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Mitchell v. Applebee's Services, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

October 1, 2019

Kelly Mitchell, Appellant,
v.
Applebee's Services, Inc., Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Bay County. James B. Fensom, Judge.

          Anthony B. Britt of The Britt Law Firm, Miami, for Appellant.

          B.B. Boles III and Brentt E. Palmer of Young, Bill, Boles, Palmer & Duke, P.A., Pensacola, for Appellee.

          PER CURIAM.

         Appellant was involved in a slip-and-fall accident at an Applebee's restaurant on July 28, 2012. On July 26, 2016, two days before the running of the applicable statute of limitations, she filed suit against two defendants: Apple Two Associates, Inc., d/b/a Applebee's, and Appellee-Applebee's Services, Inc. In the body of the complaint, it was abundantly clear Appellant was suing both Apple Two Associates, Inc., and Appellee, but the complaint included only a single count of negligence against Apple Two. Nevertheless, six months later, after being served, Appellee filed an answer to the complaint and affirmative defenses on February 28, 2017.

         Appellee next filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, alternatively, a motion for judgment on the pleadings, alleging that the complaint failed to state a cause of action against it. Before a hearing could be held on the motion, however, the trial court granted Appellant leave to amend her complaint. The amended complaint, filed on June 28, 2017, was identical to the initial complaint in all respects with the exception that it added a second count alleging that Appellee had purchased the Applebee's restaurant from Apple Two Associates, Inc., and, by written agreement, assumed all "debts, liabilities, responsibilities, and all other obligations of Apple Two Associates, Inc. that were in existence at the time of and prior to said purchase," which included Appellant's lawsuit.

         In response, Appellee filed a second motion to dismiss. Principally, the second motion claimed that the new cause of action against Appellee in Count II was filed well beyond the four-year statute of limitations in section 95.11(3)(a), Florida Statutes (2012). The trial court agreed, observing that the amended complaint was filed after the statute had run and there was "nothing for the amended complaint to relate back to." In so ruling, the trial court erred.

         Whether an amended complaint relates back to the filing of the original complaint for statute of limitations purposes is a question of law subject to de novo review. Caduceus Props., LLC v. Graney, 137 So. 3d 987');">137 So. 3d 987, 991 (Fla. 2014). As the Florida Supreme Court explained in Caduceus:

Generally, Florida has a judicial policy of freely permitting amendments to the pleadings so that cases may be resolved on the merits, as long as the amendments do not prejudice or disadvantage the opposing party. . . .
Permitting relation back in this context is also consistent with Florida case law holding that [Florida Rule of Civil Procedure] 1.190(c) is to be liberally construed and applied.

Id. at 991-92.

In other words, as long as the initial complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the general factual scenario or factual underpinning of the claim, amendments stating new legal theories can relate back . . . even where the legal theory of recovery has changed or where the original and amended claims require the assertion of different elements.

Koppel v. Koppel, 229 So. 3d 812, 816 (Fla. 2017); Palm Beach Cty. School Bd. v. Doe 1, 210 So. 3d 41, 44 (Fla. 2017) (footnotes omitted) (citing Fabbiano v. Demings, 91 So. 3d 893, 895 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012); Flores v. Risomp Indus., Inc., 35 So. 3d 146, 148 (Fla. 3d DCA ...


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