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Walls v. County of Camden

November 13, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel Schneider United States Magistrate Judge

[Doc. No. 24]


This matter is before the Court on the "Motion to Add Direct Claims Against Third Party Defendants and to File First Amended Complaint" [Doc. No. 24] filed by Joseph A. Osfchen, Esquire, counsel for Plaintiff, Agnes E. Walls, Administratrix of the Estate of Christopher L. Miller. Plaintiff seeks to bring direct claims against the existing Third Party Defendants, CFG Health Systems, LLC ("CFG") and Steininger Behavioral Care Services ("Steininger"). Plaintiff also seeks to amend her complaint to add Charles Graham, a former Steininger employee, as a named defendant. CFG, Steininger, and Graham (hereinafter "Proposed Defendants") oppose [Docs. 28 and 29] Plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint alleges that the Proposed Defendants committed "reckless, deliberate and wanton violations" of decedent Christopher Miller's rights while he was in their custody, resulting in Mr. Miller's suicide.

(Prop. Amend. Cmplt. ¶ 1). For the reasons discussed herein (1) Plaintiff's request to add direct claims against CFG and Steininger is DENIED and (2) Plaintiff's request for leave to amend her complaint to add Graham as a defendant is DENIED.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff seeks to recover damages for the injuries and wrongful death of Christopher Miller as a result of Defendants' alleged wrongful actions. Voorhees Township police arrested Miller on January 5, 2005. (Cmplt. ¶ 13.) Soon after his arrest, the officers took Miller to the JFK Crisis Center where he was diagnosed as suicidal. (Id. ¶ 15.) The following day Miller was taken to the Camden County Correctional Facility ("CCCF"). (Id.) Soon after his arrival at CCCF, while in a holding cell pending intake, Miller threatened to hang himself and began removing his shoelaces for that purpose. (Id. ¶ 17.) Miller was subsequently placed on suicide watch until approximately noon on January 7, 2005 when Charles Graham removed him from the watch. (Prop. Amend. Cmplt. ¶¶ 32, 36.) Thereafter, Miller repeatedly told CCCF personnel that he was going to kill himself and reportedly tied his jumpsuit around his neck, but was thwarted by his cell-mates. (Cmplt. ¶¶ 31, 40.) On January 8, 2005, while his cell-mates slept, Miller hung himself. (Id. ¶ 38.)

In her original complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Camden County and its employees committed "deliberate and wanton violations" (Cmplt. ¶ 1) of Miller's rights while he was in their custody when they, inter alia, ignored Miller's requests for help, and unconstitutionally subjected him to an understaffed and overcrowded jail (Cmplt. ¶¶ 42-50) ultimately resulting in Miller's suicide. In her amended complaint Plaintiff alleges that Steininger and CFG, which provided medical and mental health services to CCCF on a contract basis (Pl. Br. at 2), knew or should have known of Miller's suicidal tendencies (Prop. Amend. Cmplt. ¶¶ 16, 27) and that Charles Graham, a former Steininger employee, decided to remove Miller from suicide watch without reviewing Miller's medical and mental health records. (Id. ¶¶ 37)

B. Procedural Background

To fully understand the issues raised in Plaintiff's motion and Proposed Defendants' opposition, it is necessary to review the time-line of relevant events in this case. Within 90 days after Miller's January 8, 2005 death, Steininger and CFG received Tort Claim Notices from Plaintiff. (Pl. Br. at 1.) On December 13, 2006, Plaintiff, on decedent's behalf, filed her complaint in this action against Camden County, the CCCF, Warden Eric Taylor, named CCCF officers, CCCF John Doe officers and CCCF John Doe personnel. Subsequently, on November 8, 2007, Defendant Camden County was granted leave to file a third party complaint against Steininger and CFG (Steininger-Graham Br. at 2, [Doc. No. 29]).

C. The Parties Arguments

In her motion and reply brief [Doc. No. 30], Plaintiff asserts that pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 14(a)(3), she does not need to seek leave of court to add direct claims against the third party defendants presently in the case. (Pl. Br. at 1.) However, because Plaintiff also seeks to add a new party she moves for leave to amend her complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). (Id.) In support of her motion, Plaintiff argues that the Proposed Defendants were on notice of her intent to bring claims against them. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff also argues that the applicable New Jersey relation back law permits her to amend her complaint to replace the "John Doe" defendants with the names of the three Proposed Defendants.

Proposed Defendants, in opposition, argue that Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c) governs this case, and that under that rule, Plaintiff's amendment does not relate back to the original complaint; thus, according to Proposed Defendants, Plaintiff's motion to amend should be denied as futile. (Steininger-Graham Br. 3.)

II. Standard of Review

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a), leave to amend pleadings "shall be freely given when justice so requires." Leave shall be freely given in the absence of undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies in previous amendments, undue prejudice or futility of the amendment. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). See also Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir.2000). "[A]bsent undue or substantial prejudice, an amendment should be allowed under Rule 15(a) unless'denial [can] be grounded in bad faith or dilatory motive, truly undue or unexplained delay, repeated failure to cure deficiency by amendments previously allowed or futility of amendment." Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir.2004) quoting Lundy v. Adamar of New Jersey, Inc., 34 F.3d 1173, 1196 (3d Cir.1994). An amendment sought pursuant to Rule 15(a) shall be permitted unless it would be inequitable or futile. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).

In determining the futility of an amendment, the Court "applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6)." Medpointe Healthcare, Inc. v. Hi-Tech Pharm. Co., Inc., 380 F. Supp. 2d 457, 462 (D.N.J. 2005) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d. Cir. 1997)); Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in the proposed amended complaint and any reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. Brown v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 250 F.3d 789, 796 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993)). The factual allegations must be enough, when taken as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,-U.S.-, 127 ...

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