The Florida Supreme Court will review two district court cases that apply the relation-back doctrine (when an amended pleading relates back to an original pleading) and decide whether the doctrine applies to new causes of action. See Palm Bch. Cnty. Sch. Bd. v. Doe, No. SC13-1834; Kopel v. Kopel, SC13-992. The doctrine can be found in Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.190(c) which states: “When the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading, the amendment shall relate back to the date of the original pleading.” A plaintiff usually invokes the doctrine to avoid a statute of limitations defense to an amended complaint.
In this teacher sexual abuse case, the district court had to decide whether a Title IX claim (sexual discrimination by federally-funded schools) related back to the filing of the original complaint. The plaintiffs filed their original complaint against their children’s teacher and the Palm Beach County School Board in 2006 alleging sexual molestation against the teacher and negligence against the school board. Almost five years later, plaintiffs amended their complaint to add a claim for violation of Title IX. The school board moved to dismiss the Title IX claim on statute of limitations grounds. Plaintiffs argued that the Title IX claim related back to the original complaint, but the trial court disagreed and dismissed the claim.
On appeal, the school board argued that the Title IX claims did not relate back because they state a new cause of action. See Doe v. Sinrod, 117 So. 3d 786 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013). The Fourth District acknowledged that amendments generally do not relate back if they raise a new cause of action, but noted that a new cause of action “can relate back to the original pleading so long as the new claim is not based on different facts, such that the defendant would not have ‘fair notice of the general factual situation.’” The Fourth District found that the Title IX claim did relate back to the negligence claims because “[b]oth claims arose from the same conduct and resulted in the same injury.”
This case involved a financial dispute between two brothers, Leon and Enrique Kopel, and Enrique’s son, Bernardo, stemming from joint investments they made in Florida real estate. Leon sued on two promissory notes, a loan and for unjust enrichment after certain of his demands to Enrique and Bernardo were not met. At trial, for the first time and over defendants’ objection, Leon claimed that various settlement conversations between him and Enrique were not actually settlement negotiations but rather independent oral agreements. After a mistrial, Leon amended his complaint by abandoning his claim on the two promissory notes, keeping his unjust enrichment claim, but adding a new claim for breach of the oral promise raised during trial. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion challenging the new claim as barred by the applicable four-year statute of limitations.
On appeal, the Third District reversed on this issue, finding that this new claim did not relate back and was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. See Kopel v. Kopel, 117 So. 3d 1147 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013). The Third District enforced its rule that “when a cause of action set forth in an amended pleading in a pending litigation is new, different, and distinct from that originally set up, there is no relation back.”
The supreme court has declined to hold oral argument in both cases. This article will be updated once the supreme court decides the cases.