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Watkins v. Merriel

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 19, 2015

JESSE WATKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
M. MERRIEL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TONIANNE J. BONGIOVANNI, Magistrate Judge.

Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Jesse Watkins' ("Plaintiff"), motion for leave to amend the Complaint [Docket Entry No. 48] to add the Department of Corrections Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan as a Defendant in this action, assert a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Marvin Merriel, and assert a negligence claim against all Defendants. Defendants, M. Merriel, G. Logan, and Sergeant Rokeach, oppose Plaintiff's motion [Docket Entry No. 50]. The Court has fully reviewed the papers submitted in support of and in opposition to Plaintiff's motion, and considers same without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. Civ.P. 78. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion to amend the Complaint is GRANTED.

I. Background and Procedural History

On August 3, 2012, Plaintiff commenced this action, seeking relief for an incident that occurred on December 4, 2011, alleging that Defendants' conduct violated his rights, privileges, and immunities under the United States Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. ยง1983. ( See Motion to Amend; Docket Entry No. 48). On June 7, 2013, Defendants answered Plaintiff's Complaint. ( See Answer; Docket Entry No. 18).

Plaintiff now seeks through this motion to amend the Complaint to (1) add the Department of Corrections Commissioner, Gary M. Lanigan, as a Defendant, (2) assert a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant, Marvin Merriel, and (3) assert a negligence claim against all Defendants. ( See Motion to Amend; Docket Entry No. 48).

II. Arguments

A. Plaintiff's Argument

Plaintiff argues he should be allowed to amend the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), which takes a liberal approach to pleading. Plaintiff states that "it is well-settled by the Third Circuit that, leave to amend should be granted freely...and courts should use strong liberality in considering whether to grant leave to amend." Disability Rights N.J., Inc. v. Velez, 862 F.Supp.2d 366, 370 (D.N.J. 2012). Plaintiff further states that in deciding whether to grant leave to amend, the Court must consider: (1) "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, (2) repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, (3) undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, or (4) futility of the amendment." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

Plaintiff alleges the Proposed Amended Complaint is based upon facts recently developed during discovery. For that reason, Plaintiff argues there is no undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive in seeking the proposed amendment. Further, Plaintiff contends the proposed amendment would not result in any undue prejudice towards Defendants nor is the proposed amended complaint futile.

1. Undue Delay, Bad Faith, or Dilatory Motive

Plaintiff argues, in seeking to amend the pleadings, he has not proceeded with undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive. The facts giving rise to the additional cause of action and defendant, have only recently been disclosed to Plaintiff during discovery, which is still ongoing. Specifically, Plaintiff states the First Amendment retaliation claim arises from a recent encounter between Defendant Merriel and Plaintiff. ( See Motion to Amend; Docket Entry No. 48 at 2). Plaintiff contends that this threat/retaliation was directly related to the original complaint in this matter, which provides the legal basis for the proposed cause of action asserted in the proposed amendment. (Id.). Plaintiff cites to Rauser v. Horn, which held that "a First Amendment retaliation claim exists where a plaintiff engages in constitutionally-protected activity and the defendant takes an adverse action against plaintiff that is causally connected to that activity. Rauser v. Horn, 241 F.3d 330, 333 (3d Cir. 2001). Moreover, Plaintiff argues the retaliation claim will not impact any current deadlines because no additional discovery is required. Instead, Plaintiff can obtain all necessary information through the deposition of Defendant Merriel.

Similarly, Plaintiff argues the proposed addition of Commissioner Lanigan as a defendant is necessitated by recent developments in discovery. Therefore, Plaintiff has not proceeded with any undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive.

2. Undue Prejudice to Opposing Party

Plaintiff further argues amending the Complaint will not cause undue prejudice towards Defendants. Plaintiff states the issue of undue prejudice requires the Court to focus on the hardship to defendants if the amendment is permitted. Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001). "To establish prejudice, the non-moving party must make a showing that allowing the amended pleading would (1) require the non-moving party to expend significant additional resources to conduct discovery and prepare for trial, (2) significantly delay the resolution of the dispute, or (3) prevent a party from bringing a timely action in another jurisdiction. Carter v. Estate of George Baldwin Lewis, Jr., No. 08-1301, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128378 at *11.

Plaintiff contends Defendants will suffer no prejudice if Plaintiff's Motion to Amend is granted because Defendants will not be required to expend significant additional resources to conduct discovery for trial, nor does Plaintiff anticipate requesting additional written discovery from Commissioner Lanigan. ( See Motion to Amend; Docket Entry No. 48 at 5). Plaintiff only seeks to briefly depose Commissioner Lanigan on a narrow number of issues. Moreover, Plaintiff contends the proposed amendment will not delay the resolution of the matter since the additional count and additional defendant will not hamper the parties' ability to comply with the deadlines set by the Court's scheduling order. (Id.). Therefore, if granted, the proposed amended complaint will not unduly prejudice Defendants.

3. Futility

Lastly, Plaintiff argues the proposed amendments are not futile because (1) Plaintiff's retaliation claim has been plausibly pleaded, (2) Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged an Eighth Amendment claim against Commissioner Lanigan, and (3) Plaintiff's ...


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