On August 13, 2020, New Jersey’s Appellate Division issued a published opinion in the matter of Repko v. Our Lady of Lourdes Med. Ctr., Inc., 2020 N.J. Super. LEXIS 204, where it held that a pleading could not be amended to “relate back” to the original date of filing, where the original complaint was defective to the point of lacking standing in the first place.
The case arose out of a trip-and-fall accident involving the Plaintiff in September of 2016. The Plaintiff passed away in December of 2017 from totally unrelated causes. Nevertheless, in September of 2018 – shortly before the statute of limitations expired – the Plaintiff’s attorney filed a complaint on her behalf, not knowing that his client had passed away. In February of 2019, the attorney realized that his client had passed away more than a year before, and obtained her death certificate and letters testamentary in September of 2019. At that time, counsel sought the consent of the defendant to amend the complaint and to substitute the estate in for his deceased client. The defendant declined, arguing that the original complaint was a nullity, insofar as the Plaintiff had no standing to sue when the complaint was filed – because she was dead. Plaintiff’s attorney moved to amend the complaint, arguing that the amendment would “relate back” to the date of original filing, and thus satisfy the two-year statute of limitations. The court granted the motion over opposition, and denied a cross-motion to dismiss. The Appellate Division reviewed the matter on an interlocutory basis.
The Court noted, first, that the dead have no ability to bring a case in court. As such, the Court ruled that the original complaint was “ineffective to set the judicial machinery in motion,” and as such, there was “nothing for the estate’s [proposed amended] complaint to relate back to.” The Court held that “[t]he “relation-back” rule cannot cure the failure to file a valid complaint in the first instance.” If the original complaint was without legal effect, there was nothing to amend, and nothing for the amendment to “relate back” to. As such, the proposed complaint on behalf of the estate of the deceased plaintiff was rejected as untimely.
For more information on this case, or on New Jersey’s statute of limitations and “relation back” rules, contact MKCI’s Tom Emala at firstname.lastname@example.org.