Singletary v. PA Dept. of Corrections

Citation266 F.3d 186
Decision Date21 September 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-3579,00-3579
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)

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266 F.3d 186 (3rd Cir. 2001)
No. 00-3579
Argued April 16, 2001
September 21, 2001

On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Middle District of Pennsylvania District Judge: Honorable Malcolm Muir (D.C. Civ. No. 99-CV-00255)

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Wayne A. Rodney, (Argued) Rodney & Associates 1616 Walnut Street Suite 2000 Philadelphia, PA 19103, Counsel for Appellant

D. Michael Fisher, Attorney General Gregory R. Neuhauser, (Argued) Senior Deputy Attorney General Calvin R. Koons, Senior Deputy Attorney General John G. Knorr, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General Chief, Appellate Litigation Section Office of Attorney General 15th Floor Strawberry Square Harrisburg, PA 17120, Counsel for Appellees

Before: Becker, Chief Judge, McKEE, Circuit Judges, and Pollak, District Judge.*


Becker, Chief Judge

This is an appeal from a grant of summary judgment for defendants Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC), State Correctional Institute at Rockview (SCI- Rockview), and former Superintendent of SCI-Rockview, Joseph Mazurkiewicz, in a 42 U.S.C. S 1983 civil rights lawsuit brought against them by Dorothy Singletary, the mother of Edward Singletary, a prisoner who committed suicide while incarcerated at Rockview. The plaintiff does not appeal from the grant of summary judgment for PADOC and SCI-Rockview. She does appeal the District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant Mazurkiewicz, but there is plainly no merit to this challenge for there is no evidence that Mazurkiewicz exhibited deliberate indifference to Edward Singletary's medical needs.

In her original complaint, the plaintiff also included as defendants "Unknown Corrections Officers." The only chance for the plaintiff to prevail depends on her ability to succeed in: (1) amending her original complaint to add as a defendant Robert Regan, a psychologist at SCI-Rockview, against whom the plaintiff has her only potentially viable case; and (2) having this amended complaint relate back to her original complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(3) so that she overcomes the defense of the statute of limitations. Rule 15(c)(3) provides for the "relation back" of amended complaints that add or change parties if certain conditions are met, in which case the amended complaint is treated, for statute of limitations purposes, as if it had been filed at the time of the original complaint.

The District Court denied the plaintiff's motion for leave to amend because it concluded that the amended complaint would not meet the conditions required for relation back under 15(c)(3). Rule 15(c)(3) has two basic parts, both of which must be met before relation back is permitted. First, 15(c)(3)(A) requires that the party that the plaintiff seeks to add has received, within a certain time period, sufficient notice of the institution of the action that the party is not prejudiced. In addition to actual notice (which is not claimed here) Rule 15(c)(3)(A) cognizes two means of imputing the notice received by the original defendants to the party sought to be added: (i) the existence of a shared attorney between the original and proposed new defendant; and (ii) an identity of interest between these two parties. Second, 15(c)(3)(B) requires that the party sought to be added knew or should have known that, but for a mistake, the plaintiff would have named him in the original complaint.

We conclude that the District Court was correct in ruling that the amended complaint

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did not meet the notice requirements of Rule 15(c)(3)(A). The plaintiff cannot avail herself of the "shared attorney" method of imputing notice to Regan because the defendants' attorney was not assigned to this case until after the relevant notice period under Rule 15(c)(3). Furthermore, the "identity of interest" method is not open to the plaintiff because Regan was not high enough in the administrative hierarchy of SCI- Rockview to share sufficient interests with any of the original defendants.

