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Schiavone v. Fortune - 477 U.S. 21, 106 S. Ct. 2379 (1986)

Rule:

Under New Jersey law, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:14-3 (1952), a libel action must be commenced within one year of the publication of the alleged libel.

Facts:

Plaintiffs, who had allegedly been defamed by a magazine article, filed diversity libel actions in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, shortly before the applicable state statute of limitations expired; however, plaintiffs mailed copies of the complaints to the publisher's agent in the state after that period had expired. These complaints improperly named the magazine rather than its corporate publisher as the defendant, and the agent refused service on that ground. The plaintiffs subsequently amended their complaints to add the phrase "also known as" and the publisher's name after that of the magazine. The District Court nevertheless granted the publisher's motion to dismiss the complaints, holding that the filing of the amended complaints was not timely, and that it did not relate back to the filing of the original complaints, as would otherwise be allowed by Rule 15(c) of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because it had not been shown that the publisher had received notice of the institution of the actions within the period provided by law for commencing an action against it. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, stating that the time in which an added party must receive notice in order to satisfy Rule 15(c) is the statutory limitations period, and did not include any additional time allowed for service of process.

Issue:

Was the filing of the amended complaints untimely, thereby justifying the grant of publisher’s motion to dismiss?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that the plain language of Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c) required petitioners to give notice within the applicable time period. The Court held that, even if it imputed notice of the complaint to respondents, respondents had not received notice of the filing until after the period of limitations had run. Therefore, the Court affirmed the motion to dismiss petitioners' complaint.

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