Worthington v. Wilson

8 F.3d 1253 (1993)

Quick Summary

Richard Worthington (plaintiff) sued Dave Wilson and Jeff Wall (defendants) for injuries sustained during an arrest. Initially, unnamed officers were listed in his complaint, but he later identified Wilson and Wall specifically after the statute of limitations had passed.

The central issue was whether this amendment could relate back to the original filing date under Rule 15(c). The Court concluded that it could not, as there was no mistake in identifying the proper parties within the statute of limitations period.

Facts of the Case

Richard Worthington (plaintiff) experienced a traumatic arrest by the Peoria Heights Police Department, leading to the exacerbation of an existing injury in his left hand. The physical encounter with the arresting officers left him with broken bones in the already damaged hand. Following the incident, Worthington pursued legal action against the officers responsible for furthering his injury.

Initially, Worthington filed a complaint against the Village of Peoria Heights (defendant) and three unidentified police officers within the statute of limitations. His complaint was later amended to specifically name Dave Wilson and Jeff Wall (defendants) as the officers involved, though this amendment came after the expiration of the statute of limitations, which became a central point of contention in the case.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Worthington files suit against the Village of Peoria Heights and three unnamed police officers within the statute of limitations.
  2. The Village of Peoria Heights is voluntarily dismissed from the case by Worthington.
  3. Worthington amends his complaint to name Dave Wilson and Jeff Wall as the defendants after the statute of limitations had expired.
  4. Wilson and Wall file a motion to dismiss based on the amended complaint being time-barred.
  5. The case progresses to the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, after the district court’s decision.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether the amended complaint naming specific officers as defendants relates back to the original filing date for purposes of the statute of limitations under Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Rule of Law

An amendment to a complaint relates back to the date of the original pleading when there is a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party and that party knew or should have known that, but for such mistake, the action would have been brought against them. The amended Rule 15(c) allows for broader ‘relation back’ when parties are changed after the statute of limitations has expired.

Reasoning and Analysis

The court determined that Worthington’s amended complaint did not satisfy the ‘mistake’ requirement necessary for relation back under Rule 15(c). The plaintiff’s failure to identify Wilson and Wall in his original filing was due to a lack of knowledge rather than a mistake about their identities. This distinction is crucial as Rule 15(c) permits relation back only when an error regarding a party’s identity has occurred.

Furthermore, even with Rule 15(c) amended to provide more lenient relation-back conditions, the court found that Worthington’s case did not meet these criteria either. The defendants Wilson and Wall were not aware of the lawsuit within the statute of limitations period; thus, they could not have known that they were intended defendants.


The court affirmed that relation back under Rule 15(c) was not applicable in this case, rendering Worthington’s amended complaint time-barred under Illinois law.

Key Takeaways

  1. The ‘relation back’ doctrine under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) requires a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party for an amendment to relate back to the original filing date.
  2. Lack of knowledge about a defendant’s identity at the time of filing does not constitute such a mistake under Rule 15(c).
  3. Amendments to complaints that do not meet ‘relation back’ criteria will be subject to statutes of limitations, potentially barring delayed claims.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes a 'mistake concerning identity' under Rule 15(c) for relation back of amendments?

A ‘mistake concerning identity’ under Rule 15(c) occurs when there’s an erroneous belief regarding who should be named as a party in the suit, not merely when there is a lack of knowledge about a party’s identity. To qualify, the mistake must be genuine, such as misidentifying a party due to similar names or roles, or misunderstanding a corporate structure resulting in wrong entity being sued.

  • For example: If a plaintiff sues ‘XYZ Corp’ believing it to be the parent company responsible for an injury, but later learns that ‘XYZ Holdings’ is the correct party, this mistake may permit amendment to relate back under Rule 15(c).

How does the 'relation back' doctrine apply when new defendants are named after the statute of limitations?

The ‘relation back’ doctrine allows an amendment to include new defendants if the procedural requirements are met. Specifically, the new party must receive notice of the action within such time as not to be prejudiced in maintaining a defense and they must know, or should have known, that but for a mistake concerning identity, they would have been named originally.

  • For example:If an injured worker initially sues the wrong subsidiary of a corporation within the limitations period and amends to sue the correct one after learning of the mistake, the ‘relation back’ doctrine might apply if the correct subsidiary was aware of the action from its start.

Under what circumstances can an amendment introducing a new claim relate back to the date of the original pleading?

An amendment introducing a new claim can relate back if it arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out in the original pleading. The court assesses whether the original notice given to the defendant through the initial pleadings was sufficient for them to anticipate being called to defend against the new claim as well.

  • For example: If someone sues for property damage after a car accident and later realizes they also suffered physical injuries, an amendment adding personal injury claims might relate back since both arose from the same accident.


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