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Heckenswiler v. McLaughlin

December 11, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.


Plaintiffs Deborah Heckenswiler and Terry Musselman bring state and federal claims arising from the death of John Heckenswiler ("Decedent") after an armed standoff with law enforcement officers in September 2004. Plaintiffs now seek leave to file a second amended complaint to substitute Lieutenant Robert Queen, Sergeant Steve Hilias, Corporal Frank Bochenek and Corporal Carol Battistini ("Unnamed Officers") for the John Does 1-20 listed in the Amended Complaint.*fn1 Defendants Chief James Donnelly filed a response to this Motion,*fn2 as did the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP").*fn3 Before resolving this Motion, the Court will summarize the procedural history of this case.

Plaintiffs' Complaint was filed on September 15, 2005 against Defendants Chief Brian K. McLaughlin, Sergeant Edward C. Murphy, Chief James Donnelly, Colonel Jeffrey B. Miller, John Does 1-20, Springfield Township, Bucks County, the PSP, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.*fn4 All Defendants, except Bucks County and John Does 1-20, filed Motions to Dismiss.*fn5 Before ruling on the Motions, the Court held a Rule 16 scheduling conference on April 16, 2007.*fn6 The Court then issued an April 17, 2007 Scheduling Order, which in relevant part, granted Plaintiffs sixty days to file any amended pleadings, including those adding or deleting parties.*fn7 On May 21, 2007, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, dismissing some of Plaintiffs' claims yet none of the Defendants.*fn8 In compliance with the Court's April 17, 2007 Order, Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint on June 15, 2007, amending portions of the remaining claims but not adding any new defendants.*fn9

Plaintiff does not dispute that during the course of discovery, several items were produced with information pertaining to the Unnamed Officers. With respect to Queen, the PSP alleges that on April 16, 2007, it produced to Plaintiffs a PSP General Investigation Report containing the report of said Unnamed Officer, as well as his name plainly written at the top.*fn10

Moreover, on July 11, 2007, the PSP asserts that it produced the initial disclosures of the PSP and Defendants Murphy and Miller, in which Queen was mentioned as someone with information pertaining to this action.*fn11 Finally, in the initial disclosures of Defendant Donnelly sent to Plaintiffs on February 13, 2007, Queen is listed as a witness who is likely to have discoverable information.*fn12 With regard to Unnamed Officers Hilias, Bochenek and Battistini, Defendant Donnelly points to a June 17, 2007 cover letter from Plaintiffs attached to documents produced and Bates-stamped by Plaintiffs with numbers P3 to P383.*fn13 Defendant Donnelly contends that among the documents produced was the Central Bucks Special Response Team ("CBSRT") Event Log which identified Hilias, Bochenek and Battistini.*fn14 This log references "Steve" as a negotiator with whom Decedent spoke.*fn15 Moreover, Bochenek and Battistini are clearly listed as negotiators who spoke with Decedent.*fn16 Plaintiffs do not dispute these contentions of the PSP and Defendant Donnelly, nor do they offer any evidence to the contrary. Plaintiffs even admit that the identity of Hilias, Bochenek and Battistini became known during discovery.*fn17

On August 10, 2007, Defendant Bucks County filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn18

Attached to this Motion as Exhibit B was a report by Defendant Donnelly detailing the involvement of the CBSRT in the September 2004 incident.*fn19 This report specifically notes that "Sgt. S. Hilias" was assigned as the primary negotiator, and that he spoke with Decedent several times.*fn20 The report also notes that "Cpl. F. Bochenek" and "Cpl. C. Battistini" negotiated with Decedent as well.*fn21 In addition to this report, the aforementioned CBSRT Event Log was also attached as Exhibit B.*fn22 Viewing the report and the event log together, the Court finds it clear that Hilias, Bochenek and Battistini each negotiated with Decedent for the CBSRT. Ultimately, Defendant Bucks County's Motion was dismissed as premature with leave to file at the end of discovery.*fn23

The deadline for fact discovery was December 5, 2007.*fn24 Nevertheless, the depositions of Decedent's sister and father were taken on January 18, 2008.*fn25 Plaintiffs' counsel participated in both depositions.*fn26 Decedent's sister, while discussing the negotiators that had spoken with Decedent, mentioned a woman negotiator named Carol, as well as two men named Frank and Steve.*fn27 Decendent's father also mentioned a woman negotiator, as well as a man named Frank.*fn28

