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Sixth Circuit Reverses Denial of Complaint Amendment

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a lower court’s order denying a Tennessee prisoner leave to amend his complaint to substitute actual parties for Doe Defendants.

In July 1996, Tennessee prisoner Alexander Friedmann (PLN’s Associate Editor) requested to have a notice printing in Tennessee prison newsletters. The notice sought prisoners who participated in medical experiments in the 1960s and 1970s. Friedmann later learned that an unknown official sent an email directing that the notice not be published.

Friedmann sued in federal court, alleging that refusal to publish the notice violated his First Amendment rights. He sued Tennessee Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Donal Campbell and a John Doe Defendant. During discovery, Friedmann learned that Assistant Commissioner Jim Rose denied publication of the notice.

In March 1998, Friedmann moved to amend his complaint to substitute Rose for the Doe Defendant. The district court denied the motion, concluding Friedmann’s attempt to add Rose fell outside Tennessee’s one-year statute of limitations. The court then granted summary judgment to Campbell based on Friedmann’s concession that Campbell was not personally involved.

Applying an abuse of discretion standard, the Sixth Circuit held that the lower court improperly denied Friedmann’s motion to amend.
Additionally, the “court has a responsibility to construe pro se complaints liberally and to allow ample opportunity for amending the complaint when it appears that a pro se litigant would be able to state a meritorious claim….It is incumbent on the court to take appropriate measures to “reach the merits rather than dismiss on technical grounds.
Additionally, under FRCP15(c), the amendment relates back if untimely, as long as Rose had a constructive notice. This “is patently factual inquiry” that the lower court never explicitly addressed. The court remanded for consideration of that issue. It also instructed the lower court to consider whether equitable tolling applies if Rose did not have such notice. See: Friedmann v. Campbell, 202 F.3d 268 (6th Cir. 1999).

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Related legal case

Friedmann v. Campbell