BAKER et al v. UNITED STATES MARSHAL SERVICE et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 10/8/2014. (drw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ELLA BAKER, et al.,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 12-494 (JBS/JS)
UNITED STATES MARSHAL SERVICE,
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs Ella
Baker, Benjamin Frye, Tattyana Baker, Rayion Baker’s appeal
[Docket Item 62] of Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider’s August 21,
2014 Order [Docket Item 58] denying Plaintiffs’ motion for leave
to file a third amended complaint. The Court will affirm the
August 21, 2014 Order because it was neither clearly erroneous
nor an abuse of discretion. The Court finds as follows:
This action arises from two allegedly unlawful
searches of Plaintiffs’ home on November 5 and November 24,
2010. Plaintiffs claim that on November 24, 2010, while
searching for an armed fugitive, Anthony Fontanez, members of
the United States Marshals Service entered Plaintiffs’ house
with their guns raised, ordered Ella Baker to leave the house,
put guns to the heads of ten year-old Rayion Baker and Tattyana
Baker, threatened to kill Rayion Baker, handcuffed Benjamin
Frye, and questioned all Plaintiffs for over two hours.
Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint on January
26, 2012, naming as defendants the United States Department of
Justice and the United States Marshal Service. [Docket Item 1.]
Plaintiffs alleged violations of the Federal Tort Claims Act
(“FTCA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 42 U.S.C. § 1985, as well as the
Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States
Constitution. On November 6, 2012, Plaintiffs filed an Amended
Complaint [Docket Item 10] naming the United States of America,
the City of Camden (“the City”), Chief of Police John Scott
Thompson, and various John Does as defendants, thereby
eliminating the United States Department of Justice and the
United States Marshal Service as parties. On January 17, 2013,
the Court dismissed all claims against the United States.
[Docket Items 21 & 22.] Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended
Complaint [Docket Item 23] on February 15, 2013 asserting claims
under the FTCA, state tort law, the United States and New Jersey
constitutions, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 42 U.S.C. § 1985. The Court
again dismissed all claims against the United States for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction on July 15, 2013. [Docket Items 34 &
35.] As such, the City of Camden and Chief of Police Thompson
are the only remaining named defendants.1
On June 16, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave
to file a third amended complaint [Docket Item 51], which
Defendants opposed [Docket Item 52.] Principally, Plaintiffs’
proposed third amended complaint sought to add Lt. Pasqual
Gianinni as a defendant in his individual capacity as leader of
the Camden Police SWAT team that entered Plaintiffs’ house on
November 24, 2010. By Order entered August 21, 2014, Judge
Schneider denied Plaintiffs’ motion. [Docket Item 58.]
Judge Schneider found that Rule 16 governed
Plaintiffs’ motion because it was filed on June 16, 2014 “well
after” the September 14, 2013 deadline to move to amend
pleadings. Judge Schneider concluded that Plaintiffs failed to
show good cause for their untimely filing because they were not
reasonably diligent in identifying the individuals who entered
Plaintiffs’ home and it took two and a half years for Plaintiffs
to move to join the leader of the SWAT team. Judge Schneider
noted that Gianinni was identified as a relevant witness in the
City’s April 30, 2013 Rule 26 disclosures and he certified the
City’s answers to interrogatories on August 8, 2013. Yet, it was
The Second Amended Complaint names two groups of John Doe
officers. John Does I-II designate unidentified members of the
United States Marshals Service. John Does III-X designate
unidentified members of the Camden Police Department.
not until almost eight months later, on April 3, 2014 that
Plaintiffs deposed Gianinni, and indeed, over two months
thereafter, that Plaintiffs sought to join him as a defendant.
Judge Schneider found that Plaintiffs would fail even under the
more lenient Rule 15 standard because they caused undue delay
that would result in substantial prejudice to Defendants and
Gianinni if Plaintiffs’ motion were granted.
Plaintiffs argue that they showed good cause under
Rule 16 and that their delay in moving to amend the pleadings
does not constitute a lack of diligence under Rule 15.
Plaintiffs emphasize that they did not receive the City’s
answers to interrogatories until October, 2013, after the
deadline for amendments had passed. Plaintiffs explain the delay
in deposing Gianinni by noting the practice of deposing
Plaintiffs first, as well as persistent scheduling issues.