Bucks County renewed its Motion for summary judgment on March 28, 2008.*fn29 All other Defendants had filed for summary judgment by February 15, 2004.*fn30 Plaintiffs failed to respond to these motions, forcing the Court to order Plaintiffs to respond.*fn31 A fuller history of Plaintiffs' dilatoriness and failure to comply with Court Orders can be found in that memorandum opinion.*fn32 On September 29, 2008, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motions for summary judgment.*fn33 Relevant to the instant Motion, the Court dismissed Defendant Bucks County.*fn34 Moreover, the Court dismissed the § 1983 claim of Plaintiff Terry Musselman for damage to his property under the Fourth Amendment, much of which appeared to have been caused by the PSP.*fn35 Finally, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to show cause why Defendants John Does 1-20 should not be dismissed in light of this Court's April 17, 2007 Order.*fn36 In response to that order to show cause, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion.

The grant or denial of leave to amend under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "is within the sound discretion of the district court."*fn37 Leave to amend, however, should be freely given so that plaintiffs may be afforded the opportunity to test their claims on the merits.*fn38 Yet, leave to amend will be denied in the case of "undue delay, bad faith and futility."*fn39 For example, "[w]hen a party fails to take advantage of previous opportunities to amend, without adequate explanation, leave to amend is properly denied."*fn40 Undue delay will not be found because of the mere "passage of time, without more . . . at some point, [however,] the delay will become 'undue,' placing an unwarranted burden on the court, or will become 'prejudicial,' placing an unfair burden on the opposing party."*fn41

The Third Circuit has consistently recognized that "prejudice to the non-moving party is the touchstone for the denial of an amendment."*fn42 The Third Circuit has found that granting a motion for leave to amend would put an unwarranted burden on the trial court and result in prejudice to the opposing party when the amendment would have asserted new claims, additional discovery would have been needed, the motion was filed months after the factual basis for the amendment was known by the moving party and after summary judgment motions had been filed.*fn43 When a party seeks to amend its complaint "after summary judgment has been granted to the adverse party, other courts have recognized that the interests in judicial economy and finality of litigation may become particularly compelling."*fn44

Here, Plaintiffs seek to add Unnamed Officer Queen as the person in charge of the PSP officers, and the one responsible for the assault on Decedent and the damage to Plaintiff Musselman's property.*fn45 Plaintiffs also seek to add Unnamed Officers Hilias, Bochenek and Battistini for their actions while negotiating with Decedent, and it would seem, as a basis for liability against Defendant Bucks County.*fn46 In seeking to add new defendants, Plaintiffs plainly seek to assert new claims. Moreover, additional discovery would be warranted to ascertain, among other things, the role of each of the Unnamed Officers in the September 2004 incident. Based on the documents produced during discovery, as detailed above, the Court also finds that the factual basis for Plaintiffs' amendment was known at least fifteen months prior to the filing of the instant Motion. Thus, the Court finds that when Plaintiffs failed to add any new defendants despite having leave to do so, Plaintiffs actually had information in their possession that revealed the identity of Unnamed Officers. Finally, the Court has already decided summary judgment motions, dismissing Defendant Bucks County as well as Plaintiff Musselman's claim for damage to his property. This matter is now ready for trial. Hence, the Court finds that granting Plaintiffs leave to file a second amended complaint would prejudice the non-moving parties and place an unwarranted burden on the Court, and therefore, finds undue delay on the part of Plaintiffs in seeking to amend.

Plaintiffs seek to excuse their delay by claiming that Defendants actively concealed the identities of Unnamed Officers.*fn47 This contention in the face of ample evidence to the contrary as detailed above is at least spurious, if not disingenuous. Moreover, Plaintiffs' argument that Defendants have not moved to strike the John Doe designations is inapposite.*fn48 It is well within the Court's discretion to manage its cases as it sees fit.*fn49 While the Court will continue to diligently pursue justice for all parties in this case, it must demand that Plaintiffs do the same. There may well be viable claims against Unnamed Officers, but the Court cannot and will not allow Plaintiffs' unexcused inaction to prejudice Defendants or to further derail the resolution of this matter. Hence, the Court will deny Plaintiffs' Motion.*fn50

Plaintiffs did not directly respond to the Court's September 29, 2008 Order to show cause why Defendants John Does 1-20 should not be dismissed. Instead, Plaintiffs filed their Motion in response, seemingly relying on it to establish cause.*fn51 As the Court will deny Plaintiffs' Motion, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to show cause why ...

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