The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM H. WALLS, District Judge
Defendant Johnson & Johnson ("J&J") appeals Special Master
Politan's ("Judge Politan") December 8, 2004 decision granting
plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to extend the proposed
class period back two years to November 15, 1997. The Court heard
oral arguments on this appeal on April 11, 2005. Defendant's
motion is denied.
Facts and Procedural History
Plaintiffs filed this class action in November 2001, seeking to
certify a class of approximately 8,000 current and former
African-American and Hispanic employees of J&J who allegedly
suffered discrimination in compensation and promotion. The
original putative class was defined as:
all persons of African and/or Hispanic descent
employed by Defendant J&J in permanent salaried
positions (exempt and non-exempt) in the United
States at any time from November 15, 1999[.] In August 2004, plaintiffs sought leave to amend their
complaint. Among other things, plaintiffs sought to expand the
putative class period by two years to begin from November 15,
1997 for all its 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claims based on the Supreme
Court's decision in Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Co.,
541 U.S. 369 (2004), which extended the statute of limitations for
certain § 1981 claims to four years. When plaintiffs filed this
suit in 2001, the accepted period of limitations for § 1981
claims in the Third Circuit was two years. See Zubi v. AT&T
Corp., 219 F.3d 220 (3d Cir. 2000). Based on Jones, Judge
Politan allowed plaintiffs to expand the putative class period by
two years. Although claims arising from 1997 to 1999 would not be
timely today even under the 4-year statute of limitation, Judge
Politan found that these claims "related back" to the original
claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(2).
The parties have engaged in substantial discovery since 2001
based on the understanding that plaintiffs' claims only extend to
actions taken after November 1999. However, because plaintiffs
seek to prove a "pattern and practice" of discrimination at J&J,
many of their discovery requests sought documents relevant to
periods before the beginning of the proposed class period.
The Federal Magistrates Act provides two separate standards of
judicial review: (1) "de novo" for magistrate resolution of
dispositive matters, see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C), and (2)
"clearly erroneous or contrary to law" for magistrate resolution
of nondispositive matters. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R. Civ.
P. 72(a); Rule 72.1(a) of the Local Rules of the United States
District Court for the District of New Jersey; Cipollone v.
Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108 (3d Cir. 1986). "Motions to
amend are usually considered non-dispositive motions" are and
reversed if the magistrate's decision is "clearly erroneous or contrary to
the law." Thomas v. Ford Motor Co., 137 F.Supp.2d 575, 579
A finding is contrary to law if the magistrate judge has
misinterpreted or misapplied applicable law. "A finding is
`clearly erroneous' when, although there is evidence to support
it, the reviewing court on consideration of the entire evidence
is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has
been committed." Lo Bosco v. Kure Engineering Ltd.,
891 F.Supp. 1035, 1037 (D.N.J. 1995) (quoting United States v. Gypsum Co.,
333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).
The Third Circuit has interpreted this to mean that the
appellate court must accept the factual determination of the fact
finder unless that determination "either (1) is completely devoid
of minimum evidentiary support displaying some hue of
credibility, or (2) bears no rational relationship to the
supportive evidentiary data." Haines v. Liggett Group Inc.,
975 F.2d 81, 92 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Krasnov v. Dinan,
465 F.2d 1298, 1302 (3d Cir. 1972)).
Pursuant to a consent order dated July 19, 2002, Special Master
Politan has the "authority equivalent to that of a magistrate
Under Rule 15, an amendment "relates back" if "the claim or
defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the
conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be
set forth in the original pleading, . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(2).
In the Third Circuit, the "critical element" is whether the
defendant was on notice of the possibility of subsequent
amendments at the time of the original filing. See Pickens v.
Intercommunity Agency, Inc., 1997 WL 727604, *8 (E.D.Pa. Nov.
21, 1997). J&J argues that it was not on notice that plaintiffs' claims
could extend back to 1997, and based on the Third Circuit law at
the time, it is entitled to repose regarding any earlier claims.
Plaintiffs argue that potential class members should not be
punished by the Third Circuit's erroneous interpretation of the
law, and that J&J will not be unduly burdened by the amendment
because much of the discovery done so far already encompasses the
1997-1999 time period, the trial is still several years away, and
adding additional plaintiffs to this already large class action
will not significantly alter the course of the litigation.
Judge Politan found that the amendment did relate back because
J&J was on notice, from the time the original complaint was
filed, that its conduct dating back to 1997 was at issue in this
suit. Plaintiffs alleged a "pattern and practice" of
discrimination at J&J, and although they could only bring claims
for conduct occurring within the 2-year statute of limitations at
the time, they sought discovery regarding conduct from the
earlier period in order to prove a pattern. Plaintiffs' original
pleadings contain several allegations of discriminatory conduct
that occurred in 1997. See Plaintiffs' Brief at p. 12. Judge
Politan found that J&J was on notice that its ...