United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT TK
STANLEY, INC.'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO.
82], GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY
JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 83], AND GRANTING DEFENDANT DEEPWELL
ENERGY SERVICES, LLC'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT.
M. KEELEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
action for negligence arises out of a workplace incident
resulting in bodily injury to the plaintiff, Charles Haas
(“Haas”). Pending before the Court are
cross-motions for summary judgment on defendant TK Stanley,
Inc. (“TK Stanley”)'s affirmative defense
regarding the statute of limitations (Dkt. Nos. 82, 83). Also
pending is defendant DeepWell Energy Services, LLC
(“DeepWell”)'s motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. No. 86).
reasons that follow, the Court holds that Haas's claims
against TK Stanley are not barred by the applicable statute
of limitations. Consequently, it DENIES TK
Stanley's motion (Dkt. No. 82) and
GRANTS Haas's motion (Dkt. No. 83).
Further, the Court GRANTS DeepWell's
motion (Dkt. No. 86) and DISMISSES WITH
PREJUDICE the claims asserted against it in the
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
March 25, 2015, Haas sustained severe injuries while working
on defendant Antero Resources Corporation
(“Antero”)'s Fritz Well Pad, a natural gas
drilling site located in Doddridge County, West Virginia.
Haas contends that his injuries were caused by the negligent
release of four (4) thousand-pound pipes from a forklift
operated by Jordan Stalnaker (“Stalnaker”).
Apparently, Stalnaker released the pipes on an incline,
causing them to roll at a high speed and strike Haas, who had
been assigned to hand-roll and stack the pipes as Stalnaker
released them onto a multilayer pipe rack (“the
Incident”). At the time of the Incident, Stalnaker was
employed by TK Stanley, which was wholly owned by
initiated this action by filing a complaint (“Original
Complaint”) against Antero and DeepWell in the Circuit
Court of Doddridge County, West Virginia, on February 23,
2017. See Dkt. No. 1-2. The Original Complaint
asserted theories of negligence and vicarious liability
against Antero and DeepWell, alleging that a “forklift
driver acting in the employ/agency and at the direction of
Defendants [Antero] and/or [DeepWell] released 4 pipe [sic]
on a steep incline causing [them] to roll at an extremely
fast pace” and strike him. Id. at ¶ 7. In
its Answer to the Original Complaint, DeepWell admitted that
the forklift driver, who has since been identified as
Stalnaker, was its employee or agent, and that he was
operating under its direction at the time of the Incident.
Antero and DeepWell properly removed the case to this Court
on June 19, 2017 (Dkt. No. 1).
September 5, 2017, over six (6) months after the filing of
the Original Complaint and over two (2) years after the
Incident, Haas filed an Amended Complaint alleging the same
injuries and damages and joining TK Stanley as a defendant
(Dkt. No. 13). According to the Amended Complaint, Haas did
not become aware of Stalnaker's employment status with TK
Stanley until sometime after June 22, 2017, when DeepWell
provided discovery responses indicating that, despite its
prior admission to the contrary, Stalnaker was not employed
by DeepWell at the time of the Incident, and that, instead,
he was employed by TK Stanley. Id. at ¶¶
light of this information, Haas asserts in the Amended
Complaint that Stalnaker “was acting in the
employ/agency and at the direction of [DeepWell], and/or [TK
Stanley] when he was unloading pipe at the . . . Fritz
Pad.” Id. at ¶ 20. Thus, Haas alleges
that his injuries were caused by the combined negligence of
Antero, TK Stanley, and DeepWell (collectively, “the
defendants”), and that the defendants are vicariously
liable for Stalnaker's actions. Id. at 3-9. He
further asserts that, “given the significant overlap in
corporate control” between TK Stanley and DeepWell, TK
Stanley “knew or should have known of the existence of
this action and its vicarious liability for”
Stalnaker's actions related to the Incident. Id.
