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Siemion v. Rumfelt (2/14/92), 825 P 2d 896
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to
formal correction before publication in the
Pacific Reporter. Readers are requested to
bring typographical or other formal errors to
the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate
Courts, 303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska
99501, in order that corrections may be made
prior to permanent publication.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALASKA
MICHAEL SIEMION, JULIE SIEMION, )
CHRIS SIEMION and SCOTT SIEMION, ) Supreme Court No. S-4399
a minor, )
v. ) Superior Court No.
) 3AN-89-434 Civil
TIMOTHY RUMFELT, )
) O P I N I O N
___________________________________) [No. 3812 - February 14,
Appeal from the Superior Court of the
State of Alaska, Third Judicial District,
Joan M. Katz, Judge.
Appearances: Bradley D. Owens, Jermain,
Dunnagan & Owens, P.C., Anchorage, for
Appellants. Daniel T. Quinn, Richmond &
Quinn, Anchorage, for Appellee.
Before: Rabinowitz, Chief Justice,
Burke, Matthews, Compton, and Moore,
RABINOWITZ, Chief Justice.
COMPTON, Justice, Concurring.
On February 2, 1987, Jeffrey Rumfelt, then a minor, ran
into the Siemions' vehicle while driving a vehicle owned by his
father, Timothy Rumfelt. On January 19, 1989, Michael Siemion,
Julie Siemion, Chris Siemion, and Scott Siemion (Siemions) filed
a complaint against Timothy Rumfelt alleging personal injuries
arising out of the February 1987 accident.1 The complaint and
summons were served on Timothy Rumfelt by registered mail.
Attempts at settlement were unsuccessful and an answer to the
complaint was filed on October 5, 1990.
Timothy Rumfelt then filed a Motion to Dismiss or for
Summary Judgment, raising the failure to name Jeffrey Rumfelt as
a defendant. Timothy Rumfelt argued that the only apparent
theory of liability arose out of his status as either the owner
of the vehicle or the father of the allegedly negligent driver.
He further argued that one's status as either vehicle owner or
parent does not give rise to vicarious liability unless there was
some direct negligence in either entrusting one's vehicle to
someone known to be incompetent, or in supervising one's child.
The Siemions opposed the Motion to Dismiss or for
Summary Judgment, arguing that Timothy Rumfelt might bear
liability under AS 28.15.071(b) if he had signed Jeffrey's
driver's licence application. Alternatively, the Siemions
pointed to AS 28.20.050(a) (a section of the Motor Vehicle
Safety Responsibility Act) which applied to both the driver and
owner of a vehicle to suggest an alternative theory of liability
against Timothy Rumfelt. Additionally, the Siemions moved to
amend their complaint to add Jeffrey Rumfelt and Vicky Rumfelt as
named defendants. The Siemions also requested that the proposed
amendment relate back to the date the original complaint was
filed and served upon Timothy Rumfelt, which was within the two-
year statute of limitations prescribed by AS 09.10.070.
The Siemions' Motion to Amend Complaint was denied by
the superior court on the basis that the Siemions failed
to meet the requirements for relation
back stated in Farmer v. State, 788 P.2d 43
(Alaska 1990). The new parties had no notice
that they would be named as defendants, and
in fact could assume to the contrary since
their identities were known and they were not
named. Contrary to the situation in Farmer,
there was no "John Doe"defendant and there
was fault on the part of the plaintiff in
failing to name the proper parties. Vicky
and Jeffrey Rumfeldt (sic) were entitled to
rely on the statute of limitations under the
circumstances of this case.
The Siemions moved for reconsideration. The motion was denied
and the court then entered an order dismissing the Siemions'
complaint with prejudice. The Siemions now appeal from the
denial of their Motion to Amend Complaint.2
I. Did the Superior Court Abuse its Discretion
in Denying Siemions' Motion to Amend Their
The Siemions, citing Farmer v. State, 788 P.2d 43, 47
(Alaska 1990), argue that the requirements of Civil Rule 15(c)
are to be liberally construed in order to reach the merits of a
case and to ensure that no litigant is deprived of his day in
court solely because of the intricacies and technical limitations
of pleading. The Siemions further assert that the superior court
failed to adhere to these principles and, in so doing, deprived
them of their right to an adjudication on the merits.
Rumfelt argues that even under a liberal construction,
all of Rule 15(c)'s requirements must be met before the relation
back doctrine can override the statute of limitations. Rumfelt
concludes that the superior court did not abuse its discretion in
denying Siemions' motion to amend because that motion failed to
meet all the requirements of Civil Rule 15(c).
