Yates v. West Contra Costa Unified School District

Filing 58

ORDER by Judge Maria-Elena James granting 50 Motion to Amend/Correct; Second Amended Complaint is filed at Dkt. No. 52 ; Plaintiff need not re-file Second Amended Complaint; Defendant's responsive pleading is due 2/2/2017. (mejlc3, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 1/5/2017) (Additional attachment(s) added on 1/5/2017: # 1 Certificate/Proof of Service) (rmm2S, COURT STAFF).

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 FERNANDO YATES, Case No. 16-cv-01077-MEJ Plaintiff, 8 ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT v. 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 WEST CONTRA COSTA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Re: Dkt. No. 50 Defendant. 12 INTRODUCTION 13 Pro se Plaintiff Fernando Yates (“Plaintiff”) requests leave to file a Second Amended 14 Complaint (“SAC”). Mot., Dkt. No. 50; see Proposed SAC, Dkt. No. 52. In the Proposed SAC, 15 Plaintiff includes additional factual allegations to support his claim for disability discrimination 16 under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. See id. 17 Defendant West Contra Costa Unified School District (“Defendant”) filed an Opposition. See 18 Opp’n, Dkt. No. 54. Plaintiff filed a Reply, which he styled as a second motion to amend. See 19 Reply, Dkt. No. 56. 20 The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without oral argument and VACATES 21 the January 26, 2017 hearing. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). Having considered the 22 parties’ positions, relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS 23 Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend the Pleadings for the following reasons. 24 25 BACKGROUND Plaintiff worked as a teacher in one of Defendant’s schools. He alleges Defendant 26 discriminated against him on the basis of his deafness, and because it perceived him as having a 27 physical or mental impairment after he had brain surgery. First Am. Compl. (“FAC”) ¶¶ 17-23, 28 Dkt. No. 25. Plaintiff also alleges Defendant retaliated against him after he objected to being demoted due to his disability. Id. ¶¶ 24-28. Plaintiff now seeks to add factual allegations that 2 primarily pertain to an October 2014 request for accommodation, namely, a request to arrange his 3 classroom to provide more space between himself and his students. See Mot. at 3-4; Proposed 4 SAC ¶ 10; see also Opp’n at 5-6 (describing proposed revisions). Plaintiff asked Defendant to 5 stipulate to the filing of the SAC. See Mot. at 3-4. Defendant agreed to do so, on the condition 6 Plaintiff remove from the Proposed SAC the same request for punitive damages that exists in the 7 operative complaint. See Opp’n at 2; Decl. of T. Murphy (“Murphy Decl.”) ¶ 9, Dkt. No. 54-1; 8 see FAC at 4 (Demand for Relief). Defendant explained punitive damages are not recoverable 9 against a public entity, and that it would be forced to move to strike the request if Plaintiff filed 10 the Proposed SAC as written. Murphy Decl., Ex. C. Plaintiff declined to remove the request for 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 punitive damages because Defendant had not previously objected to it. Id.. ¶ 10 & Ex. C. As a 12 result, Defendant declined to stipulate to the filing of the SAC, and Plaintiff filed the present 13 Motion. 14 LEGAL STANDARD 15 A party may amend his pleading once as a matter of course within (1) 21 days after serving 16 the pleading or (2) 21 days after the earlier of service of a responsive pleading or service of a Rule 17 12(b) motion. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). Outside of this timeframe, “a party may amend its 18 pleading only with the opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave,” though the court 19 “should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). “Although the rule 20 should be interpreted with ‘extreme liberality,’ leave to amend is not to be granted automatically.” 21 Jackson v. Bank of Hawaii, 902 F.2d 1385, 1387 (9th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). Plaintiff 22 moves for leave to amend pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2). 23 A court considers five factors in determining whether to grant leave to amend: “(1) bad 24 faith, (2) undue delay, (3) prejudice to the opposing party, (4) futility of amendment; and (5) 25 whether plaintiff has previously amended his complaint.” In re W. States Wholesale Nat. Gas 26 Antitrust Litig., 715 F.3d 716, 738 (9th Cir. 2013) (quotation omitted). “Not all of the factors 27 merit equal weight. As this circuit and others have held, it is the consideration of prejudice to the 28 opposing party that carries the greatest weight. Prejudice is the touchstone of the inquiry under 2 1 Rule 15(a).” Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) 2 (citation omitted). “Absent prejudice, or a strong showing of any of the remaining [] factors, there 3 exists a presumption under Rule 15(a) in favor of granting leave to amend.” Id. at 1052 (emphasis 4 in original). “Denials of motions for leave to amend have been reversed when lacking a 5 contemporaneous specific finding by the district court of prejudice to the opposing party, bad faith 6 by the moving party, or futility of amendment.” DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 7 186-87 (9th Cir. 1987). DISCUSSION 8 9 A. Bad Faith Bad faith may be shown when a party seeks to amend late in the litigation process with 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 claims which were, or should have been, apparent early. Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 846 (9th 12 Cir. 1995). Defendant does not argue, nor does the Court find any suggestion, that Plaintiff has 13 acted in bad faith. 14 B. 15 Undue Delay “[D]elay alone no matter how lengthy is an insufficient ground for denial of leave to 16 amend.” United States v. Webb, 665 F.2d 977, 980 (9th Cir. 1981); see also Morongo Band of 17 Mission Indians v. Rose, 893 F.2d 1074, 1079 (9th Cir. 1990). However, undue delay combined 18 with other factors may warrant denial of leave to amend. See, e.g., Jackson, 902 F.2d at 1387-89 19 (holding that prejudice and undue delay are sufficient to deny leave to amend); Morongo Band of 20 Mission Indians, 893 F.2d at 1079 (“delay of nearly two years, while not alone enough to support 21 denial, is nevertheless relevant”). 22 A moving party’s inability to sufficiently explain its delay may indicate that the delay was 23 undue. Jackson, 902 F.2d at 1388. Whether the moving party knew or should have known the 24 facts and theories raised in the proposed amendment at the time it filed its original pleadings is a 25 relevant consideration in assessing untimeliness. Id. “[L]ate amendments to assert new theories 26 are not reviewed favorably when the facts and the theory have been known to the party seeking 27 amendment since the inception of the cause of action.” Acri v. Int’l Ass’n of Machinists & 28 Aerospace Workers, 781 F.2d 1393, 1398 (9th Cir. 1986). “At some point, . . . a party may not 3 1 respond to an adverse ruling by claiming that another theory not previously advanced provides a 2 possible [ground] for relief and should be considered.” Ascon Prop., Inc. v. Mobil Oil Co., 866 3 F.2d 1149, 1161 (9th Cir. 1989) (quotation marks omitted). Defendant argues that Plaintiff knew the facts he now seeks to use to amend the pleadings 4 no later than October 2014, when he participated in a conversation with his employer, and that 6 Plaintiff has not explained the reason for his delay. See Opp’n at 7. Plaintiff explains “this claim 7 that [the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] investigated I did not realize that it was 8 part of my Complaint until October 2016. As soon as I realized I sent an email to Defendant’s 9 counsel” to seek his agreement to amend the operative complaint. Mot. at 4. The failure to earlier 10 assert a failure to accommodate claim might constitute undue delay if Plaintiff was represented by 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 5 counsel, but he is representing himself. See Judan v. Wells Fargo Bank, 2016 WL 4411817, at *1 12 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 19, 2016) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (pro se pleadings 13 are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”)). Under these 14 circumstances, the Court cannot find Plaintiff’s failure to include these allegations earlier 15 constitutes undue delay. 16 C. 17 Prejudice to the Opposing Party “The party opposing amendment bears the burden of showing prejudice.” DCD Programs, 18 833 F.2d at 187. “A need to reopen discovery and therefore delay the proceedings supports a 19 district court’s finding of prejudice from a delayed motion to amend the complaint.” Lockheed 20 Martin Corp. v. Network Solutions, 194 F.3d 980, 986 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing Solomon v. North 21 Am. Life & Cas. Ins. Co., 151 F.3d 1132, 1139 (9th Cir. 1998)). However, “[n]either delay 22 resulting from the proposed amendment nor the prospect of additional discovery needed by the 23 non-moving party in itself constitutes a sufficient showing of prejudice.” Tyco Thermal Controls 24 LLC v. Redwood Indus., 2009 WL 4907512, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 14, 2009). 25 Defendant argues it will be prejudiced because it will incur the “expense for filing a 26 responsive pleading to the amended pleading . . . and the need for additional discovery.” Opp’n at 27 8; see also Murphy Decl. ¶ 11 & Ex. C (additional expenses required to respond to Plaintiff’s 28 request for legally-unavailable punitive damages). Defendant further argues the proposed 4 1 amendments and the necessary discovery will unduly delay the proceedings. Id. These arguments 2 are insufficient to show Defendant will suffer “substantial” prejudice as a result of the proposed 3 amendment. SeeTyco Thermal Controls, 2009 WL 4907512, at *3. The lack of substantial 4 prejudice is underscored by the fact the Court-imposed deadline for amending the pleadings has 5 not yet expired, the discovery cut-off is May 23, 2017, and Defendant’s deadline for filing a 6 dispositive motion is not until June 22, 2017. See Case Mgmt. Order at 2, Dkt. No. 41. Defendant 7 thus has sufficient time to conduct any additional discovery. The Court finds that any prejudice to 8 Defendant is minimal. 