Plaintiffs contend that consideration of their diligence should
focus on the period after Gianinni was deposed. Plaintiffs
further argue that Defendants and Gianinni would not be
prejudiced if their motion were granted because the proposed
third amended complaint contains no new facts or theories and
Gianinni has already participated in the discovery process.
Finally, Plaintiffs contend that Judge Schneider held Plaintiffs
to a standard of reasonable investigation that is inconsistent
with Rule 11.
Defendants respond that the proposed amendment would
cause prejudice to Defendants and Gianinni because the
allegations therein assert that members of the Camden SWAT team
committed the acts previously ascribed to the U.S. Marshals,
thus requiring additional discovery at this late juncture.
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have failed to show good cause
for their delay in moving to amend the pleadings nearly one year
after Gianinni was identified as a relevant witness and sixmonths after answers to interrogatories were served. Defendants
contend that, because the proposed amended complaint asserts the
new theory that Gianinni was personally liable for the
misconduct alleged, he was not on notice as to Plaintiffs’
claims and thus the proposed amended complaint cannot relate
back to the date of original filing. As such, the statute of
limitations has expired as to Ella Baker and Benjamin Frye.
Defendants also argue that amendment would be futile because
there is no evidence that Gianinni was personally involved in
the allegedly wrongful conduct.
When a magistrate judge decides a non-dispositive
motion, the “district court may modify the magistrate’s order
only if the district court finds that the magistrate’s ruling
was clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Cipollone v. Liggett
Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1120 (3d Cir. 1986); see also L.
Civ. R. 72.1(c)(A)(1) (“A Judge shall consider the appeal . . .
and set aside any portion of the Magistrate Judge’s order found
to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law.”).
A Magistrate Judge’s finding is clearly erroneous when
“although there may be some evidence to support it, the
reviewing court, after considering the entirety of the evidence,
is ‘left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake
has been committed.’” Kounelis v. Sherrer, 529 F. Supp. 2d 503,
518 (D.N.J. 2008) (quoting Dome Petroleum Ltd. v. Emp’rs Mut.
Liab. Ins. Co., 131 F.R.D. 63, 65 (D.N.J. 1990); United States
v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). A ruling is
contrary to law if “the magistrate judge has misinterpreted or
misapplied applicable law.” Id. Where a Magistrate Judge “is
authorized to exercise his or her discretion, the decision will
be reversed only for an abuse of discretion.” Id.
Judge Schneider correctly identified and applied the
relevant legal rules. Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure provides that a party may amend a pleading as a matter
of course under certain circumstances, but otherwise must obtain
the opposing party’s consent or the court’s leave. Fed. R. Civ.
P. 15. The Rule provides that when leave is required, “[t]he
court should freely give leave when justice so requires,” which
has been interpreted to mean that amendment should be permitted
when it will not prejudice defendants. Id.; Lorenz v. CSX Corp.,
1 F.3d 1406, 1414 (3d Cir. 1993) (“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
failures to cure the deficiency by amendments previously
allowed, or futility of amendment.”).
Rule 16 empowers the Court to issue scheduling orders,
which must be followed unless good cause is shown for altering
them. See Dimensional Commc’ns, Inc. v. OZ Optics, Ltd., 148 F.
App’x 82, 85 (3d Cir. 2005). A court is required to set a
deadline for motions to amend or to join new parties, see Rule
16(b)(3)(A), and Judge Schneider set a reasonable deadline of
September 13, 2013. “In determining whether ‘good cause’ exists,
courts generally consider the diligence of the party seeking the
modification of the scheduling order.” Duran v. Merline, 923 F.
Supp. 2d 702, 732 (D.N.J. 2013). “[T]he Rule 16(b) standard
controls any decisions to alter a scheduling order for purposes
of making pleading amendments and it must be satisfied before
determining whether an amendment should be permitted under Rule
15.” 6A Wright, Miller, & Kane, et al., Fed. Prac. & Proc. §
1522.2 (collecting cases).
The Magistrate Judge has the primary responsibility
for case management and non-dispositive motions, including
discovery motions, in civil cases in this Court. L. Civ. R.
