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Kindercare Education LLC v. New Jersey Fire Equipment

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 25, 2019

KINDERCARE EDUCATION LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW JERESY FIRE EQUIPMENT, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND THE COMPLAINT [D.E. 99]

          STEVEN C. MANNION, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's, Kindercare Education LLC's (“Kindercare”), informal motion to file a third amended complaint.[1] Defendant, New Jersey Fire Equipment LLC (“NJ Fire”), opposed the motion, [2] and Kindercare replied.[3] Defendant, Rapid Response Monitoring, Inc. (“Rapid Response”), neither consented to nor opposed the motion. The Court has reviewed the parties' respective submissions, heard oral argument on March 11, 2019, and for the reasons set forth herein, Kindercare's motion to file an amended complaint is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[4]

         This action stems from an electrical fire that occurred at Kindercare's New Jersey center on September 16, 2014.[5] Kindercare alleges that N.J. Fire and Rapid Response (“the Defendants”), are “responsible” for the fire, and alleges claims of breach of contract, breach of warranty, and negligence against Defendants.[6]

         According to the complaint, Kindercare hired and paid N.J. Fire to perform various services at the Center including monitoring, installation, testing, maintenance and repair of the fire suppression system, as well as installation of a radio communicator. N.J. Fire was responsible for ensuring that the Center's alarm system was communicating with the central monitoring station, but failed to correctly install the wireless communicator and discover that the wireless communicator was loose, damaged, and/or disconnected.

         Rapid Response, the other defendant, entered into a written contract with Kindercare to provide electronic security and fire alarm monitoring services. Rapid Response was responsible for alerting the police and/or fire department if and when alarms were triggered, but allegedly failed to alert the fire department of any signals received as a result of the fire. Kindercare alleges that Rapid Response failed to ensure that the integrated fire suppression system was operating properly.

         Kindercare filed its original complaint in this Court on July 12, 2016 and amended the complaint on November 16, 2016.[7] On June 7, 2017, Kindercare amended its complaint again to add Rapid Response as a defendant.[8] On September 27, 2018, the Court set an October 13, 2018 deadline for responding to written discovery requests, a January 15, 2019 deadline for completing fact depositions, and an October 16, 2018 deadline for Plaintiff to request leave to amend its complaint if the parties were unable to agree to a proposed amended complaint.[9]

         Kindercare requested leave to file a third amended complaint on October 18, 2018.[10] The proposed amended complaint contains new factual allegations and two new claims, one for negligence per se and the other for punitive damages.[11] For its negligence per se claim, Kindercare seeks to add claims that the integrated fire suppression system at its Center was not properly designed, installed, programmed, inspected and maintained by all the Defendants, in accordance with various state statutes and nationally recognized industry standards.[12] Kindercare alleges that as a result of Defendants' negligence, the fire alarm signal was not transmitted properly and not detected by Rapid Response. For its punitive damages claim, Kindercare alleges that the acts and omissions of defendants were malicious and in wanton and willful disregard of the consequences of the acts and omission.[13]

         II. MAGISTRATE JUDGE AUTHORITY

         Magistrate judges have the authority to decide any non-dispositive motion designated by the Court.[14] This District has specified that magistrate judges may determine any non-dispositive pre-trial motion.[15] Motions to amend are non-dispositive.[16] Decisions by magistrate judges must be upheld unless “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.”[17]

         III. DISCUSSION & ANALYSIS

         The threshold inquiry in deciding a motion to amend is whether the motion was filed within the deadline set by the scheduling order.[18] If the motion is not filed within the deadline, “Rule 16 requires a moving party to demonstrate good cause for its failure to comply with the scheduling order before the trial court can consider, under Rule 15(a), the party's motion to amend its pleading.”[19] Whether good cause exists turns on the diligence of the moving party.[20]A Rule 16 “good cause” analysis is unnecessary where a party moved to amend its pleading within the scheduling order deadline.[21]

         Kindercare filed its request for leave to amend on October 18, 2018, two days after the scheduling order deadline. Although Kindercare's request was filed two days late, the Court will only conduct a Rule 15 analysis, because Kindercare's failure to meet the scheduling order deadline by a few days does not alter its inability to overcome its Rule 15 issues of futility with respect to the punitive damages and negligence per se counts.

         Rule 15 represents a “liberal approach to the amendment of pleadings” in that it aims to “ensure that … claim[s are] … decided on the merits rather than on technicalities.”[22] The rule does, however, authorize the Court to deny a party leave to amend its pleading in certain instances; namely, “where … [it] finds: (1) undue delay; (2) undue prejudice to the non-moving party; (3) bad faith or dilatory motive; or (4) futility of amendment.”[23] “The burden is generally on the party opposing the amendment to demonstrate why the amendment should not be permitted.”[24] To determine futility, the Court employs the standard applied to Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, asking whether the complaint sets forth “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[25]

         The Court denies Kindercare's request to amend to add a count of negligence per se because it finds the claim would be futile. “Violation of a statute or regulation may provide the basis for negligence per se when the following three elements are present: ‘1) the statute or regulation must clearly apply to the conduct of the defendant; 2) the defendant must violate the statute or regulation; and 3) the violation of the statute must proximately cause the plaintiff's injuries.'”[26] “The concept of negligence per se allows a litigant, and ultimately a court, to invoke a statute to supply elements of a negligence claim (e.g. duty and breach), when a defendant violates a statute that is designed to prevent the particular harm at issue and meets other applicable criteria.”[27]

         Kindercare's claim for negligence per se is a tort-based claim barred by the economic loss doctrine. “The economic loss doctrine prohibits plaintiffs from recovering in tort economic losses to which their entitlement only flows from a contract.”[28] Here, Kindercare's claims against Defendants are based on its contractual relationship with its service providers, Defendants N.J. Fire and Rapid Response. Because Kindercare has already asserted breach of contract and breach of warranty claims against N.J. Fire and Rapid Response for failing to ensure that their services were provided professionally and in accordance with industry standards, Kindercare's tort claim of negligence per se against Defendants would be barred as a matter of law by the economic loss doctrine. Therefore, the Court finds that the negligence per se claim would be futile.

         The Court finds Kindercare's proposed punitive damages claim to be futile as well. “Under New Jersey law, breaches of contract, even if intentionally committed, do not warrant an award of punitive damages in the absence of a showing that defendant also breached a duty independent of that created by the contract.”[29] As explained earlier, Kindercare has alleged breach of contract and breach of warranty claims against Defendants. Kindercare alleges that it contracted with Defendants to provide services and that Defendants failed to provide these services in a professional manner. Kindercare does not allege that ...


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