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Lee v. Airgas - Mid South, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 16, 2015

Darren Lee, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Airgas - Mid South, Inc.; John Does 2-10, Defendants - Appellees

Submitted April 14, 2015

Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Fayetteville.

For Darren Lee, Plaintiff - Appellant: Bobby Dean Davidson, Davidson & Associates, Little Rock, AR; Jeremiah D. Pearson, Pearson & Wallace, Siloam Springs, AR.

For Airgas - Mid South, Inc., Defendant - Appellee: Russell C. Atchley, Matthew Scott Jackson, Kutak & Rock, Fayetteville, AR.

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, LOKEN and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

RILEY, Chief Judge.

After Darren Lee was blinded in one eye while attaching an oxygen tank to his welder, he brought this diversity suit against the manufacturer of the pressure regulator and several John Doe defendants. Lee voluntarily dismissed the claims against the regulator manufacturer, but moved to amend his complaint to substitute Airgas USA, LLC (Airgas LLC), and Airgas - Mid South, Inc. (Airgas Mid-South), the alleged supplier of Lee's oxygen tank, for John Does 1 and 2. The district court[1] permitted the amendment as to Airgas Mid-South but ultimately dismissed the suit, reasoning (1) Lee's claims against Airgas Mid-South were time-barred, and (2) the district court lacked diversity jurisdiction over the claims against the John Does. We affirm the dismissal.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 20, 2013, Lee, an Arkansas citizen, commenced this diversity suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas against Victor Technologies International, Inc. (VTI) and ten John Does. Lee's complaint alleged that while preparing for a welding project on August 21, 2010, he attached a newly purchased oxygen tank to his existing pressure regulator, manufactured by VTI. Lee " tried without success to adjust the regulator pressure" when " [s]uddenly, and without warning, the metal crimped end of the oxygen hose came loose from the metal handpiece, striking him in the right eye." Alleging defects in the regulator system, Lee raised several claims against VTI.

On December 18, 2013, Lee moved for leave to amend his complaint " to substitute [Airgas LLC], and [Airgas Mid-South] for defendants John Doe 1 and John Doe 2." [2] The district court denied the motion, noting Lee failed to allege (1) Airgas Mid-South's principal place of business, (2) the citizenship of Airgas LLC's members, and (3) the citizenship of any John Doe defendants. The order imposed a deadline by which Lee was to correct these errors and advised that should Lee fail to do so, " the Court WILL dismiss this action without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

Within the deadline, Lee again moved to amend the complaint, this time proposing to drop Airgas LLC and alleging Airgas Mid-South was a foreign corporation with a principal place of business outside Arkansas. The court granted this motion on February 13, 2014, and Lee filed his amended complaint on February 20, 2014, alleging defects in both his regulator system and the oxygen tank he purchased on the day of the incident.

Although the amended complaint named only Airgas Mid-South, Airgas LLC responded, explaining it had been " incorrectly identified as Airgas [Mid-South]." Airgas LLC, a Delaware company, claimed it was the true defendant because Airgas Mid-South and Airgas LLC had merged in 2012, leaving Airgas LLC as the surviving entity. Airgas LLC moved for dismissal, arguing the claims against it were time-barred. The district court agreed, reasoning Lee filed the amended complaint outside the three-year statute of limitations and the claims did not relate back to the date of Lee's initial complaint because Airgas LLC had no " actual or constructive notice" of the suit within 120 days of the action's commencement. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m), 15(c)(1). The district court also dismissed Lee's claims against the John Does for failing to allege their citizenship. Lee appeals.

II. DISCUSSION


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