On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D. C. No. 2-11-cv-03397) District Judge: Honorable Stewart Dalzell
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Roth, Circuit Judge:
Submitted under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) on March 7, 2013
Before: SCIRICA, JORDAN and ROTH, Circuit Judges
Robert Lassiter appeals the District Court's grant of defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the order of the District Court.
On May 25, 2011, Lassiter filed a complaint alleging, inter alia, Fourth Amendment violations for excessive force and false arrest. The complaint stated that the incident giving rise to Lassiter's cause of action took place on May 22, 2009. On August 2, 2011, defendants filed an answer asserting six affirmative defenses. However, defendants did not raise the two-year statute of limitations as a defense.
The parties appeared before the District Court for a Rule 16 pretrial conference on September 20, 2011. During the conference, without being prompted by either party, the District Court observed that the statute of limitations appeared to have expired but that defendants failed to raise the issue in their answer. Defendants' counsel acknowledged that they had missed this issue. The District Court then suggested that defendants could amend their answer and, in a scheduling order, invited defendants to advise the court as to "how this matter should proceed."
After the pretrial conference, defendants sought leave to file an amended answer. On February 23, 2012, the District Court granted the motion over Lassiter's opposition. Defendants then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, seeking dismissal of the complaint due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. On May 29, 2012, the District Court granted defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the complaint as time barred. Lassiter appealed.
Lassiter raises three issues on appeal. First, he argues that the District Court improperly raised the statute of limitations issue sua sponte at the Rule 16 conference. His second claim of error is that, because the statute of limitations issue was raised improperly, the District Court erroneously granted defendants leave to file the amended answer. Third, Lassiter posits that, given these two errors, the District Court should not have granted defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. Because we hold that the District Court had the authority to raise the statute of limitations issue during the Rule 16 conference, we need not address Lassiter's second and third arguments.
Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure contemplates that a trial court should assume an "active managerial role" in the litigation process to expedite the efficient disposition of a case. Phillips v. Allegheny Cnty., 869 F.2d 234, 239 (3d Cir. 1989). At a Rule 16 conference, a district court "may consider and take appropriate action" on a broad variety of topics, including "formulating and simplifying the issues, and eliminating frivolous claims or defenses[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(c)(2)(A). Indeed, the notes to Rule 16(c) state that the rule was drafted to "clarify and confirm the court's power to identify the litigable issues . . . in the hope of promoting efficiency and conserving judicial resources by identifying the real issues prior to trial, thereby saving time and expense for everyone." Fed. R. Civ. P. 16 Advisory Comm. Notes to 1983 Amendment, Subdivision (c) (emphasis added) (citing Meadow Gold Prods. Co v. Wright, 278 F.2d 867 (D.C. Cir. 1960)).
Consistent with the text and the Advisory Committee Notes, we have interpreted Rule 16 as vesting a trial court with "wide discretion and power to advance causes and simplify procedure before presentation of cases to juries." Buffington v. Wood, 351 F.2d 292, 298 (3d Cir. 1965). Thus, Rule 16 authorizes a trial judge to "supervise the pretrial phase of litigation . . . [by] sifting the issues and reducing the delays and expense of trial so that a suit will go to trial only on questions as to which there is an honest dispute of fact or law." Delta Theatres, Inc. v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 398 F.2d 323, 324 (5th Cir. 1968) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Brinn v. Bull Insular ...