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Re: Metromedia Energy, Inc. v. Griffin

September 13, 2011

RE: METROMEDIA ENERGY, INC.
v.
GRIFFIN



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tonianne J. Bongiovanni United States Magistrate Judge

(609) 989-2040

CHAMBERS OF U.S. COURTHOUSE TONIANNE J. BONGIOVANNI 402 E. STATE STREET, RM 6052 TRENTON, NJ 08608 UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

LETTER OPINION &ORDER

Dear Counsel:

Pending before the Court is Defendants David Griffin and Fidelity Energy Group LLC's (collectively, "Defendants") motion to amend their Answer [Docket Entry No. 23]. Via this motion, Defendants seek to add non-party Jonathan Morris as a counterclaim defendant and assert a counterclaim against Metromedia Energy, Inc. and Jonathan Morris for tortious interference with economic relations and prospective economic advantage.*fn1 Plaintiff Metromedia Energy, Inc. ("Metromedia") opposes Defendants' motion. The Court has fully reviewed and considered all arguments made in support of and in opposition to Defendants' motion. The Court considers Defendants' motion without oral argument pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 78. For the reasons set forth more fully below, Defendants' motion is DENIED.

I. Background and Procedural History

Given the parties and Court's familiarity with this matter, the Court does not restate the facts of this case at length herein. The instant case is essentially a contract dispute that arises out of David Griffin's ("Griffin") alleged failure to abide by the terms of his employment contract with Metromedia both before and after his employment with the company was terminated in July 2009. After Metromedia filed its Complaint against Defendants in this matter and after Defendants filed an Answer thereto, Griffin filed a separate lawsuit against Metromedia and Jonathan and Laurence Morris (see Griffin v. Metromedia, Energy, Inc., et al., Civil Action No. 10-3739 (AET)) (the, "10-3739 matter").

In the 10-3739 matter, Griffin alleged that Metromedia and Jonathan and Laurence Morris terminated him in violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA"). Metromedia and Jonathan and Laurence Morris moved to dismiss Griffin's Complaint in the 10-3739 matter. In response, Griffin cross moved to amend his Complaint in order to assert additional factual allegations and to add both a wrongful termination claim as well as a claim for tortious interference with actual and prospective economic relations.

The District Court granted Metromedia and Jonathan and Laruence Morris' motion to dismiss and denied Griffin's cross motion to amend in the 10-3739 matter. With respect to Griffin's proposed tortious interference claim, the District Court concluded that to the extent Griffin's proposed claim included his alleged wrongful termination from Metromedia, then the claim was barred by CEPA. (See Feb. 2, 2011 Op. & Order at 9; Docket Entry No. 18 in Civil Action No. 10-3739). The District Court also found that "[i]f the tortious conduct is only the conduct occurring after [Griffin] was terminated, then the claim may be 'sufficiently distinct' from the CEPA claim to survive a motion to dismiss." (Id. at 9-10 (citation omitted) (emphasis in original)). As a result, the District Court cautioned Griffin that if he chose "to file a new complaint, he should clarify which conduct supports which claims." (Id. at 10).

Rather than filing a new complaint and despite having initially decided against pleading any counterclaims in this action, shortly after the District Court entered its Opinion and Order dismissing without prejudice his claims in the 10-3739 matter, Griffin along with Fidelity Energy Group LLC moved to amend their Answer filed in this case in order to add counterclaims for wrongful termination and tortious interference. As explained above, the only claim currently at issue is Defendants' request to add a counterclaim for tortious interference with economic relations and prospective economic advantage.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a)(2), leave to amend the pleadings is generally given freely. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182(1962); Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Court may deny a motion to amend where there is "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment." Id. However, where there is an absence of undue delay, bad faith, prejudice or futility, a motion for leave to amend a pleading should be liberally granted. Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004). In the context of Defendants' motion to amend their Answer to include a counterclaim for tortious interference, the main issue raised by Metromedia is whether Defendants' proposed claim is futile.

An amendment is futile if it "is frivolous or advances a claim or defense that is legally insufficient on its face." Harrison Beverage Co. v. Dribeck Imp., Inc.,, 133 F.R.D. 463, 468 (D.N.J. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether an amendment is "insufficient on its face," the Court employs the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss standard (see Alvin, 227 F.3d at 121) and considers only the pleading, exhibits attached to the pleading, matters of public record and undisputedly authentic documents if the party's claims are based upon same. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). When considering whether a pleading would survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept all facts alleged in the pleading as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party asserting them. Lum v. Bank of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). "[D]ismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the [pleading] as true, the p[arty] has failed to plead 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'" Duran v. Equifirst Corp., Civil Action No. 2:09-cv-03856, 2010 WL 918444, *2 (D.N.J. March 12, 2010) (quoting ...


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