Stroman v. Pennsylvania Dept. Of Corrections et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry).Signed by Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner on 3/6/18. (sc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
JOHN WETZEL, et al.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:16-CV-2543
(Chief Judge Conner)
Plaintiff Maurice Stroman (“Stroman”), an inmate who, at all relevant times,
was housed at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
(“SCI-Huntingdon”), commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1).
Stroman names as defendants Secretary Wetzel, Superintendent Tice, Lieutenant
Eberling, and Corrections Officer Hemcher. (Id.) Stroman alleges that defendants
violated his rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the
United States Constitution when oleoresin capsicum (“OC”) spray was released on
his housing block, traveled through the air ventilation system, entered Stroman’s
cell, and caused him to suffer an asthma attack and lose consciousness.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary
judgment, along with a supporting brief on April 4, 2017. (Docs. 19, 20). The motion
is fully briefed. (Docs. 26-28). While the motion to dismiss was pending, Stroman
filed the instant motion (Doc. 29) for leave to amend his complaint. The proposed
amended complaint is based on the same factual allegations as Stroman’s original
complaint, but raises claims under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments,
as well as a claim of defamation. (Doc. 29-1). For the reasons that follow, the court
will grant in part and deny in part the motion to amend.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, a party may amend its
pleading once as a matter of course within 21 days of serving it, or 21 days after the
service of a responsive pleading or motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is
earlier. FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(1). In all other circumstances, a party may amend its
pleading only with the opposing party’s written consent or with leave of court. FED.
R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2). Rule 15 embodies a liberal approach to amendment and specifies
that “leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Dole v. Arco Chemical
Co., 921 F.2d 484, 486-87 (3d Cir. 1990); FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(1)(2). “An applicant
seeking leave to amend a pleading has the burden of showing that justice requires
the amendment.” Katzenmoyer v. City of Reading, 158 F. Supp. 2d 491, 497 (E.D.
Pa. 2001); see Garvin v. City of Phila., 354 F.3d 215, 222 (3d Cir. 2003) (explaining
that a plaintiff must show that the elements of Rule 15(c) are met to change the
party or the naming of the party against whom claims are asserted).
“The policy favoring liberal amendment of pleadings is not, however,
unbounded.” Dole, 921 F.2d at 487. Factors which may weigh against amendment
include “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 the amendment, futility of
amendment, etc.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).
On December 27, 2016, Stroman filed his original complaint. (Doc. 1). On
April 4, 2017, defendants filed their motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for
summary judgment, together with a supporting brief. (Docs. 19-20). Stroman did
not move for leave to amend his complaint until October 5, 2017, well past the time
period allotted for filing an amended complaint as a matter of course. (Doc. 29).
Stroman has not obtained the opposing parties’ written consent to amend. (See
Doc. Thus, Stroman is required to request leave of court to file such a pleading.
See FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a)(2).
In the proposed amended complaint, Stroman seeks to raise claims under the
First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as a claim of defamation. (Doc.
29-1). Defendants oppose Stroman’s request to amend and argue that the proposed
amendment is both futile and prejudicial. (Doc. 31). Prejudice may result under
Rule 15(a) when a proposed amendment “would result in additional discovery, cost,
and preparation to defend against new facts or new theories.” Cureton v. Nat’l
Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). A court
measuring futility should deny leave to amend if the proposed alteration is frivolous
or advances a claim or defense that is legally insufficient on its face such that the
claim “would not withstand a motion to dismiss.” Massarsky v. Gen. Motors Corp.,
706 F.2d 111, 125 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 937 (1983). Leave to amend should
be granted unless equitable considerations render it otherwise unjust. Arthur v.
Maersk Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).
Stroman has not acted with dilatory motive or repeated and unjustified
failures to amend. Instead, Stroman has been fairly diligent in the prosecution
of his case. He asserts that the proposed amendment corrects deficiencies in
the original complaint and sets forth claims he attempted to raise in the original
complaint. Stroman’s request to amend does not appear to be motivated by some
improper purpose such as purposeful delay or bad faith, and his delay cannot be
considered undue. Additionally, Stroman’s proposed amendment contains the
same substantive claims as those set forth in his original complaint. Because the
proposed amendments to the complaint do not affect the substance of the alleged
actions in the complaint, defendants would not be prejudiced by amendment
because it would not force them to change any potential defenses. Defendants
acknowledge that they would likely file a new dispositive motion on the same
grounds as their pending, partially dispositive motion. (Doc. 31 at 8). Therefore,
the court finds that granting Stroman leave to amend would not result in undue
prejudice to any of the defendants.
Concerning timeliness, Stroman appears to argue that his proposed
amendment does not violate the statute of limitations because the amendment
would relate back to the original timely filed complaint under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 15(c)(1)(B). (Doc. 34 at 3). The applicable limitations period in this case,
a § 1983 action, is Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury
claims. See Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 190 (3d Cir. 1993); 42 PA. CONS. STAT.
Stroman filed his original complaint on December 27, 2016. The incidents
which form the basis for Stroman’s claims allegedly occurred on August 27, 2015
and April 10, 2016. Stroman signed and dated the instant motion on October 1,
2017, slightly more than one month after the statute of limitations expired for the
August 27, 2015 incident. Because Stroman seeks to add new claims against
existing parties, Rule15(c)(1)(B) requires that the new claim arise out of the same
“conduct, transaction, or occurrence” that gave rise to the claims in the original
pleading. FED. R. CIV. P. 15(c)(1)(B). The claims set forth in the proposed amended
complaint clearly arise out of the same conduct set forth in the original complaint.
Thus, the court finds that the proposed amendment of Stroman’s complaint relates
back to December 27, 2016, the date the original complaint was filed.
The court will grant Stroman’s motion to the extent he seeks to amend
his constitutional claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We will deny the
motion, however, to the extent Stroman seeks to assert a new state law claim for
defamation against defendant Eberling. (Doc. 29-1 ¶ 30). As a preliminary matter,
defendants correctly note that statutory sovereign immunity generally insulates
Commonwealth employees from tort liability. 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 8501 et seq.; (see
also Doc. 31 at 5-6). None of the enumerated exceptions to sovereign immunity are
implicated here.1 See 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 8522(b). Stroman attempts to overcome
sovereign immunity by asserting broadly that Eberling acted “outside of his official
Stroman cites to the “potholes and other dangerous conditions” exception
to sovereign immunity. (Doc. 34 at 5). That exception is plainly inapplicable in this
duties,” (Doc. 34 at 4-5), but the amended complaint offers no facts substantiating
this cursory allegation. (See Doc. 29-1 ¶ 30). Assuming arguendo that Stroman
could surmount sovereign immunity, he provides no allegations supporting the
substance of his defamation claim. (See id.) We will accordingly deny leave to
amend as to Stroman’s proposed state law defamation claim
Based on the foregoing, the court will grant in party and deny in part
Stroman’s motion for leave to amend. An appropriate order shall issue.
/S/ Christopher C. Conner
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
United States District Court
Middle District of Pennsylvania
March 6, 2018
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