Alisha R. Silbaugh, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Defendant-Appellee.
and Submitted July 12, 2019 Seattle, Washington
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Washington D.C. No. 2:17-cv-01759-RSM Ricardo S.
Martinez, Chief District Judge, Presiding.
Timothy Patrick O'Donnell, Mercer Island, Washington;
Aaron V. Rocke, Rocke Law Group PLLC, Seattle, Washington;
Luthy Miller (argued) and Sarah K. Morehead, Assistant United
States Attorneys; Annette L. Hayes, United States Attorney;
United States Attorney's Office, Seattle, Washington; for
Before: Danny J. Boggs, [*] Marsha S. Berzon, and Paul J.
Watford, Circuit Judges.
R. Civ. P. 15(c) Relation Back of Amendments
panel reversed the district court's dismissal of
plaintiff's action alleging that the Federal Aviation
Administration ("FAA") wrongfully terminated her
filed her action in the district court within the 30-day
limitations period set by statute, see 5 U.S.C.
§ 7703(b)(2), but she mistakenly named the FAA and her
former supervisor as the defendants. Because plaintiff's
suit alleged claims of discrimination under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, plaintiff was required to name as
the defendant the head of the executive agency to which the
FAA belongs - Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation.
After the 30-day statute of limitations passed, the FAA moved
to dismiss on the ground that plaintiff had named the wrong
defendant. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint to substitute
Secretary Chao as the defendant. The district court dismissed
because it found that the amended complaint did not relate
back to the date of the original complaint under the
requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c), and plaintiff's
action was barred by the statute of limitations.
panel held that plaintiff was entitled to relation back under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(2). Specifically, the panel held that the
application of Rule 15(c)(2) to the facts of this case was
straightforward. The panel further held that the district
court reached the opposite conclusion by adopting an overly
technical interpretation of the term "process" as
used in Rule 15(c)(2). The panel held that the notice-giving
function of "process" under Rule 15(c)(2) was
accomplished whether or not the summons accompanying the
complaint was signed by the clerk of court.
addition, the panel held that the requirements for relation
back were met here where both the United States Attorney and
the Attorney General were sufficiently notified of
plaintiff's action within the 90-day period prescribed by
Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m). The panel noted that the record did not
reveal whether plaintiff also sent a copy of the valid
summons and the amended complaint to Secretary Chao. Because
plaintiff properly served both the U.S. Attorney and the
Attorney General, she was entitled to additional time to mail
a copy of the summons and amended complaint to Secretary Chao
if necessary. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(i)(4)(A). The panel remanded for
the district court to address that issue in the first
WATFORD, Circuit Judge.
case involves a common problem in suits against officers or
agencies of the United States: The plaintiff files her action
within the statute of limitations, but discovers after the
limitations period has expired that she named the wrong
defendant. The problem arises with some frequency because a
plaintiff may sue the federal government only if the United
States waives its sovereign immunity, and Congress has in
some instances conditioned such a waiver on the naming of a
particular person or entity as the defendant. Those
directives are not always intuitive. For certain types of
claims, the plaintiff may be required to name the United
States itself as the defendant, while for others the
plaintiff may be required to name a designated government
official, even though that official played no role in the
events giving rise to the lawsuit. Failure to name the
correct defendant can result in dismissal of the
a mistake of this sort is simple enough if the statute of
limitations has not yet run, for the plaintiff can file a new
action naming the correct defendant. But if the time for
filing suit has passed, the plaintiff's claims will be
time-barred unless the plaintiff can amend her complaint to
add the correct defendant and have that amendment
"relate back" to the original, timely filed
complaint. Relation back of such amendments is the province
of Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The
rule governs when an amendment that "changes the party .
. . against whom a claim is asserted" will relate back
to the date of the original complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(c)(1)(C). And it contains a specific ...