The District Court also found that the plaintiff did not meet the requirement of Rule 15(c)(3)(B)--that Regan knew (or should have known) that, but for a mistake, the plaintiff would have named him in the original complaint. The correct legal interpretation of 15(c)(3)(B) is not settled, and it is unclear whether the plaintiff's original complaint, which included as defendants "Unknown Corrections Officers," meets 15(c)(3)(B)'s mistake requirement. More precisely, because the plaintiff simply did not know of Regan's identity, it is an open question whether failure to include him originally as a defendant was a "mistake" under Rule 15(c)(3)(B). Resolution of the question whether lack of knowledge can constitute a mistake is important in civil rights cases. For example, a person who was subjected to excessive force by police officers might not have seen the officers' name tags, and hence would likely need discovery to determine the names of his attackers, although he cannot get discovery until he files his S 1983 complaint. If this person were prevented from having his complaint relate back when he sought to replace a "John Doe" or "Unknown Police Officers" in his complaint with the real names of his assailants, then he would have to file his complaint substantially before the running of the statute of limitations on his claim in order to avoid having his claim end up being barred. This would render the S 1983 statute of limitations much shorter for this person than it would be for another complainant who knows his assailants' names.

Although there seems to be no good reason for the Rules of Civil Procedure to treat two such similarly-situated plaintiffs so differently, in most Courts of Appeals the naming of "unknown persons" or "John Does" (the functional pleading equivalent of "unknown persons") as defendants in an original complaint does not meet 15(c)(3)(B)'s mistake requirement. In our one case to consider the issue this Court implied (though we did not squarely hold) that such "John Doe complaints"1 do meet this mistake requirement. But even if the mistake requirement is met in this case, it is not at all clear that Regan knew or should have known that the original complaint would have included him since the complaint named "Unknown Corrections Officers," and Regan is a staff psychologist, not a corrections officer, at SCI- Rockview.

It is clear that the plaintiff does not meet Rule 15(c)(3)(A)'s notice requirement, and hence we need not decide the thorny issues outlined in the preceding two paragraphs. However, because the position taken by the other Courts of Appeals on Rule 15(c)(3)(B)'s "mistake" requirement would seem to lead to seriously inequitable outcomes, we suggest to the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules that it amend the language of Rule 15(c)(3)(B) so as to clearly provide that the

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requirements of that section of the Rule can be met in situations in which the plaintiff seeks to replace a "John Doe" or "Unknown Person" with the name of a real defendant. As we further explain infra at note 5, such an amendment, which is supported by the weight of scholarly commentary, would make Rule 15(c)(3) fit more closely with the overall tenor and policy of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


Edward Singletary was serving a 6-12 year sentence at SCI-Rockview for his conviction of rape. In November 1995, Singletary was transferred to the maximum security restricted housing unit (MSRHU) of SCI-Rockview as a result of "threatening an employee or family with bodily harm." Over the next ten months, Singletary became increasingly agitated, acting hostilely to the staff and accusing them of tampering with his food and mail. During this period, Singletary was given chances to leave the MSRHU and re-enter the general population unit of SCI- Rockview, but he refused each time.

During his stay in the MSRHU, Singletary was seen weekly by a counselor, monthly by a three-person Program Review Committee, and by medical and psychological staff as needed. A staff psychiatrist, Dr. Abdollah Nabavi, prescribed an anti-depressant to help Singletary with his sleeplessness and anxiety. Nabavi also offered Singletary Trilafon, an anti-psychotic drug, because he "felt [Singletary] was agitated, he was over suspicious, he was just very uncomfortable in the environment.... I think he was [psychotic]. If he was not, he was very close to being psychotic." Dep. of Dr. Nabavi at 31-32. Singletary, however, refused the Trilafon.

On October 3, 1996, Singletary became agitated when he was told to remove some magazines that had accumulated in his cell, and he threatened a prison officer. Because of the threat, the next day Singletary was transferred to a cell in the "Deputy Warden" (DW) building with the approval of the prison Superintendent, defendant Joseph Mazurkiewicz. After placement in a DW cell, Singletary was seen on October 4, 1996 by Kevin Burke, a psychiatrist consultant for SCI-Rockview, and by Robert Regan, a psychological services staff member and the person whom Dorothy Singletary seeks to add as a defendant. Regan was working as a "psychological service specialist" at SCI-Rockview at this time; his duties included the psychological testing and assessment of inmates, parole evaluations, group therapy, mental health intervention, and suicide risk evaluation and prevention. Regan did not have any administrative or supervisory duties at the prison. Beginning in late 1994, Regan had met with and evaluated Singletary on a...

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