GAMMARO v. BELLEVILLE BOARD OF EDUCATION et al
OPINION & ORDER granting 42 Motion to Amend/Correct Plaintiff's Complaint; that Plaintiff shall file the proposed Amended Complaint within seven (7) days of this Order; that all of the Defendants shall file a response to the Amended Complaint within fourteen (14) days of the filing of the Amended Complaint. Signed by Magistrate Judge James B. Clark on 7/19/17. (cm, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
BELLEVILLE BOARD OF
EDUCATION, et al.,
Civil Action No. 14-5852 (JMV)
OPINION AND ORDER
CLARK, Magistrate Judge
Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Loraine Gammaro’s (“Plaintiff”) Motion
for Leave to Amend her Complaint. [Docket Entry No. 42]. Defendant Belleville Board of
Education (“Defendant”) opposes Plaintiff’s motion. [Docket Entry No. 46]. The Court has fully
reviewed and considered all arguments made in support of, and in opposition to this motion. The
Court considers this motion without oral argument pursuant to L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the reasons
set forth more fully below, Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint is
On August 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed her complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey
asserting claims for political retaliation, violations of the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act,
breach of contract, and violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. [Docket Entry
No. 1]. Plaintiff’s claims arise from Defendant’s non-renewal of Plaintiff as a principal in the
Belleville Public School District and subsequent demotion to a teaching position. [Docket Entry
No. 1]. Notably, Plaintiff alleges that these adverse actions were taken because: (1) Plaintiff took
a paid vacation on May 13, 2014 to work at a Belleville polling location and (2) because her
mother-in-law ran against the mayor of Belleville at that time. [Docket Entry No. 1]. On
September 19, 2014, Defendant removed this action federal court.
Plaintiff now seeks to amend her complaint to include additional facts of ongoing violations
of political retaliation and to include violations of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act
(“CEPA”). Plaintiff claims that since the filing of the instant action, she has on several occasions
applied for positions within the school district on the administrative level. In May and June 2015,
Defendant posted a list of “Anticipated Positions Available” within the Belleville School District
for the 2015-2016 school year. Plaintiff applied for these positions and was granted an interview
on June 16, 2015 for all positions applied to. Plaintiff received no further interviews and was not
offered any of these positions. The following year, positions were again posted for the 2016-2017
school year. Plaintiff again applied for the positions available. Plaintiff was given an interview
for all of the positions on June 8, 2016, but did not hear back or receive any offers for these
positions. Thereafter, on August 3, 2016, Defendant filed a letter with the Court stating that
Plaintiff “is best qualified to remain employed within the District as a teacher.” [Docket Entry
No. 37]. Plaintiff now claims that this statement, coupled with her inability to receive a promotion,
evidences continued political retaliation because “Plaintiff will never again hold an administrative
position as a result of this lawsuit.” As such, Plaintiff seeks to amend her Complaint to assert an
additional claim under (“CEPA”) and to plead additional factual allegations of occurrences that
have transpired since the filing of the initial complaint.
Plaintiff argues that her motion is proper because there has been no undue delay, bad faith
or dilatory motive in filing the instant motion. Plaintiff argues that the motion is timely because
soon after Defendant’s August 3, 2016 letter, Plaintiff sought Defendant’s consent to amend her
Complaint. When consent was withheld, Plaintiff addressed the issue with the Court, by letter of
September 15, 2016. [Docket Entry No. 40]. As a result, this Court held a conference with the
parties on November 2, 2016, providing Plaintiff until December 2, 2016 to file her motion for
leave to amend, which she complied with. Additionally, Plaintiff argues that Defendant would
suffer no prejudice because dispositive motions have not been filed and no trial date has been set.
Furthermore, any additional discovery would be limited solely to Plaintiff’s interview process
since her non-renewal as principal.
Defendant opposes Plaintiff’s motion arguing that Plaintiff unduly delayed in bringing her
motion to amend. Defendant argues that Plaintiff knew at the time of her deposition, on August
27, 2015, that she had been passed over for the 2015-2016 administrative positions. Yet Plaintiff
failed to take any action for over a year. Defendant further argues that they would be prejudiced
by the amendments because discovery ended in February 2016, further discovery on this issue
would be costly, and Defendant has been preparing its motion for summary judgment. Finally,
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s purported CEPA claim is futile—time-barred by the one-year
statute of limitations.
Pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2), leave to amend the pleadings is generally granted
freely.1 See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d
Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Court may deny a motion to amend where there is “undue delay, bad
faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by
amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of
Because Plaintiff filed her motion on December 2, 2016, the deadline set forth in the Court’s November 2, 2016
Order, this motion is timely under Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment.” Id. However, where there is an absence of undue
delay, bad faith, prejudice or futility, a motion for leave to amend a pleading should be liberally
granted. Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004).
