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Stewart v. Emmons

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

March 27, 2014

C.O. EMMONS, et. al., Defendants.


Timothy R. Rice U.S. Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Stewart was detained pre-trial in the Chester County Prison March 25 -29, 2010, and alleges that mistreatment by the County, its employees, and its contracted medical providers, led to a fall that resulted in his quadriplegia. Pending before me are four motions: Stewart’s petition for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (doc. 42); motions for partial summary judgment filed by the Chester County defendants (doc. 38) and medical provider defendants (doc. 58); and Stewart’s motion to compel discovery (doc. 47).

I grant, in part, Stewart’s petition for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, as explained below. I also deny, without prejudice, defendants’ motions for summary judgment. Stewart’s motion to compel is dismissed as moot, pursuant to the parties’ representations at oral argument that they would agree upon any further discovery once the petition for leave to amend has been decided.


On March 25, 2010, Stewart was arrested by Westtown East Goshen police, charged with, among other offenses, disorderly conduct, and detained pretrial at the Chester County Prison. Amended Complaint (“AC”) (doc. 25) at ¶¶ 25-34. At his intake interview, Stewart provided some information regarding his history of mental illness, which was noted by prison employees and employees of the company contracted to provide medical services to the inmates, PrimeCare Medical, Inc. (“PrimeCare”). Id. at ¶¶ 35-41. From March 26 through 28, 2010, Stewart was incarcerated first in the prison’s general population, and then, after a conflict with corrections officers, put in restraints and moved to the prison’s punitive cell block, and finally moved to the medical cell block, still in restraints. Id. at ¶¶ 42-47. On March 29, 2010, in the prison’s medical cell block, Stewart fell from the top bunk and hit his head on the metal toilet, suffering injuries that have rendered him quadriplegic. Id. at ¶¶ 47-50.

The original Complaint was filed on March 26, 2012 before United States District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter, and the Amended Complaint was filed in January 2013. The asserted facts and legal theories have changed over time. Initially, Stewart claimed he was fleeing an unprovoked attack when he was unlawfully arrested, and he sued the arresting officers for assault and battery as well as their employer, East Goshen Township. Complaint (doc. 1), Counts IV and V. Stewart also alleged assault and battery by Chester County corrections officers, suing them and the prison based on claims that he was transferred to the punitive cell block only after officers had entered his cell and, without provocation, assaulted him. Id., Counts IX and X. He also brought suit against PrimeCare and its individual employees, alleging negligence in their failure to properly note and address his mental illness. Id., Count XVI.

After extensive discovery, all claims against the arresting officers and East Goshen Township have been dropped. See generally, proposed Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), attached to Plaintiff’s petition for leave to amend. Stewart now seeks to bring claims exclusively under theories of “deliberate indifference” against Chester County prison and its employees, and negligence against PrimeCare and its employees. Id. Stewart has abandoned his claims that corrections officers beat him without provocation. Instead, he contends that he had a psychotic episode, attacked the officers, and they responded. Id. Based on that attack, other behavior he exhibited, and his answers to questions about his medical history, Stewart contends the PrimeCare and Chester County defendants knew he was a potential danger to himself, and that their procedures were inadequate to protect him. Id. Stewart now claims that, in a psychotic state, he climbed up on the top bunk of his cell in the medical block, in arm restraints, and attempted suicide by twice throwing himself off the top bunk onto the floor. Id. After his second fall, Stewart was moved from his prone position by two corrections officers in the company of a PrimeCare nurse. He claims this movement contributed to his injuries. Id.

In August 2013, the Chester County defendants sought partial summary judgment based on the allegations in the Amended Complaint. In October 2013, Stewart sought leave to file a Second Amended Complaint. In January 2014, PrimeCare filed a motion for partial summary judgment, also based on the allegations in the January 2013 Amended Complaint. In February 2014, the parties consented to transfer the case to me. On March 17, 2014, I heard oral argument on Stewart’s petition for leave to amend his complaint.


