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McAllister v. Freixenet USA, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

May 15, 2018

Natasha McAllister, Plaintiff,
Freixenet USA, Inc., Freixenet, S.A., and Unknown Retail Store, Defendants.


          Manish S. Shah Judge

         Plaintiff Natasha McAllister was injured when a bottle of champagne exploded and glass made contact with her eye. After initially naming another entity, McAllister has amended her complaint to add defendants Freixenet USA, Inc., and Freixenet, S.A. Freixenet USA moves to dismiss McAllister's claims against it for the failure to state a claim. For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied in part, granted in part.

         I. Legal Standards

         A complaint must contain factual allegations that plausibly suggest a right to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). I must accept as true all of the facts alleged in the complaint and draw reasonable inferences from those facts in plaintiffs' favor, but I am not required to accept as true the complaint's legal conclusions. Id. at 678-79. In considering a motion to dismiss, I am limited to reviewing the complaint, “documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1019- 20 (7th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         II. Facts

         On February 9, 2015, plaintiff Natasha McAllister received a gift-a bottle of champagne. [29] ¶ 4.[1] Whoever purchased it bought it at an unknown local grocery store. [29] ¶ 4. The bottle was marketed, sold, and/or distributed by defendants Freixenet USA and Freixenet, S.A. [29] ¶¶ 10, 34. When McAllister tried to open the champagne, the bottle exploded. [29] ¶ 5. Some of the glass made contact with McAllister's eye, causing severe injuries that required hospitalization and surgery. [29] ¶¶ 5-7.

         McAllister initially brought suit against Freixenet Sonoma Caves, Inc., and the unknown retail store. [1]. Freixenet Sonoma Caves moved to dismiss the complaint and noted that McAllister had sued the wrong entity-she should have sued the parties listed on the label of the bottle, producer Freixenet, S.A., and importer Freixenet USA. [15] at 3. The motion was granted in part on other grounds, and McAllister was granted leave to amend her complaint. See [23]; [28]. McAllister's amended complaint removed Freixenet Sonoma Caves as a defendant and added in its stead Freixenet USA and Freixenet, S.A. [29].[2]

         III. Analysis

         A. Relation Back

         Freixenet USA argues that McAllister's claims against it are untimely. Its reasoning is that McAllister's claims began to accrue on February 9, 2015, when she alleges the champagne bottle exploded, [29] ¶ 5, and the statute of limitations for her claims is two years. See 735 ILCS 5/13-202. But since Freixenet USA was not added as a defendant to McAllister's complaint until the amendment on August 29, 2017, [29], Freixenet USA argues that McAllister's claims are too late. So the question is whether McAllister's amended complaint relates back to the date of her original complaint.

         Freixenet USA's main argument is that McAllister should have properly identified the proper parties long ago-their names were written right on the allegedly defective bottle. But relation back depends on “what the prospective defendant knew or should have known during the Rule 4(m) period, not what the plaintiff knew or should have known at the time of filing her original complaint.” Krupski v. Costa Crociere S.p.A., 560 U.S. 538, 548 (2010) (emphasis in original).[3]The only two inquiries relevant to determining whether an amended complaint relates back to the date of the original are (1) “whether the defendant who is sought to be added by the amendment knew or should have known that the plaintiff, had it not been for a mistake, would have sued him instead or in addition to suing the named defendant” and (2) whether “the delay in the plaintiff's discovering his mistake impaired the new defendant's ability to defend himself.” Joseph v. Elan Motorsports Techs. Racing Corp., 638 F.3d 555, 559-60 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Freixenet USA should have known that McAllister meant to sue it. The registered agent who was served for Freixenet Sonoma Caves is the same person who later was served (at the same address) for Freixenet USA, [42-1], [4] and once Freixenet USA was added to the suit, it retained the same counsel that had been representing Freixenet Sonoma Caves. See Krupski, 560 U.S. at 544-45 (noting that the added defendant was represented by the same counsel as the original defendant). The fact that the confused parties are “related corporate entities with very similar names” serves to “heighten the expectation that [Freixenet USA] should suspect a mistake has been made when [Freixenet Sonoma Caves] is named in a complaint that actually describes [Freixenet USA's] activities.” Id. at 556. See also Joseph, 638 F.3d at 560. McAllister's original complaint described Freixenet Sonoma Caves as an entity that “designed, licensed, tested, manufactured, marketed, distributed, sold and/or introduced into interstate commerce, either directly or indirectly through third parties or related entities, the champagne bottle in question.” [1] ¶ 4. Freixenet USA should have known by that description that McAllister meant to sue it, the distributor of the champagne bottle. See Krupski, 560 U.S. at 554-55.

         Freixenet USA points to the fact that “[m]aking a deliberate choice to sue one party over another while understanding the factual and legal differences between the two parties may be the antithesis of making a mistake” and therefore does not allow for relation back. Id. at 549.[5] But there is nothing in the record to suggest that initially naming Freixenet Sonoma Caves was a deliberate litigation tactic. To the contrary, after Freixenet Sonoma Caves argued in its motion to dismiss that it was not the proper entity to sue, [15], McAllister asked to amend her complaint if she sued the wrong party. [21] at 3. This approach does not suggest that McAllister must have known that Freixenet USA was the right party to sue because of the bottle's label, and that the decision to sue Freixenet Sonoma Caves was therefore a deliberate choice. “[T]hat [McAllister] may have known the contents of the [bottle's label] does not foreclose the possibility that she nonetheless misunderstood crucial facts regarding the two companies' identities” Krupski, 560 U.S. at 555. Absent evidence to the contrary, Freixenet USA should have known it was a mistake. Nor has Freixenet USA made any argument or showing of prejudice. See Joseph, 638 F.3d at 560 (“[C]arelessness is no longer a ground independent of prejudice for refusing to allow relation back.).[6]

         B. Counts I and II: Negligence ...

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