL. TOBY LAURION, CPL. JAMES BACHMAN, CPL. COLE SCOTT, in their Official and Individual Capacities. Defendants.

          Brian E. Farnan, Michael J. Farnan, Rosemary Jean Piergiovanni, FARNAN LLP, Wilmington, Delaware Counsel for Plaintiff.

          Daniel A. Griffith, Kaan Ekiner, WHITEFORD TAYLOR & PRESTON LLC, Wilmington, Delaware Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLM F. CONNOLLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Carol Ann Johnson-Krumm initiated this action with the pro se filing of a complaint against Defendants City of Seaford (the "City") and Seaford Police Department (the "Police Department") on June 24, 2016. D.I. 2. In November 2016, the Honorable Gregory M. Sleet, who originally presided over this action, issued an order to show cause why the complaint should not be dismissed for failure to serve process within 90 days of the filing of the complaint. D.I. 4. After receiving a letter from Plaintiff in response to the order to show cause, Judge Sleet issued an order on December 13, 2016 "pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m)" that granted Plaintiff until February 13, 2017 "to effect service upon the defendants." D.I. 8. Plaintiff subsequently retained counsel, who assisted her in filing a First Amended Complaint on November 6, 2017. The First Amended Complaint added claims against Lt. Richard Jamison, Sgt. Thomas Lee, Cpl. Toby Laurion, Cpl. James Bachman, and Cpl. Cole Scott in their official and individual capacities (collectively the "Individual Defendants"; collectively with City and the Police Department, "Defendants"). D.I. 40.

         Pending before me is Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) Plaintiffs claims against the Individual Defendants. D.I. 41.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs claims arise from an incident occurring on July 11, 2014 at the Nanticoke Riverfest, an annual festival in Seaford, Delaware. D.I. 2 at 4-5; D.I. 40 at ¶¶ 15, 22. Plaintiffs son, Justin M. Johnson, was apprehended by Seaford police officers after being told he could not ride his bike through the festival. D.I. 2 at 4; D.I. 40 at ¶¶ 22-27. While Mr. Johnson was still on his bike and wearing a backpack, one of the officers handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. D.I. 2 at 4; D.I. 40 at ¶¶ 26-27. Shortly after being handcuffed, Mr. Johnson, while still wearing his backpack, broke free from the officers and ran into the Nanticoke River. D.I. 2 at 5; D.I. 40 at ¶ 38. Mr. Johnson struggled in the water and was pulled out by rescue personnel after he had been in the water for at least 30 minutes. D.I. 2 at 5; D.I. 40 at ¶¶ 40-46. After his rescue, Mr. Johnson was transported to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, where he was declared brain dead. D.I. 2 at 5-6; D.I. 40 at ¶ 47. Mr. Johnson died on July 15, 2014. D.I. 40 at ¶ 48.

         Plaintiff has alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, the Police Department, and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities. D.I. 40 at 9-12. Plaintiff also alleges claims against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities under § 1983 and Delaware state tort law. Id. at 12-16. Defendants have moved for dismissal of the claims against the Individual Defendants pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the claims are time-barred as a matter of law. D.I. 42 at 4.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but the complaint must set forth sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Umland v. Planco Fin. Servs., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants have moved for dismissal on the basis that the claims alleged against the Individual Defendants are time-barred, having been asserted after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff counters that the claims against the Individual Defendants relate back to the filing date of the original complaint and are permitted by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(C).

         "Section 1983 claims are characterized as personal injury claims, and district courts must apply the state statute of limitations for personal injury claims." Gibbs v. Deckers, 234 F.Supp.2d 458, 461 (D. Del. 2002). Thus, each of Plaintiff s claims is subject to a two-year statute of limitations. See 10 Del. C. § 8119 (imposing a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims). "Claims not filed within the two-year statute of limitations period are time-barred and must be dismissed." Cohee v. Danberg, , 2018 WL 1110285, at *2 (D. Del. Feb. 28, 2018). Here, the date of underlying incident was July 11, 2014, meaning Plaintiff was required to bring her claims by July 11, 2016 in order for them to fall within the two-year statute of limitations. Plaintiff filed her initial complaint before July 11, 2016 but she did not add her claims against the Individual Defendants until she filed her First Amended Complaint on November 6, 2017. Therefore, the claims asserted against the Individual Defendants will be time-barred unless Plaintiff proves they relate back to the original complaint under Rule 15(c). See Singletary v. Pa. Dep'tof Corr., 266 F.3d 186, 189 (3d Cir. 2001) ("Rule l5(c)[] provides for the 'relation back' of amended complaints that add or change parties if certain conditions are met, in which case the amended complaint is treated, for statute of limitations purposes, as if it had been filed at the time of the original complaint.").

         Because Plaintiff names additional parties in her amended pleading, three conditions must be satisfied for her First Amended Complaint to relate back to the filing of the original complaint. First, the new claims must have arisen from the same conduct set out in the original pleading. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C). Second, within the time period provided by Rule 4(m), the newly named parties must have "received such notice of the action that [they] will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits." Fed.R.Civ.P. l5(c)(1)(C)(i). Third, the newly named parties must have "kn[own] or should have known that ...


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