Vanderhoef et al v. City of Maryville et al (TWP2)
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION finding that Plaintiffs new claim relates back to the allegations in their original Complaint, and the City of Maryville suffers no prejudice from their request to amend their Complaint to include this new cla im. Rule 15(a)(2)s liberal policy therefore favors the granting of their request, and Plaintiffs 25 Motion to Amend Complaint is GRANTED. The Court will enter an order consistent with this opinion. Signed by District Judge Thomas W Phillips on 9/27/2017. (MDG)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
L.V., a minor, by and through his parent
and guardian, LENARD VANDERHOEF,
CITY OF MARYVILLE and MARICE
KELLY DIXON in his individual capacity as
an Officer for the Maryville Police Department, )
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Complaint [doc. 25],
Defendant City of Maryville, Tennessee’s Response in Opposition [doc. 29], and Plaintiffs’
Reply [doc. 30]. For the reasons herein, the Court will grant the motion.
Plaintiffs bring this action against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the
infringement of their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and they also
bring state law claims for assault and false imprisonment. [Compl., doc. 1, at 4–7]. Early
in this case, the Court entered a Scheduling Order [doc. 8], in which it informed the parties
that “[a]t least one hundred and fifty (150) days before trial all motions for leave to amend
the pleadings and add parties must be filed.” [Id. at 5]. The Court scheduled this case for
trial date of January 30, 2018. [Id. at 6]. On August 31, 2017, Defendant Officer Dixon
moved for summary judgment. [Dixon Mot. Summ. J., doc. 22]. On September 1, 2017—
more than 150 days before trial—Plaintiffs moved to amend their Complaint so they could
bring an additional claim, citing new facts that were “revealed during discovery” and
previously unknown to them. [Mot. Amend at 1]. Specifically, Plaintiffs requested leave
to plead another claim against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983—one for the
infringement of their Fourth Amendment rights—based on Officer Dixon’s alleged use of
unreasonable force during a seizure. [Proposed Am. Compl, doc. 25-1, ¶¶ 31–40].1 Days
later, the City of Maryville filed for summary judgment, [City of Maryville Mot. Summ.
J., doc. 26], and it raised its opposition to Plaintiffs’ proposed amendment. It argues that
the proposed amendment is futile and substantially prejudicial “at this advanced state of
the litigation and after the filing of a dispositive motion.” [Resp. at 1].
FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 15
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) states that if a party can no longer amend
its pleading as a matter of course, it may do so “only with the opposing party’s written
consent or the court’s leave.” Rule 15(a)(2) “embodies a ‘liberal amendment policy,’”
requiring courts to “freely give leave when justice so requires.” Brown v. Chapman, 814
F.3d 436, 442–43 (6th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted). To determine whether to grant leave
under this liberal policy, courts weigh several factors: “[u]ndue delay in filing, lack of
notice to the opposing party, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure
Plaintiffs also seek to amend their Complaint to correct “a typographical error,”
intersperse “factual details” through the general allegations, and make “minor” changes that will
permit the allegations to conform to the evidence. [Mot. Amend at 2–3]. The City of Maryville,
however, does not expressly contest these issues, only the addition of a new claim.
deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility
of amendment.” Wade v. Knoxville Utils. Bd., 259 F.3d 452, 458–59 (6th Cir. 2001)
(quotation omitted). While notice and substantial prejudice are “critical factors,” id. at 459
(quotation omitted), futility in and of itself is “a permissible basis on which to deny leave
to amend,” Smith v. United States, Nos. 3:05-CR-74-TAV-HBG-1, 3:15-CV-70-TAV,
2016 WL 3349298, at *2 (E.D. Tenn. June 15, 2016) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178,
182 (1962)); see Midkiff v. Adams Cty. Reg’l Water Dist., 409 F.3d 758, 767 (6th Cir. 2005)
(“A motion for leave to amend may be denied for futility ‘if the court concludes that the
pleading as amended could not withstand a motion to dismiss.” (quotation omitted)).
