Woolems, Inc. v. Catalina Caststone Creations, Inc.

Third DCA

Woolems, Inc. v. Catalina Caststone Creations, Inc.
3d DCA
4/5/23, Judge Hendon
Topics: Amendment of Pleadings

This is a construction lien case, so the substance of the case is of little interest to personal injury practitioners. The case has important discussion of the relation-back doctrine, however. Stone House 1, LLC, owns a property that required construction. It contracted with Woolems, a general contractor. Woolems then subcontracted with Catalina to do exterior stonework on the Stone House property. Woolems refused to pay, however, alleging late and shoddy work by Catalina. Catalina filed a construction lien against Stone House and Woolems. Woolems sued for discharge of the lien again alleging late and shoddy work that caused damages. Woolems invoked a statutory right to transfer the lien bond and remove the lien from Stone House’s property by depositing the amount in controversy. From there, the tangled web of construction law gets pretty thick, and we simply don’t need to know the specifics.

The important part is that Catalina filed an amended counterclaim against Woolems outside the limitations period applicable to the case. The trial court ruled that the relation-back doctrine applied to make the amended counterclaim timely because did not introduce a new party; the real parties, interests, and essential elements of controversy remained the same as when Stone House was named as defendant in Catalina’s original complaint and in its amended third-party complaint. Caduceus Props., LLC v. Graney, 137 So. 3d 987, 993 (Fla. 2014)(holding an amended pleading does not actually introduce a new defendant when it merely adjusts the status of an existing party) (citing I. Epstein & Bro. v. First Nat'l Bank of Tampa, 92 Fla. 796, 110 So. 354, 355–56 (1926)(holding that an amendment filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations period, seeking to change the status of one defendant from a representative capacity to an individual capacity and dismissing the other defendant, was not time-barred because it was merely a change in the status of the parties before the court and did not introduce a new party or cause of action)).

Generally, “the relation-back doctrine does not apply when an amendment seeks to bring in an entirely new party defendant to the suit after the statute of limitations period has expired.” Id. at 994. That is not the case here. See also Palafrugell Holdings, Inc. v. Cassel, 825 So. 2d 937, 940 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001)(holding that, although “the original complaint sought a different form of relief than that requested in the amended complaints,” amendments would relate back where “the alleged facts which underlie the complaint and its amended versions are fundamentally the same”). This comports with Florida’s liberal policy regarding motions to amend. Drish v. Bos, 298 So. 3d 722, 724 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020). Further, “all doubts should be resolved in favor of allowing the amendment and refusal to do so generally constitutes an abuse of discretion unless it clearly appears that 1) allowing the amendment would prejudice the opposing party, 2) the privilege to amend has been abused, or 3) amendment would be futile.”

The trial court’s order was affirmed, and Catalina’s counterclaim can go forward.

https://supremecourt.flcourts.gov/content/download/865289/opinion/220770_DC05_04052023_ 101138_i.pdf

Terry P. Roberts
Director of Appellate Practice Fischer Redavid PLLC
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