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Jorjani v. New Jersey Institute of Technology

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 26, 2019

JASON JORJANI, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW JERSEY INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, et al Defendants.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         This matter arises out of New Jersey Institute of Technology's decision not to renew Plaintiff Jason Jorjani's contract as a philosophy lecturer. The matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs motion to amend. ECF Nos. 17-18. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         The underlying facts of this matter are set forth in the Court's March 11, 2019 Opinion, familiarity with which is assumed. ECF No. 14. In short, in Fall 2017, Plaintiff Jason Jorjani ("Plaintiff) worked as a contracted philosophy lecturer at Defendant New Jersey Institute of Technology ("NJIT"). Plaintiff was surreptitiously recorded making statements regarding the future of European politics and other controversial topics. On September 19, 2017, the New York Times ("NYT") published an op-ed ("Op-Ed") containing an edited version of the recorded conversation ("Recording").

         After viewing the Op-Ed and Recording-and allegedly knowing it was heavily edited-Defendants Joel S. Bloom (President of NJIT) and Kevin J. Belfield (Dean of the NJIT College of Science and Liberal Arts) sent a faculty- and staff-wide email condemning the views expressed in the Recording ("B&B Email"). Five days later, NJIT suspended Plaintiff and launched an investigation. Over the next several weeks, Defendants Gareth J. Russel (Chair of the NJIT Biology Department), Andrew Klobucar (Chair of the NJIT Biology Department), and Neil J. Maher (Chairman of the NJIT Federated Department of History) (collectively, "Individual Defendants" and with NJIT, "Defendants") made statements condemning the views expressed in the Recording and described in the Op-Ed (with the B&B Email, "Statements"). On February 13, 2018, Plaintiff learned his employment contract would not be extended beyond the 2017-2018 school year.

         Plaintiff filed suit complaining of First-Amendment retaliation by NJIT and defamation by the Individual Defendants based on the Statements. Defendants moved to dismiss the defamation counts with prejudice pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(6). ECF No. 9. On March 11, 2019, the Court granted Defendants' motion except that those counts dismissed for lack of malice could be replead. ECF Nos. 14-15.

         On April 8, 2019, Plaintiff filed the present motion (1) informing the Court that Plaintiff would not replead the defamation counts but (2) seeking leave to add causes of action for (a) conspiracy to violate First Amendment rights and (b) tortious interference with a contract and prospective economic advantage. Mot, ECF No. 17-2 ¶¶ 6-7.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendants oppose Plaintiffs motion to amend, arguing the proposed claims are futile. Opp., ECF No. 21. Plaintiff disagrees. See Reply, ECF No. 22.

         A. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) governs motions to amend. At this stage, "a party may amend its pleadings only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Leave to amend is generally granted unless there is: (1) undue delay or prejudice; (2) bad faith; (3) dilatory motive; (4) failure to cure deficiencies through previous amendment; or (5) futility. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). The ultimate decision to grant or deny leave is in the court's discretion. See, e.g., Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 330 (1970).

         The futility analysis on a motion to amend is essentially the same as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See In re NAHQ Inc. Sec. Litig, 306 F.3d 1314, 1332 (3d Cir. 2002). The proposed amended claim "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         B. Conspiracy to Violate Plaintiffs Civil Rights (Proposed Count Two)

         In the proposed second count, Plaintiff alleges Defendants Bloom and Belfield "conspired together and with others, and reached a mutual understanding to engage in a course of conduct, to deprive Plaintiff of... his right[s] to free association and free speech." Proposed Amended Complaint ("PAC") ¶ 63, ECF No. 17-3. Overt acts include Bloom and Belfield's September 20, 2017 email ...


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