Rule 15 of the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure provides
(c) Relation Back of Amendments.
Whenever 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 relates back to the
date of the original pleading. An amendment
changing the party against whom a claim is
asserted relates back if the foregoing
provision is satisfied and, within the period
provided by law for commencing the action
against him, the party to be brought in by
amendment (1) has received such notice of the
institution of the action that he will not be
prejudiced in maintaining his defense on the
merits, and (2) knew or should have known
that, but for a mistake concerning the
identity of the proper party, the action
would have been brought against him.
This court has adopted and reiterated the liberal
amendment policy articulated by the United States Supreme Court
in Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178 (1962):
Rule 15(a) declares that leave to amend
"shall be freely given when justice so re
quires". . . . If the underlying facts or
circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may
be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be
afforded an opportunity to test this claim on
the merits. . . . The leave sought should,
as the rules require, be "freely given."
Id. at 182 (quoted in Magestro v. State, 785 P.2d 1211, 1213 n.5
(Alaska 1990); Betz v. Chena Hot Springs Group, 742 P.2d 1346,
1348 (1987), and Wright v. Vickaryous, 598 P.2d 490, 495 (Alaska
1979)). However, when the applicable statute of limitations has
run, for an amendment to be allowable under Rule 15(c), the
proposed amended pleading must "relate back"to the date of a
timely original pleading. McCutcheon v. State, 746 P.2d 461, 469
(Alaska 1987). See Alaska R. Civ. P. 15(c).3
In Farmer v. State, 788 P.2d 43, 49 (Alaska 1990), we
adopted the requirements of the Rule 15(c) relation back doctrine
as stated in Schiavone v. Fortune, 477 U.S. 21, 29, (1986):
Relation back is dependent upon four
factors, all of which must be satisfied: (1)
the basic claim must have arisen out of the
conduct set forth in the original pleading;
(2) the party to be brought in must have
received such notice that it will not be
prejudiced in maintaining its defense; (3)
that party must or should have known that,
but for a mistake concerning identity, the
action would have been brought against it;
and (4) the second and third requirements
must have been fulfilled within the
prescribed limitations period.
No dispute exists as to the first Rule 15(c)
requirement since the claims against Jeffrey and Vicky Rumfelt
arise out of the conduct set forth in the Siemions' original
pleading against Timothy Rumfelt.
The Siemions assert that Jeffrey Rumfelt was placed on
fair notice of the cause of action within the prescribed
limitations period because the original complaint alleged that
Jeffrey Rumfelt was involved in the accident with the Siemions
and was responsible for the injuries and damages sustained by
them as a result of the accident. The Siemions further contend
insofar as the allegations of the complaint assert
claims against "Rumfelt"who is identified in the body
of the complaint as Jeffrey Rumfelt, (R.2) it is
plainly reasonable to infer or assume that Jeffrey
Rumfelt would have been advised by his father Timothy
Rumfelt that a complaint had been received by him on or
about January 24, 1989 involving claims arising out of
the accident in which Jeffrey Rumfelt was involved with
This Court has previously stated that:
[t]he identity of interest standard
usually requires a nexus between the new and
the old parties as to the subject of the
litigation and an analogous legal position
within the case itself. See 3 J. Moore,
supra, 15.15[4.-1] at 15-160 n. 12. Where
the new and the old party share the same
attorney, imputed notice can readily be found
and the dictates of Civil Rule 15(c) are
nonetheless adhered to.
Farmer v. State, 788 P.2d 43, 49 (1990).
Based on this record, we conclude that Jeffrey Rumfelt
received sufficient notice of the subject claim. The facts show
that Jeffrey had actual notice of the occurrence giving rise to
the claim since he was directly involved in the accident.
Jeffrey is mentioned in the original complaint as the operator of
the vehicle. Further, the record shows that Jeffrey resided with
his parents at the time of the accident. Thus, we believe it is
reasonable to infer that Jeffrey had notice of the institution of
the suit within the same time he would have known had he been a
properly named defendant. Moreover, since Jeffrey was covered
under his father's insurance policy, the evidence gathered by his
insurer regarding the accident would be identical to that
utilized were Jeffrey a named defendant.
