April 19, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Identity of Interest Does Not Apply to Parents of Adult Child

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Maldonado v. Pratt on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

The Pratts and Dennis Pratt II (Pratt Jr.) own adjacent properties near Pueblo, Colorado. Pratt Jr. stored used car parts on his property. He began to suspect that someone was stealing the parts, and on October 16, 2012, he drove to his storage area, and, when he saw three flashlight beams approaching, shot and killed Jacob Maldonado. Pratt Jr. was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.

Maldonado’s estate filed a wrongful death action against Pratt Jr. on September 16, 2014, alleging a single act of negligence in his killing of Maldonado. On April 1, 2015, the Estate moved to amend its complaint to add Premises Liability Act claims against the Pratts, since it had discovered that Maldonado was actually on the Pratts’ property when he was shot. The Pratts filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and/or summary judgment, arguing the two-year statute of limitations barred the complaint. The Estate countered that the amended complaint related back to the original complaint. The district court disagreed and found that the Pratts did not have actual notice of the lawsuit and would not have expected to be named as defendants in the wrongful death action. The district court granted judgment in the Pratts’ favor.

On appeal, the Estate conceded that the statute of limitations for a PLA claim had run when it filed its amended complaint. However, the Estate contended the new claims related back to the original complaint. The court of appeals disagreed. The court of appeals analyzed the relation-back doctrine, noting that a new claim relates back to the date of the original pleading so long as the new claim or defense arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence. However, when adding a new party, two additional duties arise: the new party must have received actual notice of the complaint within the time period provided by C.R.C.P. 4(m), and the new party must have known or reasonably should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against him or her.

The court found that the Estate could not prove the Pratts had actual notice of the complaint against Pratt Jr. The Estate argued that notice could be imputed to the Pratts through the “identity of interest” doctrine. The court found the doctrine inapplicable. The court noted that, generally, the identity of interest doctrine is used for corporate entities. The Estate argued that the Pratts had an identity of interest to Pratt Jr., but the court of appeals disagreed. The identity of interest doctrine generally only applies to families if the children are minor and they share an attorney or insurance policy. Here, Pratt Jr. was an adult who lived separately from his parents. Although they spoke daily before the shooting, Pratt Jr. was taken into custody the day of the shooting and was in the DOC when served with the original complaint. The court of appeals declined to extend actual notice from an assumption that Pratt Jr. would have told his parents about the lawsuit.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court.