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Shah v. Caesars Entertainment Corp.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 28, 2019

PETER I. SHAH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT CORP., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Zahid N. Quraishi United States Magistrate Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Peter I. Shah's ("Plaintiff) letter request to amend his Complaint and add 888 Holdings, PLC ("888 Holdings") as a defendant in this matter. (ECF No. 31.) Plaintiff initially filed his Letter Motion to Amend to add 888 Holdings on August 6, 2019 (the "Motion") (ECF No. 24), but withdrew the Motion in a subsequent letter on August 22, 2019 (ECF No. 30). During the telephonic status conference on August 26, 2019, Plaintiff indicated that he wished to revive the Motion. He filed his letter request that the Court grant him leave to amend on August 28, 2019, stating his withdrawal was "out of . . . frustration[.]" (ECF No. 31.) Defendants Caesars Entertainment Corporation ("Caesars") and Caesars Interactive Entertainment, LLC (collectively, "Defendants") opposed, and Plaintiff replied. (ECF Nos. 33, 36.) For the reasons detailed within this Memorandum Opinion, Plaintiffs revived Motion is granted. (ECF Nos. 24, 31.) The Court cautions Plaintiff that he will be required to adhere to a strict case management schedule concerning discovery relating to 888 Holdings.

         This is a diversity action in which Plaintiff alleges that Defendants engaged in a scheme to defraud online poker players by inserting fake players into the game and by unfairly manipulating the card draws. (PL's Compl., ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff claims that he devoted thousands of hours to playing poker on Defendants' "World Series of Poker" website, www.wsop.com, over a period of three years and that he has lost approximately $1, 500.00 while doing so. (Id.) Plaintiff also seeks to recover punitive damages. (Id.)

         II. PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         Plaintiff, in his initial Motion, seeks to add 888 Holdings because Caesars "indicated that their software program and algorithms on the [World Series of Poker] website is created, produced, and maintained by [888 Holdings]." (Mot. ¶ 1, ECF No. 24.) Plaintiff argues that for him to be able to prove his claims of fraud and manipulation against Defendants, he "need[s] to serve more subpoenas or depositions to [888 Holdings] employees, who actually understand the platform and the programming." (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff also contends that 888 Holdings is a necessary party.[1] (See id.)

         Defendants respond that Plaintiff's Motion should be evaluated under the standard for motions for reconsideration, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.l(i). (Defs.' Opp'n Br. 3-4, ECF No. 33.) Defendants contend that amendment of Plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 would be futile because it fails to comply with proper procedure, stating "[n]ot only is Plaintiff's [M]otion to add [888 Holdings] procedurally deficient and untimely, it is wholly substantively deficient as well." (Id. at 4.) Defendants assert that to permit Plaintiff to amend at this stage would cause them "undue prejudice." (Id.) They also argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a legal basis for his amendment, stating "[t]here are no substantive allegations of wrongdoing against [888 Holdings] nor are there any allegations of damages that Plaintiff has suffered as a result of 888's conduct." (Id. at 6-7.)

         Plaintiff replies that Defendants have denied him required discovery pertaining to 888 Holdings, and that when he has not faced outright denial, he has faced delays. (PL's Reply Br. ¶¶ 1-12, ECF No. 36.) Plaintiff states that Defendants did not notify him of their letter request for an extension of discovery deadlines filed August 21, 2019. (Defs.' Request for Modification of the Pretrial Scheduling Order, ECF No. 28.) He cites his frustration at the Court's subsequent Order granting Defendant's request as the cause that precipitated the withdrawal of his initial Motion. (PL's Request to Withdraw, ECF No. 30.) Plaintiff claims that his "frustrated withdrawal was not meant to be filed as [Plaintiff] had already informed the Court before filing of [his] intention to continue with [his M]otion to join 888 Holdings []." (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff claims it will be a "total injustice" to him and that he will "suffer irreparable harm" if he is not permitted to refile his Motion. (Id. ¶¶ 23-25.) Substantively, Plaintiff argues that "[888 Holdings] [owns], operates and serves [Caesars'] casino sites." (Id. ¶ 42.) He states that he has no interest in delay or ulterior motive. (Id. at 10.)

         Plaintiff also filed an untimely Proposed Amended Complaint three days after the filing deadline for his Reply had passed. (Proposed Am. CompL, ECF No. 37.) His amendment asserts nearly identical claims against 888 Holdings as the original Complaint asserts against Defendants. (Id.; PL's CompL, ECF No. 1.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         "A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The Third Circuit contemplates the additional role required by the Court in considering a pro se plaintiffs submissions, stating that "when presented with a pro se litigant, we 'have a special obligation to construe his complaint liberally.'" Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011). "Court personnel reviewing pro se pleadings are charged with the responsibility of deciphering why the submission was filed, what the litigant is seeking, and what claims [he] may be making." Id. at 340. "This task is particularly difficult because the submission may be rambling and illogical, if not completely illegible." Id. (citation omitted). Though "a trial judge is under no duty to provide personal instruction on courtroom procedure or to perform any legal 'chores' for the defendant that counsel would normally carry out," Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 697-68 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Martinez v. Court of Appeal of Cal, Fourth Appellate Dist., 528 U.S. 152, 162 (2000)), "we tend to be flexible when applying procedural rules to pro se litigants, especially when interpreting their pleadings." Id. (citing Higgs, 655 F.3d at 339). "This means that we are willing to apply the relevant legal principle even when the complaint has failed to name it." Id. (citing Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003)). The Court is under no obligation, however, to relax procedural rules entirely. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1980) ("[W]e have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel.").

         "[A] party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's consent or with the court's leave." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). "The court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Id.; see also Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 202 (3d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted) ("Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 embodies a liberal approach to pleading."). "This standard encompasses a broad range of equitable factors, including a party's delay in seeking leave to amend and any prejudice to the opposing party. Arthur, 434 F.3d at 203 (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). "Leave to amend must generally be granted unless equitable considerations render it otherwise unjust." Id. at 204 (citing Foman, 371 U.S. at 182). The Supreme Court has stated:

In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendment previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be "freely given[.]"

Foman, 371 U.S. at 182. "In the absence of substantial or undue prejudice, denial instead must be based on bad faith or dilatory motives, truly undue or unexplained delay, repeated failure to cure the deficiency by amendments previously allowed, or futility of amendment." Lorenz v. CSXCorp.,1 F.3d 1406, 1414 (3d Cir. 1993). "Delay alone is not sufficient to justify denial of leave to amend." Arthur, 434 F.3d at 204 (citing Adams v. Gould Inc.,739 F.2d 858, 868 (3d Cir. 1984)). New Jersey's Local Civil Rules impose additional procedural requirements, that "[u]pon filing of a motion for leave to file an amended complaint or answer ... the moving party shall attach ...


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