May, the Second District reversed a summary judgment entered in favor of a
hospital in a medical malpractice action, finding that the plaintiff had
initially named the incorrect defendant based on a mere misnomer.
The plaintiff initially filed suit against Blake Medical Center Auxiliary
after Jean May was discharged from Blake Medical Center, and suffered
a severe stroke almost immediately after discharge. The plaintiff believed
the Auxiliary was the medical center. The Auxiliary and the medical center
share similar names, the same legal counsel and the same physical address.
After receiving the complaint the Auxiliary filed a generic answer and
affirmative defenses containing no factual allegations which would have
put the plaintiff on notice that it was not a medical provider to Jean
May. The Auxiliary later served more than eighty subpoenas to non-party
medical providers and thirty-five requests for documents from additional
non-party medical providers. One year into litigation, in March 2012,
the Auxiliary moved for summary judgment, and revealed its relationship
to the medical center, and that it was not a licensed healthcare provider
or facility. The statute of limitations had run by that time. The plaintiff
and the Auxiliary entered into a stipulation to substitute the medical
center as the defendant in the suit, acknowledging that the plaintiff
had mistakenly named the Auxiliary.
In October 2012, the plaintiff filed the amended complaint against the
medical center. The medical center moved for summary judgment, arguing
the statute of limitations had passed. The trial court found that the
Auxiliary and the medical center were distinct entities, and entered summary
judgment in the medical center's favor.
Typically, if a plaintiff sues the wrong entity, the mistake cannot be
remedied after the period of limitations has elapsed. An exception to
the general rule exists however when, after the limitations period has
passed, a substitution of a corporation as a party defendant for another
corporation amounts to no more than rectifying a misnomer. In that situation,
the statute of limitations will not bar suit, and relation back to the
original filing is permitted, if the new party will not be prejudiced.
Relation back is usually applicable when the new party knew or should
have known that the plaintiff had made a mistake or was guilty of a misnomer
as to the correct identity of the defendant so that the added party is
deemed to have suffered no prejudice by being tardily brought in or substituted
as a party.
Several factors are considered in holding that a misnomer occurred. Those
factors include an incorrectly named party's active participation
in the litigation, the same counsel, the same physical address, the same
directors or officers, the same registered agent and the same phone and
May, the Second District highlighted the fact that the Auxiliary had conducted
extensive discovery aimed at prolonging the litigation until the statute
of limitations had expired. The Second District noted that while a defendant
has no obligation to advise a plaintiff whom to sue, the trial of a lawsuit
should be "a sincere effort to arrive at the truth." "It
is no longer a game of chess in which the technique of the maneuver captures
the prize." The Auxiliary's conducting discovery, together with
the facts that it shared a similar name and the same counsel as the medical
center, led the plaintiff to believe the correct defendant had been sued.
As such, the Second District found that the plaintiff's naming the
incorrect defendant was a mere misnomer. Therefore, the Second District
reversed the summary judgment.