at ¶ 17. Consistent with its discovery responses,
DeepWell, in its Answer to the Amended Complaint, denied that
Stalnaker was its employee at the time of the alleged
Incident (Dkt. No. 18 at ¶ 6). In its Answer, TK Stanley
asserted that Haas's claims against it are barred by the
applicable two-year statute of limitations (Dkt. No. 23 at
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is appropriate only “if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for
summary judgment, the Court reviews all the evidence
“in the light most favorable” to the nonmoving
party. Providence Square Assocs., L.L.C. v. G.D.F.,
Inc., 211 F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000). The Court must
avoid weighing the evidence or determining its truth and
limit its inquiry solely to a determination of whether
genuine issues of triable fact exist. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court
of the basis for the motion and of establishing the
nonexistence of genuine issues of fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party
has made the necessary showing, the non-moving party
“must set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 256 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The
“mere existence of a scintilla of evidence”
favoring the non-moving party will not prevent the entry of
summary judgment; the evidence must be such that a rational
trier of fact could reasonably find for the nonmoving party.
Id. at 248-52.
motion for summary judgment on its affirmative defense
regarding the statute of limitations (Dkt. No. 82), TK
Stanley argues that “there is no evidence that TK
Stanley was aware or should have been aware of the instant
action prior to being served with the Amended Complaint,
” after the expiration of the applicable limitations
period. (Dkt. No. 82-2 at 3). Haas has filed a cross-motion
for summary judgment on this issue (Dkt. No. 83), arguing
that his claims against TK Stanley “relate back”
to his Original Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 15(c)(1)(C) and therefore are not barred by the
statute of limitations (Dkt. No. 84).
Statute of Limitations
West Virginia law, the period to bring a claim for personal
injury is two years. W.Va. Code § 55-2-12. The two-year
statute of limitations for personal injury actions begins to
run when the right to bring action an accrues, that is, when
injury is inflicted. Id.
the parties do not dispute that a two-year statute of
limitations applies to Haas's claims against TK Stanley,
or that the Incident giving rise to his claims occurred on
March 25, 2015. Based on Haas's allegations regarding the
severe bodily injuries he sustained as a result of the
Incident, he clearly knew, or had reason to know, of the
injury giving rise to his action on that date. Accordingly,
his claims accrued--and the statute of limitations began to
run--on March 25, 2015. Haas therefore needed to file his
claims against TK Stanley no later than two years from that
date, or by March 25, 2017. As discussed, Haas did not allege
any claims against TK Stanley until September 5, 2017, when
he filed his Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 13).
finding that Haas's claims against TK Stanley were filed
after the expiration of the limitations period does not end
the Court's inquiry, however. It must also consider
whether the claims against TK Stanley, first asserted in
Haas's Amended Complaint, are saved by the relation back
authorized by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c). Relation
back would give the Amended Complaint the filing date of the
Original Complaint, which the parties agree was timely filed.
15(c)(1)(C) provides that an amendment to a pleading that
changes a party or a party's name relates back to the
date of the original pleading if Rule 15(c)(1)(B) is
if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the
summons and complaint,  the party to be brought in by
(i) received such notice of the action that it will not be
prejudiced in defending on the merits; and
(ii) knew or should have known that the action would have
been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the
proper party's identity.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(C).
three conditions of Rule 15(c)(1)(C) must be met in order for
relation back to be permissible.” Denmark v.
Starcher, No. 1:14CV58, 2014 WL 7272789, at *6 (N.D.
W.Va. Dec. 18, 2014) (quoting Francis v. Woody, No.
3:09CV235, 2009 WL 2371509, at *6 (E.D. Va. July 31, 2009));
see also Robinson v. Clipse, 602 F.3d 605, 608 (4th
Cir. 2010) (explaining that when a proposed amendment changes
the party against whom a claim is asserted, the amending
party must satisfy the requirements set forth in Rule
15(c)(1)(C)(i) and (ii)). This rule “presumes that the
amending party can make the amendment, although it does
constrain substantially the type of amendment that may relate
back.” Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458,
469 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc).
an amendment seeks to add a defendant, the focus turns to the
notice to that individual or entity.” Wilkins v.
Montgomery, 751 F.3d 214, 224 (4th Cir. 2014).
Specifically, as to Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii), the Supreme Court
has clarified, “The question . . . is not whether [the
amending party] knew or should have known the identity of . .