In arguing that Plaintiffs’ proposed amendment is futile, the City of Maryville
maintains that Plaintiffs’ new claim cannot survive dismissal because it is untimely under
the statute of limitations. [Resp. at 2–4]. Both parties agree that Tenn. Code. Ann.
subsection 29-20-305(b) is the applicable statute of limitations and requires a plaintiff to
bring a claim against a governmental entity within twelve months after it arises. [Resp. at
3; Reply at 2]. Plaintiffs, however, contend that their new claim is not futile because it
relates back to their original Complaint and therefore satisfies the relation-back doctrine
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c). [Mot. Amend at 2; Reply at 2]. As for undue
prejudice, the City of Maryville argues that, “as a matter of law,” Plaintiffs cannot now
request to amend their Complaint because they waited until the filing of a dispositive
motion to pursue leave to amend. [Resp. at 5]. The City of Maryville claims that, through
its motion for summary judgment, it has “identifie[d] . . . defects” in the Complaint and
provided Plaintiffs with hindsight that led to their motion to amend [Id. at 5–6]. It also
believes that an amended complaint “at this late juncture could result in the defendants
being forced” to retake depositions and refile for summary judgment. [Id. at 6]. Plaintiffs,
however, attempt to parry this argument by pointing out that their motion is timely under
the Court’s Scheduling Order. [Mot. Amend at 3].
A. Relation Back
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(c)(B) states that an amendment to a complaint
relates back to the original complaint when it “asserts a claim or defense that arose out of
the conduct, transaction, or occurrences set out—or attempted to be set out—in the original
pleading[.]” Even when the plaintiff’s new claim is futile—that is, unable to withstand a
motion to dismiss because it is untimely under the statute of limitations—it is still
permissible if it satisfies Rule 15(c)(B)’s relation-back criteria. See Shillman v. United
States, No. 99-3215, 2000 WL 923761, at *5 (6th Cir. June 29, 2000) (“The purpose
underlying the ‘relation back’ doctrine is to permit amendments to pleadings when the
limitations period has expired.” (citation omitted)). The plaintiff has the burden of showing
that an amendment satisfies Rule 15(c)(B)’s criteria. Shilling v. Corrs. Corp. of Am., No.
1:16 CV 873, 2016 WL 3952118, at *3 (N.D. Ohio July 22, 2016); Hiler v. Extendicare
Health Network, Inc., No. 5:11-CV-192-REW, 2013 WL 756352, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 26,
2013). To discharge this burden, the plaintiff typically has to establish “an identity”
between the new claim and the original allegations “with regard to  the general wrong
suffered and with regard to  the general conduct causing such wrong.” Durand v.
Hanover Ins. Grp., Inc., 806 F.3d 367, 375 (6th Cir. 2015) (quotation omitted).
Plaintiffs argue that their new claim relates back to the original allegations because
it is “a constitutionally-based legal theory that is based completely upon facts that were
pled in their original complaint,” and they are exactly right. [Reply at 4]. Plaintiffs cull
their new claim from their Complaint’s allegations concerning Officer Dixon’s unlawful
use of his gun on May 19, 2016. [Compare Compl. ¶ 7 (describing how Officer Dixon
pointed his gun at Plaintiff L.V.), with Am. Compl. ¶¶ 33–35 (alleging that Officer Dixon
infringed Plaintiff L.V.’s Fourth Amendment rights when he pointed his gun at him)].2 By
relying on their original Complaint’s allegations to erect their new claim, they succeed in
illustrating that the same general conduct from their Complaint comprises the alleged
misconduct in their new claim. See Miller v. Am. Heavy Lift Shipping, 231 F.3d 242, 249–
50 (6th Cir. 2000) (concluding that the plaintiff “alleged the very same general set of facts
in the amended complaints as he did in the original ones” and the plaintiff’s new claims
therefore satisfied the relation-back doctrine under Rule 15(c)). In addition, as Plaintiffs
point out, the general wrong stemming from Officer Dixon’s alleged misconduct—both in
the new claim and the original Complaint—is a constitutional violation. [Compare Compl.
¶ 15 (pleading a violation of Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment rights), with Am. Compl.
As for the new facts that Plaintiffs claim were “revealed during discovery” and underlie
their new claim, [Mot. Amend at 1], Plaintiffs appear to be referring to Officer Dixon’s recent
testimony regarding how the Maryville Police Department trained him to use his gun—testimony
that, according to Plaintiffs, underscores the Maryville Police Department’s failure to train its
police officers, [see Am. Compl. ¶ 36].
