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Aruanno v. State

January 14, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mark Falk United States Magistrate Judge



Dear Litigants:

Before the Court is plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint. (Docket Entry No. 30). Defendant, State of New Jersey ("defendant" or "State"), has opposed the motion and plaintiff has filed a reply. The Court addresses the matter without oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P.78. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion is granted.

A. Background

On April 16, 2004, the State filed a petition to commit plaintiff under the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act, N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 et seq. (Affidavit of David L. DaCosta, Esq., Docket Entry No. 22, Ex. A at 8). A commitment hearing commenced on April 11, 2005 and in May 2005, plaintiff was civilly committed by the State as a sexually violent predator. Id. at 3-4, 9. On January 20, 2006, then pro se plaintiff*fn1 filed a complaint against the State alleging violations of his constitutional rights and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiff alleged, among other things, that he had been denied the right to contest the civil commitment petition, that a jury should have reviewed the matter, and that he had been deprived of legal representation and an opportunity to submit expert medical testimony at the final commitment hearing. (Compl. at ¶ 6).

Following a somewhat protracted procedural history,*fn2 on April 16, 2007, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On July 29, 2008, the Court granted defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint, without prejudice. The Court dismissed the complaint on grounds that it lacked jurisdiction because plaintiff's only claim, a cause of action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§1983") , against the State was barred by the Eleventh Amendment.*fn3 On October 15, 2008, plaintiff filed the instant motion to amend the complaint to name three state officers in their official capacities as defendants.*fn4

B. Analysis

A district court's order dismissing a complaint, without prejudice, includes an "implicit invitation to amplify the complaint" even if the order does not mention amendment. Newark Branch, NAACP v. Harrison, 907 F.2d 1408, 1417 (3d Cir. 1990)(quoting Borelli v. City of Reading, 532 F.2d 950, 951(3d Cir. 1976)). Courts have held that "leave to amend complaints should be routinely granted to plaintiffs, even after judgments of dismissal have been entered against them, if the appropriate standard for leave to amend under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 (a) is satisfied." Id. at 1417 (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Adams v. Gould, Inc. 739 F.2d 858, 864, 867-69 (3d Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1122 (1985)).

Rule 15(a) provides that "leave [to amend] shall be freely granted when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). The decision to grant a motion to amend a pleading rests in the sound discretion of the district court. Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 330 (1970). Generally, leave to amend should be granted unless there is undue delay or prejudice, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies through previous amendments or futility. Foman, 371 U.S. at182. Absent these factors, leave should be "freely given." Id.

The State opposes the motion on the sole ground that the amendment would be futile because plaintiff's claims are barred by the two-year statute of limitations.*fn5 Thus, the State maintains that plaintiff should not be permitted to amend.*fn6

In opposition, plaintiff relies on Fed.R. Civ.P. 15(c) asserting the amendment "relates back" and should be treated as though it was filed on the date of the original pleading. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c). Plaintiff maintains that the proposed amended complaint asserts claims that arose out of the same conduct and occurrence alleged in the original complaint and therefore the statute of limitations is not a bar.(Pl.'s Reply Br. at 1-4 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c))).

Plaintiff's complaint was dismissed without prejudice on July 29, 2008. The order of dismissal did not provide for a time by which plaintiff would have to amend his complaint. Although the district court's order did not address amendment, the "without prejudice" language suggests that plaintiff be accorded an opportunity to amend the complaint to address the pleading deficiencies. Borelli, 532 F.2d at 951.

The futility analysis on a motion to amend is essentially the same as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The trial court may deny leave to amend where the amendment would not withstand a motion to dismiss. Massarsky v. General Motors Corp., 706 F.2d 111, 125 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 937 (1983). However, given the liberal standard for the amendment of pleadings, courts place a heavy burden on opponents who wish to declare a proposed amendment futile. Thus, the proposed amendment must be frivolous or advance a claim that is insufficient on its face. "If a proposed amendment is not clearly ...

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