McClatchy v. Coblentz, Patch et al., LLP

Filed May 10, 2016, First District, Div. Five Cite as A114391

Carlos McClatchy is the beneficiary of an irrevocable trust administered by William Coblentz, a now-deceased partner of respondent law firm. Carlos filed a petition for breach of trust seeking damages for William’s mismanagement of trust assets. Carlos named William individually as a defendant, as well as Doe defendants 1 through 20. Carlos later amended his petition to add the law firm as a Doe defendant because William was a partner at the firm while acting as trustee. The trial court granted the firm’s motion to quash, holding that Carlos could not amend the petition to add the firm as a defendant because he knew the firm’s identity and facts giving rise to its liability when he filed the original petition.

The court of appeal affirmed, holding that Carlos was not ignorant of the facts establishing a cause of action against the law firm when he filed the original petition. Carlos knew or reasonably should have known to identify the law firm as a defendant in the original petition because William used the firm’s business address, offices, letterhead, and resources in carrying out his duties as trustee. Code of Civil Procedure section 474 allows a plaintiff who is ignorant of a defendant’s identity at the time of filing a complaint to designate the defendant by a fictitious name. When the plaintiff subsequently discovers the defendant’s identity, the plaintiff may file an amended complaint relating back to the date of the complaint. Because Carlos was not ignorant of the law firm’s identity and the facts giving rise to his cause of action against the firm when he filed the petition, his amended petition substituting the firm for a Doe defendant did not relate back to the original filing. The trial court properly granted the motion to quash because the statute of limitations had expired when he added the firm as a defendant.

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