¶ 31 (pleading a violation of Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights). Plaintiffs therefore
meet their burden under Rule 15(c)(B), establishing that their new claim relates back to
their original Complaint.
B. Substantial Prejudice
As an initial matter, Plaintiffs’ motion complies with the Scheduling Order, having
been filed at least 150 days before the trial date. Despite this fact, the City of Maryville
takes issue with it, by relying on Szoke v. United Parcel Service of America, Inc., 398 F.
App’x 145 (6th Cir. 2010). Without providing the Court the benefit of any legal analysis,
the City of Maryville summons a single line from this case: the Sixth Circuit’s statement
that “[w]e have held that a Defendant suffers substantial prejudice when a Plaintiff waits
until after the filing of a summary judgment motion to file a motion to amend.” Id. at 153
(citations omitted). Plaintiffs, however, filed their motion to amend before the City of
Maryville filed its motion for summary judgment. While true, Plaintiffs did file their
motion after the second defendant—Officer Dixon—moved for summary judgment in his
individual capacity, the Court is unable to see how the City of Maryville suffers prejudice
under this scenario. Any argument that Plaintiffs’ motion to amend is a prophylactic
measure to shore up defects in the Complaint—defects that were unknown to them before
the motion for summary judgment—would make sense only if it came from Officer Dixon
in his individual capacity, not from the City of Maryville in its municipal capacity.
Besides, the Court is unconvinced that the Sixth Circuit’s statement in Szoke is as
broad as the City of Maryville would like it to be. In Szoke, the plaintiffs moved to amend
their complaint not only while a motion for summary judgment was pending but also after
the district court had granted partial summary judgment. Id. Against this backdrop, the
plaintiffs requested leave to amend so they could raise a new legal theory, which happened
to require the addition of a new defendant to the case. Id. But the plaintiffs had waited
roughly three years to move to amend, despite having known during this time that they
might have sued the wrong party from the start. Id. The district court denied the motion,
based on a repeated failure to cure defects in the complaint,3 undue delay, and substantial
prejudice, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision for these same
reasons. Id. at 149, 153.
The facts in Szoke bear virtually no resemblance to those here. First, Plaintiffs’
motion to amend, unlike the plaintiffs’ motion in Szoke, is their initial pass at an amended
pleading, so they have not repeatedly failed to rectify defects in their Complaint. Second,
the City of Maryville does not argue that Plaintiffs are guilty of undue delay in pursuing
their amendment, nor can it make this argument because Plaintiffs’ motion is timely under
the Court’s Scheduling Order. In this vein, the Court is unwilling to accept an argument
that a party’s compliance with its Scheduling Order creates a scenario in which substantial
prejudice can befall another party. A scheduling order, in fact, has the opposite effect,
resulting in “the orderly preparation of a case for trial.” Washington v. Arapahoe Cty. Dep’t
of Soc. Servs., 197 F.R.D. 439, 441 (D. Colo. 2000) (citation omitted); see also Birge v.
Dollar Gen. Corp., No. 04-2531 B, 2006 WL 133480, at *1 (W.D. Tenn. Jan. 12, 2006)
The plaintiffs in Szoke had amended their complaint earlier in the litigation and, despite
that amendment, failed to correct the deficiencies at issue. Szoke, 398 F. App’x at 152–53.
(“[A] court’s scheduling order is not a frivolous piece of paper . . . . [and is] critical in
moving cases to a just outcome[.]” (quotation and citation omitted)). The Scheduling
Order’s deadlines have been affixed to this case since its inception. They do not take the
City of Maryville by surprise. Because Plaintiffs’ motion to amend is timely, the City of
Maryville faces no prejudice from it, much less substantial prejudice. If the City of
Maryville would like to move to amend the Scheduling Order and continue the trial date—
to give itself time to perform additional discovery as to Plaintiffs’ new claim and possibly
supplement its motion for summary judgment—the Court will be glad to consider its
Plaintiffs’ new claim relates back to the allegations in their original Complaint, and
the City of Maryville suffers no prejudice from their request to amend their Complaint to
include this new claim. Rule 15(a)(2)’s liberal policy therefore favors the granting of their
request, and Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend Complaint [doc. 25] is GRANTED. The Court
will enter an order consistent with this opinion.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Thomas W. Phillips
United States District Judge
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