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Ruiz v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

July 25, 2017



          JOEL SCHNEIDER United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint. [Doc. No. 44]. The Court received defendants' response [Doc. No. 50], plaintiff's reply [Doc. No. 52], and held oral argument on July 24, 2017. For the reasons to be discussed, plaintiff's motion will be GRANTED.


         The background facts are fairly straightforward though potentially explosive. On April 12, 2013, plaintiff was an inmate at Bayside State Prison. The focus of plaintiff's complaint was that Corrections Officers (“C.O.”) Stretch and McCabe beat him up and maced him for no reason, resulting in serious injuries. On March 25, 2015, plaintiff filed suit in state court naming as defendants the New Jersey Department of Corrections, Bayside State Prison, C.O. Stretch, C.O. McCabe and John and Jane Does. The case was removed to federal court on May 13, 2015.

         After the Honorable Robert B. Kugler granted and denied in part defendants' motion to dismiss, the Fed.R.Civ.P. 16 Scheduling Conference was held on August 31, 2016. The resulting Scheduling Order set an October 31, 2016 date to amend pleadings. The deadline was later extended to February 15, 2017. On March 22, 2017, plaintiff took the depositions of C.O.'s Togno and Arrowood. These officers essentially testified to the “party line” that plaintiff was subdued after he assaulted C.O. McCabe. C.O. Reeves was deposed on April 12, 2017. Her testimony confirmed part of her written statement that plaintiff first assaulted McCabe. After Reeves' deposition, however, she allegedly told plaintiff's counsel off the record that her testimony was not truthful. Reeves allegedly stated that plaintiff was set up to be beaten by several correction officers, and that Stretch punched McCabe in the face to make it look like McCabe was injured by plaintiff. On May 4, 2017 [Doc. No. 42], the Court granted plaintiff leave to re-depose Reeves. At her second deposition on May 19, 2017, Reeves did not answer any substantive questions and asserted the Fifth Amendment. Plaintiff filed the instant motion shortly thereafter on June 9, 2017.

         Plaintiff's motion seeks leave to amend his complaint to add defendants C.O.'s Manning, Togno, Arrowood, Ryan, Reeves, Gribble and Weldon, and Internal Affairs Investigators Hepner and Soltese. The gravamen of plaintiff's amendment is that the C.O.s engaged in a conspiracy to attack plaintiff and then with the aid of their supervisors and investigators, covered up the events and conspired to accuse plaintiff of instigating an assault warranting the use of excessive force. Plaintiff's Brief (“PB”) at 1. Plaintiff alleges the named C.O.'s covered up their conspiracy by falsely claiming that plaintiff first struck C.O. McCabe requiring that plaintiff be subdued. Plaintiff alleges Stretch hit McCabe in the face to make it appear McCabe was struck by plaintiff.

         Defendants oppose plaintiff's motion arguing it is late, plaintiff cannot establish good cause for his undue delay, defendants and the new parties will be prejudiced by the amendment, and the amendment is futile because it is barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiff counters that at all relevant times he acted diligently and that he promptly moved to amend after receiving sufficient information to name the new individual defendants. Plaintiff also argues joinder is proper under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 (c)(1) and 16 (b)(4), and in conformance with N.J.R. 4:26-4. Therefore, plaintiff argues, the proposed amendment is not barred by the statute of limitations.


         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a), leave to amend pleadings “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Leave shall be freely given in the absence of undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies in previous amendments, undue prejudice or futility of the amendment. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); see also Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000). “[A]bsent undue or substantial prejudice, an amendment should be allowed under Rule 15(a) unless ‘denial [can] be grounded in bad faith or dilatory motive, truly undue or unexplained delay, repeated failure to cure deficiency by amendments previously allowed or futility of amendment.'” Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004)(emphasis in original) (quoting Lundy v. Adamar of New Jersey, Inc., 34 F.3d 1173, 1196 (3d Cir. 1994)). An amendment sought pursuant to Rule 15(a) shall be permitted unless it would be inequitable or futile. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002).[1]

         Further, since plaintiff's motion was filed after the Court's February 15, 2017 deadline to amend pleadings, plaintiff must satisfy the standard set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(1)(B). This rule provides that when an act may or must be done in a specified time the Court may, for good cause, extend the time on motion made after the time has expired if the party failed to act because of “excusable neglect.” In determining whether a party has demonstrated excusable neglect the Court must consider the following five factors:

1) whether the inadvertence reflected professional incompetence such as ignorance of rules of procedure, 2) whether an asserted inadvertence reflects an easily manufactured excuse incapable of verification by the court, 3) counsel's failure to provide for a readily foreseeable consequence, 4) a complete lack of diligence, or 5) whether the inadvertence resulted despite counsel's substantial good faith efforts towards compliance.

Dominic v. Hess Oil V.I. Corp., 841 F.2d 513, 517 (3d Cir. 1988). The Supreme Court has explained that the “excusable neglect” inquiry is “at bottom an equitable one, taking account of all relevant circumstances surrounding the party's omission, ” including, “the danger of prejudice to the [other party], the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, the reason for the delay, including whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant, and whether the movant acted in good faith.” Pioneer Inv. Serv. Co. v. Brunswick Assoc. Ltd. Partnership, 507 U.S. 380, 395 (1993).

         1. Good Cause, Undue Delay and Excusable Neglect

         For the reasons to be discussed, the Court finds there is good cause to grant plaintiff's amendment, the amendment was not unduly delayed, and plaintiff has established excusable neglect for why his motion was not filed earlier. It is not remarkable that plaintiff could not identify the names of all the persons who participated in his alleged assault, conspiracy and cover-up when he filed his complaint. This sort of information is not easily retrievable. On the rare occasions when ...

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