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James Crocker and Linda Crocker v. Kooltronic

February 18, 2011



Presently before this Court is a motion brought by Defendant, Kooltronic, Inc., ("Kooltronic"), seeking leave to file a Third Party Complaint ("Third Party Complaint") against Estes Express Lines and its unnamed insurer ("Estes"), for defense and indemnification under the New Jersey Compulsory Motor Vehicle Insurance Law, and to compel the disclosure of certain documents from Estes. [Docket Entry No. 15]. Kooltronic has withdrawn its motion to compel, as Estes has complied with Kooltronic‟s discovery requests. [Docket Entry No. 21]. For the reasons set forth in this Order, the Court denies Kooltronic‟s motion for leave to file a Third Party Complaint.

I. Relevant Facts and Procedural History*fn1

On March 26, 2008, James Crocker ("Plaintiff") was injured at Kooltronic‟s facility while making a delivery for his employer Estes. Plaintiff‟s Brief in Opposition at 4 [Docket Entry No. 16-2]. Plaintiff asserts that as he was trying to unload the truck, Kooltronic‟s dock plate malfunctioned by springing up and causing him to hit his head on a dock door that was hanging below the top of the doorframe. Id.

Plaintiff filed a complaint on December 31, 2009, alleging that his injuries were caused by Kooltronic‟s negligence in failing to properly maintain its premises, failing to conduct proper inspections of the property, and failing to warn of or correct dangerous conditions on its property, among other theories of premises liability. [Docket Entry No. 1]. The Court held an initial conference in this case on May 7, 2010, and subsequently issued a pre-trial scheduling order on May 24, 2010. That Order provided that any motions to amend were to be filed only with leave of court and set June 25, 2010 as the filing deadline for any such motions. In addition, fact discovery was ordered to close on September 17, 2010. [Docket Entry No. 12]. On September 3, 2010, the Court conducted a case status conference call, at which time scheduling issues were addressed. In response to the parties‟ request, the Court entered a second scheduling order extending fact discovery until October 29, 2010. [Docket Entry No. 14]. Neither Plaintiff nor Kooltronic requested additional time to file a motion for leave to amend the pleadings. Id.

Kooltronic filed this motion for leave to file a Third Party Complaint against Estes on October 7, 2010. [Docket Entry No. 15]. In its motion papers, Kooltronic asserts that it is entitled to defense and indemnification from Estes‟ insurance carrier, pursuant to the loading and unloading doctrine (the "Loading & Unloading Doctrine") contained in New Jersey‟s Compulsory Motor Vehicle Insurance Law (the "Compulsory Insurance Law"), N.J.S.A. 39:6-B1(a).

Plaintiff and Estes oppose the motion, arguing that the proposed Third Party Complaint is futile because the Loading & Unloading Doctrine does not apply in negligent premises cases. Plaintiff‟s Brief in Opposition at 5-8 [Docket Entry No. 16-2]; Estes‟ Brief in Opposition at 2 [Docket Entry No. 18]. They further argue that the case law on which Defendant relies is no longer followed in this jurisdiction. Id.

On November 18, 2010, the Court held oral argument regarding the issues of futility and delay. During the argument, Kooltronic asserted that the motion was filed late because of a delay in fact discovery, and that the discovery had revealed that Kooltronic was entitled to defense and indemnification. Estes countered those arguments by stating that the Court cannot consider facts outside of the Complaint in determining whether there is coverage, and therefore should not consider subsequent information revealed in discovery in determining if the Third Party Complaint is futile. Because this issue was not raised in the prior submissions, the Court requested that the parties submit supplemental briefs with regard to the facts to be considered in evaluating coverage under the Loading & Unloading Doctrine. All parties to this motion submitted supplemental briefing on that discrete issue on November 23, 2010.

II. Standard of Review

Motions for leave to file a third party complaint are treated in the same manner as motions for leave to amend the original pleadings. See Ryan v. Collucio, 183 F.R.D. 420, 423 (D.N.J. 1998); Cruz v. City of Camden, 898 F.Supp. 1100, 1105 (D.N.J. 1995). Pursuant to Federal Rule 15(a)(1), a party has a limited time within which to amend its pleading once as a matter of course. After that, a party must either have consent from the opposing party or leave of court to amend a pleading. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). The court, however, should give leave freely when justice so requires. Id.; Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000). In the absence of "undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, unfair prejudice, or futility of amendment," the amendment must be permitted. WHY ASAP, LLC v. Compact Power, 461 F. Supp. 2d 308, 311 (D.N.J. 2006) (quoting Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F. 3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002)).

Delay alone cannot be grounds to deny an amendment, but "the movant must demonstrate that its delay in seeking to amend is satisfactorily explained." Harrison Beverage Co. v. Dribeck Importers, Inc., 133 F.R.D. 463, 468 (D.N.J. 1990) (internal quotations omitted). Similarly, prejudice must be "undue" and rise to the level that the non-moving party would be "unfairly disadvantaged or deprived of the opportunity to present facts or evidence . . . ." Id. (internal quotations omitted).

An amendment that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is futile. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997). The standard for denying leave to amend based on futility is identical to the standard in granting a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See id. at 1434; Massarsky v. General Motors Corp., 706 F.2d 111, 125 (3d Cir. 1983). 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," Travelers Indem. Co. v. Dammann & Co., Inc., 592 F. Supp. 2d 752, 763 (D.N.J. 2008), but the court is "not compelled to accept unwarranted inferences, unsupported conclusions or legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations." Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 211 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, an amendment "must plead sufficient factual matter accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement,‟ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a [party] has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

II. Discussion

The Court must determine whether futility, prejudice, or undue delay should bar Kooltronic from filing its Third Party ...

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