The Excessive History of Federal Rule 15(c) and its Lessons for Civil Rules Revision

This case study of one Federal Rule of Civil Procedure is designed to suggest affirmative answers to these questions. My focus is on the surprisingly extensive body of case law, culminating in the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision in Schiavone v. Fortune, that parses the second sentence of Federal Rule 15(c). Added in 1966, that sentence attempts to set standards for the relation back of party-changing amendments to pleadings. A more prototypically pedestrian, less prepossessing topic of the traditionalist type could scarcely be imagined. Yet a review of its history brings larger points into sharp relief: something is seriously amiss in our Federal Rules amending process, and the costs of stasis are high.

Part I briefly surveys the respective areas of responsibility for federal civil rulemaking that the Court and the Congress have exercised since the Rules’ adoption in 1938. Part II is an extended review, in five sections, of the history of rule 15(c) before and, most tellingly, after its amendment in 1966. Part III, returning to the roles of the Court and the Congress, considers the lessons of the history of rule 15(c) for the rules-revision process.