Civil Rules: Liberal construction of pleadings followed to do substantial justice. Cardwell vs. Miller, COA, NotPublished, 3/1/2013

Liberal construction of pleading rules.  CR 8.01


DIXON, JUDGE: William A. Cardwell appeals an order of the Bell Circuit Court denying his motion for leave to file an amended complaint and dismissing his civil action. After careful review, we find that dismissal was premature; accordingly, we reverse and remand this matter for further proceedings in the trial court.

Pursuant to CR 8.01(1), the complaint must contain, “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and . . . a demand for judgment for the relief to which he deems himself entitled.” It is well-settled that technical precision “is not necessary to state a cause of action[.]” Cincinnati, Newport & Covington Transp. Co. v. Fischer, 357 S.W.2d 870, 872 (Ky. 1962). “The true objective of a pleading stating a claim is to give the opposing party fair notice of its essential nature.” Id. In McCollum v. Garrett, 880 S.W.2d 530, 533 (Ky. 1994), the Kentucky Supreme Court advocated a “commonsense” application of the Rules of Civil Procedure:

CR 8.06 requires that ‘All pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice.’ This rule, sometimes called a ‘liberal construction’ rule, requires that a pleading be judged according to its substance rather than its label or form.

A negligence action requires a movant to “establish a duty on the defendant, a breach of the duty, and a causal connection between the breach of the duty and an injury suffered by the plaintiff.” Lewis v. B & R Corp., 56 S.W.3d 432, 436-37 (Ky. App. 2001). In the case at bar, Cardwell’s pro se complaint was not artfully drafted, but it plainly alleged that he was injured when the employees of the jail breached the duty of care owed to him by failing to provide medical treatment. Although Cardwell did not set forth the names of the individual Appellees in the body of the complaint, he identified them at the conclusion of his pleading, and each defendant was served with notice of the lawsuit. Indeed, as the Appellees had actual notice of the pending litigation, they timely filed an answer and a motion to dismiss.

In Steadman v. Gentry, 314 S.W.3d 760, 762 (Ky. App. 2010), this Court explained:

Commencement of an action requires the filing of a complaint and the good faith issuance of a summons . . . based on the allegations contained in the complaint. The statute of limitations runs until a summons is actually issued.

Id. at 762 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

We are mindful that Cardwell initiated this action as a pro se litigant.

Cardwell filed his complaint and summonses were issued in good faith, which tolled the statute of limitations. Id. Pursuant to CR 15.01, leave to file an amended complaint “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Based upon the circumstances of this case, we are simply not persuaded that the Appellees would have been misled or prejudiced if the court had allowed Cardwell to file an amended complaint after he retained counsel. It is well-settled that the civil rules “should be applied to provide for a just determination on the merits, rather than to use a technicality to work a forfeiture.” West v. Goldstein, 830 S.W.2d 379, 384 (Ky. 1992). We conclude the trial court erred by dismissing Cardwell’s cause of action; consequently, we reverse and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

For the reasons stated herein, the order of the Bell Circuit Court is reversed and remanded.

For full text of decision, see below.

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