. the proper defendant, but whether [the potential defendant]
knew or should have known that it would have been named as a
defendant but for an error.” Krupski v. Costa
Crociere, 560 U.S. 538, 548 (2010) (holding that
amended complaint should relate back because the district
court found that the added party had “constructive
notice” of the initial complaint within the Rule 4(m)
period). The Fourth Circuit has further explained that
Rule 's description of when such an amendment relates
back to the original pleading focuses on the notice to
the new party and the effect on the new party
that the amendment will have. These core requirements
preserve for the new party the protections of a statute of
limitations. They assure that the new party had adequate
notice within the limitations period and was not prejudiced
by being added to the litigation.
Goodman, 494 F.3d at 470 (citation omitted)
(emphasis in original).
it is undisputed that the Amended Complaint meets the first
requirement of Rule 15(c)(1)(C)--that Rule 15(c)(1)(B)'s
requirement is satisfied, that is, the newly-asserted claims
“arise out of” conduct alleged in the original
pleading. Likewise, the parties do not dispute that the
second-prong of Rule 15(c)(1)(C)(ii) is satisfied because
Haas made a “mistake” by not naming TK Stanley as
a defendant in his Original Complaint.
the Court must address whether, within the Rule 4(m) service
period for the filing of the Original Complaint, or by May
24, 2017, TK Stanley (1) received such notice of the action
such that it would not have prejudiced it “in defending
on the merits, ” and (2) “knew or should have
known that [Haas's] action would have been brought
against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper
party's identity.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(c)(1)(C). Notably, although TK Stanley argues that
it did not have notice within the Rule 4(m) service period,
it does not argue that it would suffer any cognizable
prejudice as a result of relation back.
Stanley asserts that Haas “has failed to present
evidence that [it] received notice of the action within 90
days of the filing of the Original Complaint, ”
i.e., on or before May 24, 2017 (Dkt. No. 82-2 at
4-5). It further argues that it did not know, nor should it
have known, “that the action would have been brought
against it within 90 days of the filing of the [Original]
[C]omplaint.” Id. at 5. Haas contends that,
“given the significant overlap in corporate
control” between DeepWell and TK Stanley, there is no
genuine dispute that TK Stanley had timely notice of the
Original Complaint, or that it knew or should have known,
during the relevant limitations period, that this action
would have been brought against it, but for his mistake
concerning its identity (Dkt. Nos. 13; 84 at 1).
the parties' contentions on summary judgment, a brief
history of the relationship between DeepWell and TK Stanley
at the times relevant to this action is appropriate. Prior to
January 2015, all or most of the outstanding stock of TK
Stanley was owned by relatives Cecil Farrar and Cary Farrar
(“the Farrars”), while the company retained 75
shares of its own stock. On January 13, 2015, TK Stanley sold
its 75 shares of common stock to DeepWell (Dkt. Nos. 82-2 at
5, 82-4). Shortly thereafter, on January 22, 2015, the
Farrars sold their outstanding shares back to TK Stanley,
making DeepWell the sole owner of all of the equity in TK
Stanley. See Dkt. Nos. 84-7, 84-8, 84-10. Thus, at
the time of the Incident giving rise to this action, March
25, 2015, TK Stanley was wholly owned by DeepWell.
in November 2015, DeepWell sold all of its equity in TK
Stanley to Duff Timber Holdings, LLC, through a sale to a
company named Duff Capital Investors (Dkt. No. 84-10).
Notably, Duff Capital Investors was the sole member of a
company called Investment Transportation Services, LLC, which
was, in turn, the sole member of DeepWell. Id. Thus,
by November 30, 2015, although DeepWell owned no equity in TK
Stanley, both TK Stanley and DeepWell had been rolled into
the same ownership and management group that applies to a
group of closely related companies owned by brothers Thomas
and James Duff. Finally, on January 1, 2016, DeepWell
“took over” the oilfield operations previously
performed by TK Stanley (Dkt. No. 84-11).
Original Complaint was served on DeepWell via the West
Virginia Secretary of State on March 1, 2017 (Dkt. No. 82-5).
One day prior, Dicky Dickerson (“Dickerson”), a
DeepWell dispatcher, had received and signed for the Original
Complaint at 6739 Highway 184, Waynesboro, Mississippi
(“the Waynesboro address”) (Dkt. No. 82-6).
Dickerson thereafter delivered the Original Complaint to
Chris Breedlove (“Breedlove”), DeepWell's