72.1(a)(1), (3). Thus, this Court maximizes the use of
Magistrate Judges in civil case management. In the present case,
as is overwhelmingly typical in most civil cases, Judge
Schneider has convened the initial conference under Rule 16,
Fed. R. Civ. P. and L. Civ. R. 16.1, as well as subsequent
conferences in person and by telephone directed to case
management and discovery concerns. [See, e.g., Docket Items 29,
32, 33, 36, 37, 39, 40, 42, 43, 45, 48, 50, 57, 58.] When the
Magistrate Judge has acquired such detailed knowledge of the
case, especially high deference to case management
determinations is warranted.
In the present case, Judge Schneider’s denial of
Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a third amended complaint
was neither clearly erroneous nor an abuse of discretion.
Beginning with Rule 16, Judge Schneider reasonably concluded
that Plaintiffs failed to show good cause to alter the September
13, 2013 deadline for amending pleadings. Plaintiffs were not
diligent in their efforts to identify members of the SWAT team
who entered their home despite knowing from the outset that
their identities were integral to their claims. Although the
Court is mindful of the apparent difficulties in identifying
these members, Gianinni’s identity, if not his role, was evident
months before the expiration of the amendment period. Gianinni
was identified as a relevant witness in the City’s Rule 26
disclosures served on April 30, 2013. Gianinni certified the
City’s answers to interrogatories on August 8, 2013, in which he
was clearly identified as “the SWAT team leader.” (Def. Ex. 3
[Docket Item 64] ¶ 9.) Even though Defendants failed to serve
their answers to interrogatories until October, 2013, after the
deadline for amendments passed, Plaintiffs did not request an
extension of the deadline.2 Moreover, Plaintiffs waited nearly
one year after he was first identified as a witness, and over
six months after he was identified as the SWAT team leader in
the City’s answers to interrogatories, to depose Gianinni.
Plaintiffs waited nearly two months thereafter to move to file a
third amended complaint.
Plaintiffs now attempt to explain their delay by
pointing the finger at the City for failing to timely respond to
interrogatories and noting the difficulty of scheduling
Plaintiffs’ depositions. However, as Judge Schneider explained,
Plaintiffs’ arguments do little to explain the nearly two-and-ahalf-year delay in identifying the SWAT team members who entered
their home, the nearly one-year delay in deposing Gianinni after
he was first identified as a relevant witness, and the over two
month delay in seeking to file an amended complaint after
After numerous extensions, Judge Schneider set May 30, 2014 as
the deadline for fact discovery in this matter. Both parties
separately sought to extend this deadline, which Judge Schneider
denied for reasons similar to those stated in his August 21,
2014 Order at issue on this appeal, namely that “[g]iven the age
of the case, plaintiffs and defendants have had more than an
adequate opportunity to discover the names and roles of [the
individuals who ‘raided’ their home].” [Docket Item 48 at 2.]
Gianinni was finally deposed. Accordingly, it was not clearly
erroneous for Judge Schneider to conclude that Plaintiffs failed
to show good cause under Rule 16.
Moreover, Judge Schneider properly denied Plaintiffs’
motion under Rule 15 on the grounds of undue delay and prejudice
to Defendants. The Court has sufficiently recounted in the
preceding the ways that Plaintiffs have caused undue delay in
this nearly three year old case. Moreover, Plaintiffs have also
received multiple opportunities to amend their complaint in
November, 2012 and February, 2013. Therefore, in considering the
Rule 15 standard, the Court will focus on the prejudice to
Defendants and to Gianinni if Plaintiffs were permitted to file
their proposed third amended complaint.
Permitting Plaintiffs’ proposed amendment will
prejudice Defendants and Gianinni because it injects new facts
and theories into the case almost three years after its
inception and four years after the incidents that are its
subject. The Second Amended Complaint alleges the following in
20. After ordering Plaintiff Ella Baker out of the home,
John Does I-II [unidentified U.S. Marshals] put a gun to
the head of Plaintiffs’ ten year old son, Rayion Baker and
threatened to kill him while Plaintiffs’ home was searched.
