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Slutsky v. Guadagno

United States District Court, District of New Jersey

December 29, 2014

SLUTSKY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GUADAGNO, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Tonianne J. Bongiovanni, United States Magistrate Judge

Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiffs, Larry, Wendy, and Clayton Slutsky’s (“Plaintiffs”) motion for leave to amend their Complaint to add as defendants the County of Monmouth and now known individual corrections officers employed at Monmouth County Corrections Institution (“MCCI”) during the period of Clayton’s pre-trial detention until his release, formerly plead as “John and/or Jane Doe Defendants.” These defendants include, Peter Elmer; Shawn Greagori; Daniel Hudak; Eric Kaufman; Thomas O’Brien; Wesley Rebnicky; Richard Rivera; William Francher; David Betten; Sara M. Sturt; Steven Voorhees; Bob Foster; Jesus Andino; Scott Bedle; Gerard Feist; Joseph Marino; Eric Martinez; Tomas Pimental; William Severoni; James Caulfield; Monica Chacon; John Dugan; Robert Pisano; Diana Ramirez; James Robertson; and John Schultz.

Defendants, Kim Guadagno, William Fraser, Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, and Monmouth County Corrections Institution, oppose Plaintiffs’ motion. The Court has fully reviewed the papers submitted in support of and in opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion, and considers same without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. Civ.P. 78. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs’ motion to amend their Complaint is DENIED.

I. Background and Procedural History

Plaintiff, Clayton Slutsky, was detained by MCCI from October 19, 2008 through October 22, 2008. (See Complaint; Docket Entry No. 1). On October 13, 2010, then pro se Plaintiffs filed suit, listing John and Jane Doe defendants, unknown MCCI corrections officers, in anticipation of determining their identities. (Id.). Plaintiffs alleged that Clayton Slutsky suffered misconduct during his period of incarceration at MCCI, which amounted to cruel and inhumane punishment, in violation of his constitutional rights. (Id.).

Plaintiffs specifically seek to recover from MCCI and the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office for Clayton Slutsky being subjected to (1) “cruel, dangerous, degrading treatment and conditions of confinement, ” (2) “intentional infliction of pain and severe emotional and mental distress, officially facilitated by physical assault, official terroristic threats, being kept in degrading, humiliating, cold nakedness over a prolonged period of days, being confined in severely unsanitary conditions, being subjected to deliberate indifference to his serious medical/mental health needs, well-being and safety, and being subjected to a willful delay in receiving needed medical/mental health screening and treatment at the hospital until bail monies were turned over, ” (3) “violently assaulted, constituting attempted murder, by a particular individual inmate, and being traumatized by official terroristic threats” which “drove him to attempt suicide, ” (4) “being confined in profound, ongoing nakedness for days in a cold, wet cell with filthy, toilet water overflowing onto the floor.” (Id.).

On, September 22, 2011 Defendants disclosed to Plaintiffs, MCCI’s Shift Detail records for the time during which Clayton Slutsky was detained: October 19, 2008 through October 21, 2008. (See Certification of Counsel, Exhibit No. 1; Docket Entry No. 98). The Shift Detail Record listed each officer working at MCCI, for each shift and location of assignment during the period of Clayton Slutsky’s detention. Defendants therefore contend that Plaintiffs were made aware of the corrections officers on the Shift Detail Record provided in September 2011, yet they failed to amend their complaint to incorporate those defendants at that time. (Id.). Defendants further contend that Plaintiffs’ awareness of the identity of the individuals is evidenced by the Platintiffs’ marking and circling names on the Shift Detail Record given to them by Defendants. (Id.).

On April 23, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their first Motion to Amend and Proposed Amended Complaint. (See Motion to Amend; Docket Entry No. 40). Plaintiffs, Larry and Wendy Slutsky (Clayton’s parents), amended the Complaint, setting forth a claim based upon MCCI’s policy to contact relatives in a case of emergency. (Id.). This new claim was based on corrections officers’ alleged failure to abide by MCCI policy to give notice to Clayton’s parents in case of an emergency. (Id.). Moreover, the Amended Complaint named the same Defendants as in the original Complaint, similarly adding John and/or Jane Doe Defendants. On August 14, 2013, Defendants answered Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint. (See Answer: Docket Entry No. 60).