9 D. Futility of Amendment “A motion for leave to amend may be denied if it appears to be futile or legally 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 insufficient. However, a proposed amendment is futile only if no set of facts can be proved under 12 the amendment to the pleadings that would constitute a valid and sufficient claim[.]” Miller v. 13 Rykoff-Sexton, Inc., 845 F.2d 209, 214 (9th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). While Defendant 14 argues Plaintiff’s “purported disability has nothing to do with the fact that he separated from 15 employment with the school district” and that discovery taken to date demonstrates Plaintiff 16 resigned after being directed to return to the classroom (Opp’n at 6), Defendant does not 17 demonstrate Plaintiff’s proposed amendments would be futile. Defendant argues punitive damages are not recoverable against a public entity (Opp’n at 2) 18 19 and asks the Court to order “that any amended complaint not contain a prayer for punitive 20 damages” (id. at 8). If Plaintiff were moving to amend the complaint to add a request for punitive 21 damages, Defendant’s request might be well-taken on the ground such an amendment would be 22 futile. But Plaintiff included a request for punitive damages in his earlier pleading. See FAC, 23 Demand for Relief. Defendant responded to that pleading without addressing the request for 24 punitive damages. Answer, Dkt. No. 26. To the extent Defendant finds it necessary to address 25 Plaintiff’s request for punitive damages at the pleading stage, it may do so by moving to strike that 26 portion of the SAC. 27 E. 28 Previous Amendments Courts have broader discretion in denying motions for leave to amend after leave to amend 5 1 has already been granted. Chodos v. West Publ’g Co., 292 F.3d 992, 1003 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing 2 Griggs v. Pace Am. Grp., Inc., 170 F.3d 877, 879 (9th Cir. 1999). In Chodos, the Ninth Circuit 3 affirmed the district court’s denial of leave to amend when the party knew of the factual basis for 4 the amendment prior to a previous amendment. 292 F.3d at 1003. Further, a party that contends it 5 learned “new” facts to support a claim should not assert a claim that it could have pleaded in 6 previous pleadings. Edwards Lifesciences LLC v. Cook Inc., 2008 WL 913328, at *3 (N.D. Cal. 7 Apr. 2, 2008) (citing Chodos, 292 F.3d at 1003). Plaintiff has previously amended his complaint. As discussed above, Plaintiff knew the 8 9 factual basis for the amendment no later than October 2014, but did not understand the legal import of the facts until recently. For the same reason the Court declined to find undue delay, the 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Court declines to find that the prior amendment, under the circumstances of this case, precludes 12 Plaintiff’s request to file the Proposed SAC. 13 F. Defendant’s Additional Arguments 14 In its Opposition, Defendant argues the Proposed SAC does not conform with the 15 applicable local rules because it is not accompanied by a proposed order, and is not on paper with 16 numbered lines. Opp’n at 4. Plaintiff submitted a proposed order with his Reply. See Reply at 1. 17 The Court will not deny the Motion simply because this pro se party did not use the correct 18 numbered lines. Defendant also contends Plaintiff’s failure to provide the required factual and 19 legal support for his motion to amend prejudices Defendant. Opp’n at 4-5. The Court finds 20 Plaintiff sufficiently states the legal and factual bases for adding a failure to accommodate claim 21 under the ADA. Finally, if the Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend, Defendant asks the Court to 22 (1) order Plaintiff to pay all costs Defendant incurred as a result of the delay, and (2) limit the 23 proposed amendment to minimize prejudice to only those allegations that bear on legal theories 24 asserted. Opp’n at 8. The Court denies these requests: Plaintiff’s amendment is discrete and 25 timely, and any prejudice to Defendant is minimal and can be cured by additional discovery. 26 27 28 CONCLUSION Because the Court finds no bad faith and no undue delay on Plaintiff’s part; only minimal prejudice to Defendant; and no indication the proposed amendment would be futile, the Court 6 1 GRANTS Plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend. The Proposed SAC will become the operative 2 complaint; Plaintiff need not re-file the document. Defendant shall respond to the SAC no later 3 than February 2, 2017 4 IT IS SO ORDERED. 5 6 7 8 Dated: January 5, 2017 ______________________________________ MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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