Delay alone is insufficient to deny a request for leave to amend, see Adams v. Gould Inc.,
739 F.2d 858, 868 (3d. Cir. 1984), but the moving party “must demonstrate that its delay in
seeking to amend is satisfactorily explained.” Harrison Beverage Co. v. Dribeck Importers, Inc.,
133 F.R.D. 463, 468 (D.N.J. 1990) (internal quotations omitted). Courts will deny a request for
leave to amend where delay becomes undue, such as when its accommodation creates an
“unwarranted burden on the court…[and] unfair burden on the opposing party.” Adams v. Gould,
739 F.2d 858 at 868.
Prejudice will be considered “undue” when it rises to such a level that the non-moving
party would be “unfairly disadvantaged or deprived of the opportunity to present facts or
evidence…” Harrison, 113 F.R.D. at 468 (internal quotations omitted). In evaluating the extent
of any alleged prejudice, the court looks to the hardship on the non-moving party if the
amendment were granted. Cureton v. NCAA, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001). “Specifically,
[courts] have considered whether allowing an amendment would result in additional discovery,
cost, and preparation to defend against new facts or theories.” Cureton, 252 F.3d at 273. The
court of appeals has stated that “prejudice to the non-moving party is the touchstone for the
denial of…amendment.” See Cornell & Co. v. Occupational Safety and Health Rev. Comm'n,
573 F.2d 820, 823 (3d Cir. 1978); Bechtel v. Robinson, 886 F.2d 644, 652 (3d Cir. 1989).
At the outset, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claims for retaliation are futile because they
are barred by the statute of limitations. For CEPA claims, the statute of limitations is one year.
N.J. Stat. Ann. § 34:19-5. In general, an act of retaliation is what perfects a CEPA claim. A CEPA
claim therefore accrues, and the one year limitations period begins to run, on the date of the
retaliatory employment action that is the basis for the claim. Ivan v. County of Middlesex, 595 F.
Supp. 2d 425, 466-67 (D.N.J. 2009). The “continuing violation” doctrine is "an equitable
exception to the statute of limitations.” It provides that, where “an individual experiences a
continual, cumulative pattern of tortious conduct,” the limitations period may be tolled “until the
wrongful action ceases.” Roa v. Roa, 200 N.J. 555 (N.J. 2010). Thus the continuing violation
doctrine “allows a plaintiff to pursue a claim for discriminatory conduct if he or she can
demonstrate that each asserted act by a defendant is part of a pattern and at least one of those acts
occurred within the statutory limitations period.” Sarno v. Wal-Mart Stores E., L.P., No. CIV.A.
12-002075 JAP, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165328, at *4 (D.N.J. Nov. 20, 2012) (quoting Smith v.
Twp. of E. Greenwich, 519 F. Supp. 2d 493, 505 (D.N.J. 2007) (quotations and citations omitted)).
It is well settled that the continuing violation theory, which is common to antidiscrimination
statutes, applies to CEPA. Green v. Jersey City Bd. of Educ., 177 N.J. 434, 828 A.2d 883, 891-92
Here, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claims are beyond the applicable statute of
limitations because she was aware, in August 2015, that she had not been hired for any
administrative positions. Hence, the latest time for Plaintiff to bring a claim under CEPA would
be August of 2016. What Defendant fails to address are the events connected with Plaintiff’s
applications for the 2016-2017 posted positions, occurring during the summer of 2016. As it is
unclear from the parties’ briefing whether this conduct would be time-barred by the statute of
limitations, the Court declines to deny Plaintiff’s motion on this basis.
Turning to Defendants remaining arguments, the Court finds no basis to deny Plaintiff’s
motion to amend. Defendant claims that Plaintiff unduly delayed in seeking to amend her
Complaint. The crux of Defendant’s timeliness argument is that Plaintiff knew as early as August
of 2015 that she did not receive any of the positions for the 2015-2016 school term. She then
waited a whole year to seek to amend her Complaint. The Court does not find this argument
persuasive. First, additional events occurred after August 2015 which gave credence to Plaintiff’s
retaliation claims. Notably, Plaintiff applied for, and was not offered administrative positions
during the 2016-2017 school year. Second, Plaintiff indicates that she did not become certain of
this retaliation until it became clear that Defendant would not promote her beyond the position of
teacher. That clarity occurred on August 3, 2016 when Defendant outright stated that Plaintiff “is
best qualified to remain employed within the District as a teacher.” Plaintiff quickly thereafter
sought to amend her Complaint. Because a claim under CEPA may necessitate a showing of a
pattern and practice of retaliation, the Court does not find Plaintiff’s explanation unreasonable. As
such, the Court does not find undue delay on the part of Plaintiff.
Finally, any prejudice suffered by Defendant would not unfairly disadvantage or deprive it
of the opportunity to present facts or evidence. While fact discovery has been closed, dispositive
motions have not been filed. Moreover, any additional discovery would be limited to Plaintiff’s
interview process for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. As these occurrences are
causally connected to the events forming the basis of this litigation, Defendant would be far more
prejudiced if required to litigate these new claims in a separate action. Notably, Defendant would
face increased costs arising from discovery if these allegations are litigated in a separate action.
Accordingly, the Court does not find any prejudice to Defendant if Plaintiff is permitted to amend
his Complaint at this time.
The Court having considered the papers submitted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78, and for
the reasons set forth above;
IT IS on this 19th day of July, 2017,
ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint is
GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff shall file the proposed Amended Complaint within seven (7)
days of this Order; and it is further
ORDERED that all of the Defendants shall file a response to the Amended Complaint
within fourteen (14) days of the filing of the Amended Complaint; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court terminate the aforementioned motion [Docket
Entry No. 42].
s/James B. Clark, III
HONORABLE JAMES B. CLARK, III
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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