Amended Pleadings: The Relation-Back Doctrine in Texas

The Relation-Back Doctrine in Texas

In litigation, it is common practice to amend pleadings. The relation-back doctrine allows an original pleading to be amended or supplemented with new causes of action so long as the new claim arose out of the same transaction or occurrence. However, issues with amendments can arise when a party argues the statute of limitations has passed and certain claims are barred.

The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides that “[i]f a filed pleading relates to a cause of action, cross action, counterclaim, or defense that is not subject to a plea of limitation when the pleading is filed, a subsequent amendment or supplement to the pleading that changes the facts or grounds of liability or defense is not subject to a plea of limitation unless the amendment or supplement is wholly based on a new, distinct, or different transaction or occurrence.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.068 (West 2017). Moreover, the Texas statute supports the Federal Rule that provides “[a]n amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when: (B) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out – or attempted to be set out – in the original pleading.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1).

The Texas Supreme Court applied the relation-back doctrine in Lexington Ins. Co. v. Daybreak Exp., Inc., 393 S.W.3d 242 (Tex. 2013). In that case, the plaintiff amended their original pleading alleging breach-of-settlement to include a cargo-damage claim. Id. at 243. The defendant alleged the claim was too late and therefore was barred by the limitations. Id. To determine whether the claim was barred by the limitations, the Court analyzed whether the cargo-damage claim was “wholly based on a new, distinct, or different transaction or occurrence” than the breach-of-settlement claim and held that because the claims grow out of the same transaction or occurrence, the subsequent claim is not barred by limitations. Id. at 245. The Supreme Court’s decision in Lexington is based on their previous decision in Leonard v. Texasco, Inc., 422 S.W.2d 160 (Tex. 1967) where the claims in each case arose out of the same occurrence and involved the same injury to property. Furthermore, where the amended petition “sets up a distinct and different claim from that asserted in the previous petitions, the new claim does not relate back.” Christus Health Gulf Coast v. Carswell, 505 S.W.3d 528, 539 (Tex. 2016). Essentially, the Supreme Court has said that a party may add causes of action in an amended pleading without those new claims being barred by limitations as long as the original pleading alleged a cause of action that was not subject to a plea of limitation at the time the original pleading was filed and the new claims arise out of the same set of facts.

Amending pleadings to add claims is less complex than adding new parties, specifically new defendants. The Texas Supreme Court has recognized that an amended pleading adding a new party does not ordinarily relate back to the original pleading. Alexander v. Turtur & Assocs., 146 S.W.3d 113, 121 (Tex. 2004). Exceptions may apply when the party is misnamed or misidentified and not when the party is wholly new. In re Greater Houston Orthopaedic Specialists, Inc., 295 S.W.3d 323, 325 (Tex. 2009). Thus, an amended petition introducing new parties and entirely new subject matter cannot relate back but is merely the beginning of a new suit. Way v. Coca Cola Bottling Co. 119 Tex. 419, 29 S.W.2d 1067 (Tex. 1930).

The relation-back doctrine is beneficial when a party seeks to amend their original pleadings after the statute of limitations runs. A party that seeks to amend their original pleading for any reason and seeks to apply the relation-back doctrine should first consider whether the statute of limitations has run and second, whether the claim is wholly based on a new transaction or occurrence. If a party seeks to amend the original petition to add new parties, that party may only do so if the original parties were misnamed and in certain circumstances, misidentified.

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