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Smith v. Food Giant Supermarkets, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

October 12, 2018

PRENTISS SMITH, as Conservator for Cora Smith PLAINTIFF
v.
FOOD GIANT SUPERMARKETS, INC. d/b/a Food Giant d/b/a Big Star; ARAMARK UNIFORM SERVICES, a division of Aramark Uniform & Career Apparel, LLC; and JOHN DOES 1-10 DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This personal injury action is before the Court on Aramark Uniform Services' motion to dismiss. Doc. #30.

         I Procedural History

         On May 30, 2017, Cora Smith filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Leflore County, Mississippi, against Food Giant Supermarkets, Inc; and “John Does 1-10.” Doc. #2 at 1. The complaint alleged that Food Giant and the fictitious parties negligently caused Smith to slip and fall on a rug while shopping in a Food Giant-owned store on or about May 31, 2014. Id. at 2. After being served with a copy of the summons and complaint on September 18, 2017, Food Giant, asserting diversity jurisdiction, removed the state court action to this Court on September 27, 2017. Doc. #1 at 1.

         On March 19, 2018, Cora, [1] filed a motion to amend her complaint to add a negligence claim against Aramark Uniform Services because “[a]fter the expiration of the amendment deadline, the Plaintiff learned that [Aramark] was utilized by [Food Giant] to maintain the rug in question.”[2] Doc. #23 at 1. United States Magistrate Judge Jane M. Virden granted the motion to amend on March 20, 2018, and Cora filed her amended complaint the same day. Doc. #24.

         Approximately a month later, on April 19, 2018, Prentiss Smith, the conservator for Cora, was substituted as the plaintiff in this action. Doc. #29.

         On April 23, 2018, Aramark filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion seeking dismissal of Cora's claims as untimely. Doc. #30. The motion is fully briefed. See Doc. #31; Doc. #39; Doc. #40; Doc. #41.

         II Standard of Review

          To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations; rather, it need only allege facts sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Littell v. Hous. Indep. Sch. Dist., 894 F.3d 616, 622 (5th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Under this standard, dismissal is inappropriate “even if recovery is very remote and unlikely, so long as the alleged facts raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III Discussion

         In diversity actions such as this, state law provides the applicable statute of limitations for state law claims. Tex. Soil Recycling, Inc. v. Intercargo Ins. Co., 273 F.3d 644, 649 (5th Cir. 2001). Mississippi has a three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims. Peoples Bank of Biloxi v. McAdams, 171 So.3d 505, 508 (Miss. 2015). Under Mississippi law, “a cause of action accrues when it comes into existence as an enforceable claim ….” Bullard v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 941 So.2d 812, 815 (Miss. 2006). A tort claim is enforceable when a plaintiff has knowledge of the following elements: “duty, breach of duty, causation between the breach of the duty and the injury, and actual damage.” Id.

         There is no dispute that Cora's negligence claim against Aramark accrued on the date of her injury-May 31, 2014. If the complaint is deemed filed on the date Cora filed her amended complaint, there is no dispute that the claim would be barred by the statute of limitations; however, if the amended complaint is deemed to relate back to the filing of the original state court complaint, there is no dispute that Cora's claim would be timely filed.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(A), “[a]n amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when … the law that provides the applicable statute of limitations allows relation back[.]” In this regard, Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(2) provides that “[a]n amendment pursuant to [Mississippi] Rule 9(h) … relates back to the date of the original pleading.” Rule 9(h), in turn, states that “[w]hen a party is ignorant of the name of an opposing party and so alleges in his pleading, the opposing party may be designated by any name, and when his true name is discovered the process and all pleadings and proceedings in the action may be amended by substituting the true name and giving proper notice to the opposing party.” Although the language of Rule 9(h) is broad, the Mississippi Supreme Court has observed that “the purpose of Rule 9(h) is to provide a mechanism to bring in responsible parties, known, but unidentified, who can only be ascertained through the use of judicial mechanisms such as discovery.” Veal v. J.P. Morgan Tr. Co., N.A., 955 So.2d 843, 846 (Miss. 2007) (emphasis omitted). Relatedly, the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that “[t]he relation back privilege provided for fictitious parties under Rule 15(c)(2) requires the plaintiff to actually exercise a reasonably diligent inquiry into the identity of the fictitious party.” Bedford Health Props., LLC v. Estate of Williams ex rel. Hawthorne, 946 So.2d 335, 342 (Miss. 2006). Consistent with this rule, the Mississippi Supreme Court has “acknowledged a reasonable diligence test when substituting unknown parties pursuant [to Rule] 9(h).” Id. at 341-42. Necessarily, the “reasonably diligent inquiry into the identity of the unknown defendant must be made within the limitation period in order for a substitution under Rule 9(h) to allow a claim to relate back to the date of the original pleading.” Davenport v. Hertz Equip. Rental Corp., 187 So.3d 194, 200. (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). The burden rests on the plaintiff to show reasonable diligence. Id. at 202 (“In summary, we find that Davenport failed to prove that he lacked knowledge of Hertz's identity prior to the filing of his original complaint, but even if he did, he failed the reasonable-diligence requirement to ascertain Hertz's identity.”).

         Aramark argues that because the negligence claim against it accrued on May 30, 2014, and was filed on March 20, 2018, the claim is barred by Mississippi's three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims. Doc. #31 at 2-5. Prentiss responds that Cora was reasonably diligent in pursing her claim against Aramark, and that under Rules 9(h) and 15(c) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, the amended complaint relates back to the May 30, 2017, original complaint. Doc. #40 at 2-6. Aramark contends that the relation back doctrine is unavailable ...


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