The parties dispute which standard applies to Stewart’s petition. Stewart cites Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, which allows me to “freely” grant leave to amend when it would serve “justice.” Pl.’s Mem. in Support of Pet. for Leave to Am. (“Pl. Br.”) (doc. 42) at 8. Defendants argue that, before reaching the Rule 15 analysis, I must first apply the heightened Rule 16(b) standard because granting leave to amend would abrogate the court’s prior scheduling order. PrimeCare’s Resp. in Opp. to Pet. for Leave to Am. (“PC Br.”) (doc. 44) at 5.

Under Rule 16(b), a party seeking an amendment that requires changing a scheduling order must demonstrate “good cause” for the delay. E. Minerals & Chems. Co. v. Mahan, 225 F.3d 330, 340 (3d Cir. 2000); accord Dimensional Commc’ns, Inc. v. OZ Optics, Ltd., 148 F. App’x 82, 85 (3d Cir. 2005) (“good cause” applies to motions to amend pleadings after scheduling order deadlines have passed). Under Rule 15, the party opposing the amendment must show that: 1) it would be prejudiced by the amendment, 2) the party seeking leave has moved with “undue delay, ” or 3) the proposed amendment would be futile. Jang v. Boston Scientific Scimed, Inc., 729 F.3d 357, 367 (3d Cir. 2013).

The December 2012 Scheduling Order set a January 11, 2013 deadline for Plaintiff to amend his Complaint. Stewart argues his petition to amend should be considered solely under Rule 15 because he moved to amend before the expiration of the discovery period on October 31, 2013. I disagree. Because a Scheduling Order would have to be revised to grant Stewart leave to amend, his request must first be considered under Rule 16, which requires that he demonstrate “good cause” to modify a scheduling order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4).


Rule 16 “Good Cause”

Discovering new information during the progression of a lawsuit constitutes “good cause” under Rule 16 if the information could not have been known before discovery. Grill v. Aversa, No. 12–120, 2014 WL 198805, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 2014). The earliest any of the Defendants claim Stewart should have known of the factual basis of his Second Amended Complaint is when discovery was exchanged in early February 2013. Neither party, therefore, disputes Stewart’s contention that he had “good cause” to amend his motion after the January 2013 deadline, and I find that he has met his burden under Rule 16. Next, I must consider his request under Rule 15. Perlman v. Universal Restoration Sys., Inc., No. 09–4215, 2013 WL 5278211, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 19, 2013) (considering, in succession, the requirements of Rules 16 and 15).

Rule 15 “Undue Delay”

Any “significant, unjustified, or ‘undue’ delay in seeking the amendment may itself constitute prejudice sufficient to justify denial of a motion for leave to amend.” CMR D.N. Corp. v. City of Phila., 703 F.3d 612, 629 (3d Cir. 2013) accord Adams v. Gould Inc., 739 F.2d 858, 868 (3d Cir. 1984) (“passage of time, without more, does not require that a motion to amend a complaint be denied; however, at some point, the delay will become ‘undue, ’ placing an unwarranted burden on the court, or will become ‘prejudicial, ’ placing an unfair burden on the opposing party.”). Stewart’s justification for seeking leave to amend in October is relevant because “the question of undue delay requires that we focus on the movant’s reasons for not amending sooner.” Cureton v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001). Defendants contend Stewart had all the information necessary to draft his Second Amended Complaint in February or, at the latest, May 2013, while Stewart contends that he needed information from depositions and document discovery that did not occur until late September 2013.

There are no allegations that Stewart delayed seeking initial discovery in this case, and because his original theory required seeking discovery from three institutional and multiple individual defendants, I am satisfied that he pursued discovery with due diligence. See, e.g., Karlo v. Pittsburgh Glass Works, LLC, No. 10–1283, 2011 WL 5170445, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 31, 2011) (finding plaintiff that had waited more than six months before serving initial discovery and submitted proposed amended complaint without moving to amend case management order was not diligent). Defendants contend Stewart should have sought leave to amend his complaint as soon as the facts underlying each amendment came to light. ...

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