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Determining Whether a New Cause of Action “Relates Back” to the Initial Complaint

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Occasionally, a plaintiff may file a complaint and later seek an amendment to add a new cause of action. An issue may arise if the statute of limitations as to the new cause of action has expired. However, if the new cause of action “relates back” to the initial complaint, then the date of filing the initial complaint is used for purposes of calculating the statute of limitations (instead of using the date of filing the amended complaint). This provision can turn what initially appears to be a time barred cause of action into a viable one.

In 1992 the Supreme Court of Virginia outlined a three-part test, the Vines test, to determine whether a new cause of action relates back. Vines v. Branch, 244 Va. 185, 418 S.E.2d 890 (1992). Specifically, (1) whether recovery under the original cause of action bars recovery under the new cause of action; (2) if the same evidence supports both causes of action; and (3) if the same measure of damages applies.

Later in 1996, the General Assembly promulgated Section 8.01-6.1 of the Virginia Code. The statute provides that a new cause of action relates back if the court finds:

(i) the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction or occurrence set forth in the original pleading, (ii) the amending party was reasonably diligent in asserting the amended claim or defense, and (iii) parties opposing the amendment will not be substantially prejudiced in litigating on the merits as a result of the timing of the amendment.

Va. Code § 8.01-6.1.

Virginia circuit courts are split regarding whether Section 8.01-6.1 codifies or supersedes the Vines test. Some courts have held that that Section 8.01-6.1 reflects the legislature’s intent to codify the common law. See Rife v. Buchanan Cnty. Hospice, 89 Va. Cir. 396, 400 (Buchanan 2015); Swanson v. Woods Serv. Ctr., Inc., 71 Va. Cir. 281, 282 (Roanoke 2006); Cunningham v. Garst, 44 Va. Cir. 442, 443 (Roanoke 1998).

Other courts have held that Section 8.01-6.1 reflects the legislature’s intent to depart from the Vines test. See Butler v. Anglero, 95 Va. Cir. 77, 79 (Chesapeake 2017); Rauchfuss v. Peninsula Radiological Assocs., 94 Va. Cir. 8, 8 (Newport News 2016); Clark v. Britt, 79 Va. Cir. 60, 66 (Fairfax 2009). These courts argue that Section 8.01-6.1 creates a broader analysis which focuses on the entire transaction instead of focusing on whether any new facts have been plead.

Some circuit courts utilize either the “same conduct, transaction, or occurrence test” from Section 8.01-6.1 or the Vines test without providing any rationale for their choice. See Munro v. Munro, 105 Va. Cir. 268, 271 (Fairfax 2020) (applying the “same conduct, transaction or occurrence” test); Freeman v. Curtis Bay Med. Waste Servs. Va., 102 Va. Cir. 245, 247 (Petersburg 2019) (same); Stanley v. Stork, 61 Va. Cir. 515, 517 (Norfolk 2003) (same); Ritchie v. Norton Cmty. Hosp., 55 Va. Cir. 96, 98 (Wise 2001) (same); Atkins v. Chesler, 50 Va. Cir. 365, 366 (Charlottesville 1999) (same). But see Whalen v. Rutherford, 86 Va. Cir. 560, 567 (Nelson 2012) (applying the Vines test); Allen v. Chesterfield Meadows Shopping Ctr. Assocs., L.P., 53 Va. Cir. 262, 264-65 (Chesterfield 2000) (same).

Although Virginia appellate courts have not ruled on the issue, a greater number of circuit courts view Section 8.01-6.1 as a departure from the Vines test. So, if a plaintiff is considering adding a new cause of action in an amended complaint and will be relying on the “relation back” principle to comply with the statute of limitations, they should be aware that Virginia circuit courts will likely apply the “same conduct, transaction, or occurrence test.” In an ideal scenario, a plaintiff’s new cause of action satisfies both tests, eliminating any potential concerns.

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