Similarly, it seems reasonable to infer that Vicky
Rumfelt received sufficient notice as to the subject of the
litigation by virtue of her familial relation to both Timothy and
Jeffrey. Moreover, the record indicates that Vicky is insured
under the same insurance policy, and thus would be represented by
the same attorney, fulfilling the identity of interest
Timothy Rumfelt further asserts that the Siemions have
failed to meet the "mistaken identity" requirement of Rule
15(c)(2). Rumfelt contends that Alaska case law favors a strict
interpretation of the mistaken identity requirement. Under a
strict approach, a party seeking to amend must have made a true
mistake concerning the identity or name of the proper party.
Atkins v. DeHavilland Aircraft Co., 699 P.2d 352, 354 (Alaska
1985). "A tactical decision, for instance, to omit a possible
defendant bars the application of the relation back doctrine when
a claim is later added against the omitted party."Id. Rumfelt
notes that a strict interpretation of the mistaken identity
requirement was recently reaffirmed by this court in Farmer v.
State, 788 P.2d 43 (Alaska 1990) in discussing McCutcheon v.
State, 746 P.2d 461 (Alaska 1987):
McCutcheon is not applicable to the
issues in this case. In McCutcheon, the
plaintiff knew the defendant's identity, but
merely neglected to add that defendant to his
original complaint. . . . McCutcheon did not
utilize a "John Doe" pleading; rather
McCutcheon had actual knowledge of the
defendant's true identity. Our discussion in
Footnote 18 of McCutcheon was premised on the
fact that, where the identity of the
defendant is known, the relation back
doctrine and the imputed notice doctrine are
extremely limited, if applicable at all.
Farmer, 788 P.2d at 48-49.
Timothy Rumfelt also asserts that "[t]he second prong
of Rule 15(c)(2), that the proposed defendants knew or should
have known that but for a mistake, they would have been named as
defendants in the original complaint, has not been met." He
argues that Jeffrey Rumfelt's identity was well known to the
Siemions, and yet they did not sue him within the applicable two
year limitations period. Similarly, Timothy Rumfelt contends
that Vicky Rumfelt could not have known that the Siemions'
failure to name her as a defendant was caused by a mistake in
identity since Timothy Rumfelt was identified accurately in all
The Siemions do not address the mistaken identity
requirement of Rule 15(c)(2). Instead they argue that during
[a]t no time did Mr. Robinson, Timothy
Rumfelt, or their attorneys ever indicate or
suggest that the designation of Timothy
Rumfelt as the defendant named in the caption
on this action was improper or incorrect in
any way. Indeed, there was little reason for
that to occur since the allegations in the
complaint identified Jeffrey Rumfelt as the
driver of the automobile and the individual
whose negligence resulted in the property
damage and injury sustained by the Siemions.
Given the factual context in which the amendment arose, the
Siemions argue that fairness requires that their amendment be
allowed to relate back.
We conclude that Rumfelt's position is more persuasive
than the Siemions' who offered no evidence that they made a
mistake regarding identities of either Jeffrey or Vicky Rumfelt.
See Atkins v. DeHavilland Aircraft Co., 699 P.2d 352 (Alaska
1985). We have previously held that where the plaintiff knew the
defendant's identity, but merely neglected to add that defendant
to his original complaint, "the relation back doctrine and the
imputed notice doctrine are extremely limited, if applicable at
all." Farmer v. State, 788 P.2d 43, 49 (Alaska 1990). It
appears that the Siemions neglected to add Jeffrey and Vicky as
defendants although knowing their respective identities.
Thus we conclude that the superior court did not abuse
its discretion in denying the Siemions' motion to amend. Here
the Siemions have failed to meet the provisions of Civil Rule
15(c)(2) which require that they demonstrate that they were
mistaken as to the identity of the proper parties and that
Jeffrey and Vicky Rumfelt knew or should have know that, but for
such mistake, claims would have been brought against them.6
COMPTON, Justice, concurring.
I agree with the court's legal analysis and resolution
of the issue of "mistaken identity." Since this issue is
dispositive, there is no reason to address the "notice"issue. I
question whether the "notice"issue is even raised by Judge
denial of the Siemions' Motion to Amend Complaint.