21. It was also at this time that the John Doe Defendants
put a gun to the head of Tattyana Baker.
22. The John Doe United States Marshals placed handcuffs on
Plaintiff Benjamin Frye while searching the house.
(Second Am. Compl. [Docket Item 23] ¶¶ 20-22.) Plaintiffs’
proposed third amended complaint seeks to replace the above
allegations with the following:
14. On November 24th, 2010 at around 7:15 a.m., John Does III [unidentified U.S. Marshals] came to the home of
Plaintiffs with their guns raised. Plaintiff Ella Baker had
opened the front door in response to a knock and when she
opened the door she was ordered to leave the house.
15. After ordering Plaintiff Ella Baker out of the home,
and at the personal direction, supervision, control,
approval, and/or acquiescence of Defendant Gianinni, John
Does IV-V [Camden Police Department officers] threated
Plaintiff Rayion Baker with his life while their firearms
were aimed directly at his person, specifically his head.
16. It was also at this time that the John Doe IV-X [Camden
Police Department officers] aimed their firearms at
Tattyana Baker and Benjamin Frye.
17. The John Doe Defendants placed handcuffs on Plaintiff
Benjamin Frye while searching the house.
(Proposed Third Am. Compl. [Docket Item 51-2] ¶¶ 15-17.)
Accordingly, the proposed third amended complaint not only
alleges for the first time Gianinni’s personal involvement, but
it also alleges for the first time that it was members of the
Camden Police Department who placed guns to the heads of Rayion
and Tattyana Baker, not members of the Marshals Service. There
is no question that Defendants would be substantially prejudiced
if Plaintiffs’ motion were granted because the amendment would
require additional discovery, cost, or preparation to defend
against these new facts and theories. See Long v. Wilson, 393
F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004); Cureton v. Nat’l Collegiate
Athletic Ass'n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001).
The Court is unpersuaded by Plaintiffs’ argument that
the amendment would require very little additional discovery
because Gianinni already participated in discovery and certified
in the City’s answers to interrogatories that the identities of
the other SWAT team members are unknown. Plaintiffs’ argument
ignores the fact that if Gianinni were named as a defendant
early in the action it may have been possible to preserve the
memory of the members of the Camden Police Department who
entered Plaintiffs’ home. Similarly, Plaintiffs are either
incorrect or disingenuous in their assertion that the proposed
third amended complaint would not add new facts or theories of
liability. The proposed amendment clearly shifts the focus from
the U.S. Marshals to the Camden Police Department SWAT team, and
importantly, it asserts for the first time Gianinni’s personal
involvement in the alleged misconduct.
Judge Schneider’s finding, that Plaintiffs’ counsel
failed to exercise due diligence in identifying the law
enforcement officers who were sued as John Does some 2 1/2 years
earlier, is not clearly erroneous. After carefully examining the
record, Judge Schneider found it inexplicable why Plaintiffs did
not seek to file this third amended complaint shifting their
theory of the case and identifying a new party before the
deadline for amending pleadings expired. This finding is well
supported by the record. As Judge Schneider stated, “absent
diligence, there is no good cause.” Order of August 21, 2014 at
4 (citing Sabatino v. Union Township, 2013 WL 1622306, at *4
(D.N.J. Apr. 15, 2013)).
After many months if not years of this litigation
during which Plaintiffs could have moved to amend the pleadings
and add Gianinni as a defendant, Defendants would be
substantially prejudiced if the Court were to permit such an
amendment now. Therefore, Judge Schneider did not err in
concluding that Plaintiffs’ conduct has resulted in undue delay
and substantial prejudice to Defendants.
In light of the foregoing, the Court will affirm Judge
Schneider’s August 21, 2014 Order denying Plaintiffs’ motion for
leave to file a third amended complaint.3
October 8, 2014
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
Having found that Judge Schneider did not err in denying
Plaintiffs’ motion under Rules 15 and 16, Fed. R. Civ. P., the
Court need not address Defendants’ arguments regarding relation
back and futility. Moreover, the Court will not address
Plaintiffs’ argument that Judge Schneider held them to a
standard that is inconsistent with Rule 11 because Judge
Schneider’s Order does not reference Rule 11 and it is
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