United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
February 4, 2004.
PHILADELPHIA'S CHURCH OF OUR SAVIOR, Plaintiff,
CONCORD TOWNSHIP, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES SMITH, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Currently before the Court is a Motion for Leave to File First
Amended Complaint by plaintiff Philadelphia's Church of Our Savior.
Having considered the arguments of both parties, the Court will grant the
motion and permit plaintiff to file its Amended Complaint.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On March 26, 2003, plaintiff Philadelphia's Church of Our Savior (the
"Church") filed a complaint against Concord Township (the "Township")
alleging three counts of defendant's misconduct in violation of the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIP"),
42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq., five counts of misconduct in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and five counts of misconduct in
violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The complaint specifically
contended that the defendants (1) wrongfully rejected the Church's
request for a building permit, after
promising to issue one; (2) improperly demanded a permanent
easement from the Church as a quid pro quo for the building
permit and; (3) improperly refused to accept for filing or to review the
Church's written application for a building permit, despite the fact that
the proposed sanctuary complied with all applicable zoning, building and
safety codes. Plaintiff asserted this Court's federal question
jurisdiction over all federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and
1342(a)(3)-(4), and supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
The defendant Township filed a motion to dismiss on April 11, 2003,
which was denied on June 2, 2003. On April 17, 2003, Judge Clarence C.
Newcomer signed and entered a Scheduling Order for the parties,
stipulating, among other deadlines, that any amended complaint adding new
parties was to be received no later than April 30, 2003. Just prior to
that deadline, on April 25, 2003, plaintiff served defendant with its
First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Admissions. In its
Responses to that discovery, the Township denied that the officials
involved with the denial of the Church's request for a building permit
were acting in their official capacities.
On June 9, 2003, plaintiff filed the instant motion seeking leave to
amend its complaint in order to add the five members of the Township's
Board of Supervisors, the Township Solicitor and the Township Building
Inspector in their individual
capacities.*fn1 Although defendant had filed no responsive
pleading to plaintiff's initial complaint prior to this motion, it
subsequently submitted its Answer on June 20, 2003. The matter was
referred to the undersigned, on June 13, 2003, for all further
proceedings. Accordingly, the Court now considers whether plaintiff's
request for leave to amend should be granted.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) states that:
A party may amend the party's pleading once as a
matter of course at any time before a responsive
pleading is served . . . Otherwise a party may
amend the party's pleading only by leave of court
or by written consent of the adverse party; and
leave shall be freely given when justice so
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). Although decisions on motions to amend are
committed to the sound discretion of the district court, Gay v.
Petsock, 917 F.2d 768
, 722 (3d Cir. 1990), the Third Circuit has
commented that courts have generally demonstrated a "strong liberality"
in allowing amendments. Heyl v. Patterson Int'l, Inc. v. F.D. Rich
Housing of the Virgin Islands, Inc., 663 F.2d 419
, 425 (3d Cir.
1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1018
, 102 S.Ct. 1714
In Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 83 S.Ct. 227 (1962),
the United States Supreme Court enumerated a series of factors to
be considered by the courts in ruling on a Rule 15(a) motion to amend.
Specifically, it instructed that:
In the absence of any apparent or declared reason
such as 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. the leave sought should,
as the rules require, be "freely given."
Id. 371 U.S. at 182. Under this mandate, "prejudice to
the non-moving party is the touchstone for the denial of an amendment."
Lorenz v. CSX Corp., 1 F.3d 1406
, 1413-1414 (3d Cir. 1993)
(quoting Cornell & Co. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review
Comm'n, 573 F.2d 820
, 823 (3d Cir. 1978)). Absent substantial
prejudice, denial must be based on one of the other enumerated factors,
such as undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure
deficiencies or futility of the amendment. Lorensz, 1 F.3d at
1414. Without any of these grounds, "it is an abuse of discretion for a
district court to deny leave to amend." Alvin v. Suzuki,
227 F.3d 107
, 121 (3d Cir. 2000).
In the case at bar, plaintiff seeks leave to amend the complaint to add
seven defendants specifically the five members of the defendant
Township's Board of Supervisors, the Township's Building Inspector and
the Township Solicitor in their individual capacities. As noted
above, plaintiff originally brought this action against only Concord
Township. In the
Township's subsequent answers to Interrogatories and Requests for
Admissions, however, the Township expressly denied that the Township
officials who met with Church officials and acted upon the request for a
building permit were acting in their official capacities. Plaintiff now
asserts that, if such an averment is true, then a complete resolution of
this matter requires that the Township officials be added as parties to
the litigation in their individual capacities.
Defendant does not claim any prejudice or dilatory motive in
plaintiff's motion for leave to amend, but rather contends only that the
amendment would be futile. Particularly, it asserts that the majority of
the allegations in the proposed Amended Complaint concern only Dominic
Pileggi, the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Throughout the
remainder of the proposed Amended Complaint, there are only scant
allegations against the Township Solicitor and Building Inspector, and
there are no specific allegations concerning the remaining four
individual Supervisors. As defendant claims that all of the individuals
to be named, with the possible exception of Mr. Pileggi, would be
dismissed quickly after the filing of the Amended complaint, the proposed
amendment should be denied.
The Court disagrees with this argument. "Futility," as alleged by
defendant, means that the amended complaint would fail to state a claim
upon which relief could be granted. Shane v.
Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing In
re Burlington Coat Factory Securities Litigation, 114 F.3d 1410,
1434 (3d Cir. 1997)). To assess "futility," the court must determine
whether it would survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
upon which relief could be granted under Rule 12(b)(6).*fn2
Id.; Alvin, 227 F.3d at 121.
A court's inquiry into the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's
pleadings, under 12(b)(6), is limited to considering "not whether
plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to
offer evidence to support [his] claims." Burlington Coat
Factory, 114 F.3d at 1420 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes,
416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 1686 (1974)). Futility should thus be
found "only if, after accepting as true all of the facts alleged in the
complaint, and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's
favor, no relief could be granted under any set of facts consistent with
the allegations of the complaint." Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts,
Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).
In light of this standard, the Court finds that leave to amend should
be granted. Under the well-pled allegations of the
Complaint allegations which have already withstood a motion
to dismiss the Township's Board of Supervisors, Building
Inspector and Solicitor took various actions designed to improperly
prevent the Church from obtaining a building permit and to secure
approval for a Township easement across the Church's property. Although
at least four of the Supervisors are not individually named in the
Amended Complaint, the various averments make explicit reference to
actions by the Board as a whole, which could constitute grounds for
relief. The Township's own answers to Requests for Admissions averred
that the actions were not taken by these persons in their official
capacities, thereby implying that they acted in their individual
We give no weight to defendant's contention that the limited quantity
of references to these individuals advocates against plaintiff's motion;
that fact is irrelevant. Rather, the Court must consider the substance of
the allegations and whether any relief could be granted against these
individuals under any set of facts consistent with the Amended Complaint.
At this juncture, the Court cannot find that no such relief is possible.
Indeed, keeping in mind the liberal nature of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a),
plaintiff, at the very least, should have the opportunity to develop
evidence against these individuals. Accordingly, we grant leave to amend
An appropriate order follows.