Williams v. Advance Auto Parts, Inc. (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-033-17, 15 pp.) (Robert Hunter Jr., J.) Appealed from Cumberland County Superior Court (Claire Hill, J.) N.C. App.
Holding: Searches of Advance Auto Parts’ website and the Secretary of State’s database, as well as communications from Advance Auto’s third-party claims administrator, led plaintiff to name the Advance Auto Parts parent company as the defendant in this trip and fall case. Nevertheless, since a subsidiary was the actual owner of the store, plaintiff’s amendment to his complaint to add the subsidiary as a defendant – filed after the statute of limitations had expired – did not relate back to the original filing of the complaint.
We affirm summary judgment for both defendants.
Plaintiff’s amendment was an attempt to substitute one legal entity for another. The parent (Advance Auto Parts, Inc.) and subsidiary (Advance Stores Company, Incorporated) are separate corporations.
Plaintiff’s evidence, consisting of his attorney’s affidavit, the printout of results from the Secretary of State’s website, and the third-party administrator’s communications (referring to “Advance Auto” and “Advance Auto Parts”), does not dispute the ownership of the store or the nature of the corporate relationship between parent and subsidiary. It is probative only of the process by which plaintiff came to name the wrong defendant in his original complaint.
While plaintiff argues the subsidiary was properly served and would suffer no prejudice from allowing the amendment to relate back, this analysis applies only when the evidence shows the complaint was amended to substitute the proper legal name of a single legal entity with multiple names. Here plaintiff simply sued the wrong corporation.
The trial court properly concluded that plaintiff’s amendment was not the correction of a mere misnomer, but an impermissible attempt to add a new defendant after the statute of limitations had expired.
Relying on the third-party administrator’s letter, plaintiff argues the subsidiary is equitably estopped from relying on the statute of limitations. Even if plaintiff could prove the other elements of equitable estoppel, he could not show due diligence.
A deed was on file with the Cumberland County Register of Deeds identifying the subsidiary as the true owner of the store where plaintiff was injured. It is not an onerous burden to conduct a title search before filing suit.