1. On January 9, 1989, Siemions' counsel sent a letter to
Mr. Robinson, (the insurance adjuster handling the claim under
the insurance policy issued to Timothy Rumfelt which covered both
the automobile and Jeffrey Rumfelt as the driver of the
automobile) concerning the Siemions' claims, and the necessity of
filing a complaint prior to the expiration of the statute of
limitations, or an agreement to extend the statute of
limitations. In a note dated January 11, 1989, Mr. Robinson
responded that he could not extend the statute of limitations,
but advised Siemions' counsel to file the suit and "give me an
open extension"by which to file an answer. Mr. Robinson sent
Siemions' counsel a form letter confirming this agreement on
January 25, 1989. The letter also identified Richmond & Quinn in
Anchorage as the defense attorneys for Timothy Rumfelt and the
2. Both parties agree that this court reviews a trial
court's denial of a motion to amend a complaint under an abuse of
discretion standard. See Shooshanian v. Wagner, 672 P.2d 455,
458 (Alaska 1983); Estate of Thompson v. Mercedes-Benz, Inc., 514
P.2d 1269, 1271 (Alaska 1973). Under the abuse of discretion
standard, a trial court's denial of a motion to amend will be
reversed if this court is left with a "definite and firm
conviction" that the trial court erred. Betz v. Chena Hot
Springs Group, 742 P.2d 1346, 1348 (Alaska 1987).
3. We have held that "Civil Rule 15(c) requirements are
strictly construed when the amendment adds a new defendant."
McCutcheon, 746 P.2d at 469 n. 16; (citing Atkins v. DeHavilland
Aircraft Co., 699 P.2d 352, 354 (Alaska 1985) and Adkins v.
Nabors Alaska Drilling Inc., 609 P.2d 15, 20-21 (Alaska 1980)).
Since "the policies behind the statute of limitations are best
served by adopting the conservative approach,"the Siemions must
fulfill all the requirements of Rule 15(c) for their amended
complaint to relate back. Atkins v. DeHavilland Aircraft Co., 699
P.2d 352 (Alaska 1985).
4. The Siemions also submit "that there is a sufficient
identity of interest between Timothy Rumfelt, Jeffrey Rumfelt,
Vicky Rumfelt and their insurer to charge the new defendant with
constructive notice of the action within the two year statute of
limitations period." The Siemions cite cases from other
jurisdictions that have found "identity of interests"between the
insurance company and the insured in similar circumstances. See,
e.g. Denver v. Forbes, 26 F.R.D. 614, 616 (E.D. Pa. 1960)
(Plaintiffs were allowed to amend their complaint to substitute
the name of their daughter in place of her mother as a new
defendant because "the same insurance company is involved no
matter whether the mother or the daughter is sued."); Pontiff v.
Baily, 509 So. 2d 451, 454 (La. App. 1987) (Rule 15(c) amendment
allowed because insurance carrier was aware of allegations
surrounding accident); McKinley v. Bethel, 708 P.2d 753 (Ariz.
App. 1985) (Rule 15(c) amendment allowing substituting son as
named defendant in place of father because insurer aware of claim
and in position to defend prior to expiration of limitations
Timothy Rumfelt responds that the "identity of interest
concept, a mechanism which establishes, in essence, constructive
or imputed notice, must be carefully applied, however, to those
circumstances in which the new and old parties share identical or
nearly identical interests in the litigation." He asserts that
Vicky Rumfelt and Jeffrey Rumfelt's interests are not identical
to his; for instance:
Timothy Rumfelt has asserted defenses
successfully in this action which would not
be available to Jeffrey who, unlike Timothy,
was driving the accident vehicle and is
subject to a direct negligence claim, or to
Vicky, who, unlike Timothy, signed Jeffrey's
driver's license application and against whom
the Siemions have asserted a claim under AS
Timothy Rumfelt also asserts that the fact that Vicky and Jeffrey
may share insurance coverage with Timothy does not give rise to
an identity of interest because "they all face exposure beyond
the limits of insurance coverage."
5. Vicky Rumfelt's alleged liability was predicated on AS
28.15.071(a) and (b), which provide:
Application of minors. (a) The
application of a person under the age of 18
years for an instruction permit or driver's
license must be signed by the father, mother,
guardian, or spouse who is 18 years of age or
older, or if there is no parent, guardian, or
spouse, then by another responsible adult who
is willing to assume the obligation imposed
under this section upon a person signing the
application. The application must be signed
and verified before a person authorized to
administer oaths, or be signed in the
presence of an authorized representative of
(b) Any negligence or wilful misconduct
of a person under the age of 18 years when
driving a motor vehicle in this state is
imputed to the person who signed the
application of the person for a permit or
license, and that person is jointly and
severally liable for damage caused by the
negligence or wilful misconduct of the person
under the age of 18 years, except as provided
in (c) of this section.
6. Inherent in our affirmance of the superior court's
ruling is our conclusion that the Siemions' equitable estoppel
argument lacks merit.