On May 19, 2014, Plaintiffs retained attorney, Jonathan R. Miller, Esq. (See Notice of Appearance: Docket Entry No. 87). During a telephone conference held on May 16, 2014, the Court outlined the conditions for Mr. Miller’s representation of Plaintiffs. (See May 16, 2014 Transcript Re: Retention of Attorney). The Court confirmed that Mr. Miller was “willing to come into the case to take over for the Plaintiffs and proceed to trial” and that he required time to get up to speed. (Id. at 6:12-16). Mr. Miller confirmed that he wished to represent the Plaintiffs and further stated that he needed a stay of all proceedings for six weeks and a three-month window for discovery, since neither depositions nor interrogatories had been taken. ( Id. at 8:8- 11). The Court noted that “[n]ormally at this, the eleventh hour, if counsel comes in…it would be really unfair to have the case reopened as if it was brand new case…when we’ve already spent, as you’ve noted, three and a half years.” ( Id. at 8-9:21-2). The Court therefore cautioned Mr. Miller: “I don’t want you to view it that if we agree to give you time to conduct some discovery that it would be revisiting or reopening.” (Id. at 9:10-12). Mr. Miller later responded stating; “I fully appreciate that in getting into this case, I’d be getting in it, you know, at the late stage of it. It wouldn’t be to start this case from scratch.” (Id. at 12:10-12). Thereafter, a stay was executed and a new trial date was set for December 15, 2014. (See Stipulation and Consent Order; Docket Entry No. 88).

Plaintiffs now seek to amend their Complaint a second time through this motion. (See Motion to Amend: Docket Entry No. 95). Plaintiffs seek to amend their complaint to name the County of Monmouth and the various corrections officers listed above, in place of John and/or Jane Doe Defendants. Plaintiffs argue that from the start of the lawsuit, they have asserted claims against unknown, John and/or Jane Doe Defendants, in anticipation of uncovering the identities of all individuals directly implicated in Clayton Slutsky’s mistreatment at MCCI. (Id.). Plaintiffs demanded from the Defendants, surveillance videotapes identifying the officers who were on duty while Clayton Slutsky was in the Containment Cell, as well as, the Solitary Cell for the days in which he was detained at MCCI. (Id.). However, Plaintiffs further assert Defendants did not comply with these demands until August 1, 2014, nearly 4 years after filing suit. (Id.). On August 1, 2014, Defendants identified for Plaintiffs, the MCCI corrections officers appearing in the surveillance videotapes. (Id.). Now with the identities of the officers, Plaintiffs seek to amend their Complaint a second time to incorporate said officers into the Complaint.

Plaintiffs argue they should be allowed to amend their Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), which takes a liberal approach to pleading. Plaintiffs state; “[l]leave to amend must generally be granted unless equitable considerations render it otherwise unjust, ” Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d Cir. 2006). Such equitable considerations consist of “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.” Great Western Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 174 (3d Cir. 2010). Plaintiffs contend equitable considerations weigh in favor of granting their leave to amend because the proposed amendment is neither futile nor unduly prejudicial.

In arguing that equitable considerations weigh in their favor, Plaintiffs assert that nothing in the present motion nor procedural history of this lawsuit, suggests undue delay by Plaintiffs. Rather, since the beginning of this lawsuit, Plaintiffs have explicitly listed “John and/or Jane Doe” Defendants and diligently attempted to uncover their identities. (See Motion to Amend: Docket Entry No. 95). Plaintiffs further state nothing in the proposed Amended Complaint suggests bad faith. Plaintiffs are not advancing any new legal claims nor any new legal theories. They are merely seeking to explicitly name as defendants, those individuals directly implicated in the treatment and conditions of Clayton Slutsky’s incarceration at MCCI. (Id.).

Furthermore, Plaintiffs state; “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 assessing futility, the Court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applied under Rule 12(b)(6). Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir. 2000). Moreover, Plaintiffs state; “prejudice will be considered undue when it rises to such a level that the non-moving party would be unfairly disadvantage or deprived of the opportunity to present facts or evidence.” Harrison, 13 F.R.D. at 468.

In arguing the Amended Complaint is neither futile nor unduly prejudicial, Plaintiffs contend that they are not raising new claims but merely identifying the now known “John and/or Jane Doe” Defendants. Because the claims asserted remain those that survived Defendants’ prior motion practice, Plaintiffs argue that these claims are not futile. (See Motion to Amend; Docket Entry No. 95). Moreover, Plaintiffs assert the proposed Amended Complaint will not unduly prejudice Defendants because there are no newly asserted claims and no newly alleged factual allegations. Defendants are not unduly prejudiced because the information and names of the corrections officers are not new to ...


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