Friday, March 6, 2009
Court Rejects Attempt to Name ‘Doe’ Defendants in Sex Abuse Suit
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday rejected a minor’s attempt to substitute six Los Angeles County employees for unnamed defendants in a suit claiming the county’s negligence led to his sexual abuse by another minor while in custody at juvenile hall.
Concluding the minor unreasonably delayed filing and serving amendments identifying the employees as the Doe defendants named in his complaint where the minor waited almost two years and until the eve of trial to do so, Div. Eight upheld an order quashing the amendments.
The minor, identified as A.N., filed a civil rights suit in 2005 against Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and a number of “John Doe Deputy Sheriff Officers” alleging they negligently housed him at the county’s juvenile hall facility in Sylmar with another minor they knew or should have known had violent propensities, and then failed to supervise his safety.
In January 2006, the minor amended his complaint under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 474 to identify one county employee as one of the Doe defendants and served the amendment on the employee, but the minor failed to serve two similar amendments filed, respectively, two and 14 months later.
The minor then filed and served four more amendments naming county employees in August 2007, less than three weeks before the date set for trial, and served the two earlier amendments the following week, but the six employees moved to quash service.
The employees argued the minor had known their identities for a significant period of time but had nonetheless unreasonably delayed naming and serving them under Sec. 474, and further argued that they had been prejudiced by the delay.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis, citing the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s opinion in Barrows v. American Motors Corp. (1983) 144 Cal.App.3rd 1, agreed and granted the motion, but the minor appealed, contending the judge misapplied Barrows.
There, the Court of Appeal rebuffed arguments that an amended complaint filed after the running of the statute of limitations, in which the plaintiffs failed to allege the named defendants were those fictitiously named in the original complaint, barred an action over the plaintiffs’ son’s death in a vehicle accident.
Justice Patricia A. Bigelow, however, agreed with the trial judge that Barrows stood for the proposition that defendants identified in a Doe amendment could challenge the amendment if the plaintiff unreasonably delayed filing after learning their identity and the defendants could demonstrate prejudice as a result. Pointing to the roughly two-year delay in filing and serving the amendments, the justice said the minor failed to set forth any reasonable explanation, adding that what counsel did explain “belies a finding that the delay…was reasonable” because counsel “implicitly, if not expressly, conceded that he knew information, or had access to information, in late 2006 and early 2007, regarding who had been involved in the incident.”
Bigelow similarly upheld the trial court’s implicit finding of prejudice against the employees, writing that they “were brought into the case less than one month before the case was set to begin trial, and it does not require speculation to recognize that a party who is drawn into litigation on the eve of trial will face difficulties in preparing a defense in such short order.”
Acting Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin and Ventura Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O’Neill Jr., sitting by assignment, joined Bigelow in her opinion.
The case is A.N. v. County of Los Angeles, B204345.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company