United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
D. Mariani, Judge
Introduction and Procedural
Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion to File a
Third Amended Complaint, (Doc. 179). While no formal
discovery has yet been conducted, this case has generated a
lengthy factual and procedural record which is briefly
Mumia Abu-Jamal, along with Plaintiffs Brett Grote and Robert
Boyle, also Mr. Abu-Jamal's attorneys of record in this
matter, initially filed this action on May 18, 2015, claiming
violations of the right to association and access to the
courts. (Doc. 1 at 10). Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant
Kerestes, the then current superintendent at the State
Correctional Institution at Mahanoy, and another "barred
the plaintiff attorneys from visiting with Mr.
Abu-Jamal" and further "prohibited all
communication between Mr. Abu-Jamal and anyone, " with
the exception of a short phone call between him and his wife.
(Id. at 3). Subsequently, Plaintiffs Boyle and Grote
filed notices of voluntary dismissal (Docs. 17, 18), leaving
Mr. Abu-Jamal (hereinafter, "Plaintiff") as the
only remaining plaintiff.
November 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental and Amended
Complaint (hereinafter "Amended Complaint"), (Doc.
57), which added several defendants. Those defendants
included Defendants Oppman and Steinhart, both Pennsylvania
Department of Corrections employees. The Amended Complaint
also added an Eighth Amendment claim and state law negligence
medical claims related to Plaintiffs hepatitis C and other
conditions. In January of 2016, Defendant Kerestes filed a
Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 81). Two
months later, Defendants Oppman and Steinhart filed their
Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.
August 5, 2016, this Court granted in part and denied in part
both Motions to Dismiss. (Docs. 168, 169, 170, &
171). On August 16, 2016, in accordance with
this Court's s on the Motions to Dismiss, Plaintiff filed
their Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 178). The next day,
Plaintiff filed the present motion which seeks to amend his
complaint once again. (Doc. 179). In short, the proposed
Third Amended Complaint seeks to add three new defendants:
the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (hereinafter
"DOC"), DOC Secretary John Wetzel, and Dr. Paul
Noel. The current Defendants oppose this amendment. The issue
has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision. For the
reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiffs motion
to file his Third Amended Complaint.
Rule of Civil Procedure 15 provides that a party may amend
their complaint once within twenty-one days of service,
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). After that time, "a party may
amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written
consent or the court's leave. The court should freely
give leave when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(a)(2). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit has adopted a liberal approach to the amendment of
pleadings in order to ensure that 'a particular claim
will be decided on the merits rather than on
technicalities.'" Payne v. Duncan, 2016 WL
2859612, at *1 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (quoting Dole v. Arco
Chem. Co., 921 F.2d 484, 486-87 (3d Cir. 1990)). Indeed,
the Third Circuit has noted that "[g]enerally, Rule 15
motions should be granted, " United States ex rel.
Customs Fraud Investigations, LLC v. Victaulic Co., 839
F.3d 242, 249 (3d Cir. 2016), and that "the pleading
philosophy of the Rules counsels in favor of liberally
permitting amendments to a complaint" or pleading,
CMR D.N. Corp. v. City of Philadelphia, 703 F.3d
612, 629 (3d Cir. 2013).
"[t]here are three instances when a court typically may
exercise its discretion to deny a Rule 15(a) motion for leave
to amend: when '(1) the moving party has demonstrated
undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motives, (2) the amendment
would be futile, or (3) the amendment would prejudice the
other party."' United States ex rel. Customs
Fraud Investigations, 839 F.3d at 249 (quoting
United States ex rel. Schumann v. Astrazeneca Pharma.
LP, 769 F.3d 837, 849 (3d Cir. 2014)). "[prejudice
to the nonmoving party is the touchstone for the denial of
the amendment, " Dole, 921 F.2d at 488
(quotation marks omitted), When an amendment to a complaint
seeks to join parties, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20 is
also implicated. That rule states, in pertinent part, that
"[p]ersons... may be joined in one action as defendants
if: (A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly,
severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising
out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of
transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or
fact common to all defendants will arise in the action."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2). "For courts applying Rule 20 and
related rules, 'the impulse is toward entertaining the
broadest possible scope of action consistent with fairness to
the parties; joinder of claims, parties and remedies is
strongly encouraged.'" Hagan v. Rogers, 570
F.3d 146, 153 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting United Mine Workers
of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 724, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16
L.Ed.2d 218 (1966)).
first to the requirements of Rule 20, Defendants do not argue
that joinder here is improper. Nor should they. Plaintiff
alleges he has the right to relief from the three proposed
parties for their role in the treatment of his hepatitis C
and skin conditions. In the current operative complaint-the
Second Amended Complaint-Plaintiff seeks money damages and
injunctive relief from the current Defendants for their roles
in, among other things, the treatment of his hepatitis C and
skin conditions during the same time period. Thus, the
proposed parties' potential liability arises out of the
same transaction or occurrence as the current Defendants,
namely liability arising out of providing inadequate medical
care as it pertains to Plaintiffs hepatitis C and skin
conditions. Therefore, the Court finds that joinder of the
additional parties here is proper.
Defendants do not put forth any arguments that joinder is
improper, they do argue that amending the complaint is
improper under Rule 15 for two reasons. First, Defendants
argue that the new complaint is, at its core, a new action
against entirely new parties. (Doc. 197 at 5). Defendants
support this argument with a quote from a prior opinion of
this Court where it said that "a court may deny leave to
file a supplemental complaint where the new proposed pleading
related only indirectly to the original complaint and the new
alleged cause of action arose from a body of facts unrelated
to those set forth in the original complaint."
Payne, 2015 WL 2357073, at *3 (citing Nottingham
v. Peoria, 709 F.Supp. 542, 544 (M.D. Pa. 1988)). Here,
they argue, the proposed parties are unrelated to the claims
asserted in the original complaint. (Doc. 197 at 6).
misread the case law. In both Payne and
Nottingham the operative complaint sought to be
amended or supplemented was the original complaint. See
Payne, 2015 WL 2357073, at *1; Nottingham, 709
F.Supp. at 544. These cases do not stand for the proposition
that, under Rule 15, a court must compare a proposed amended
complaint to the original complaint irrespective of any
intervening amendments. An "amended complaint supersedes
the original and renders it of no legal effect, unless the
amended complaint specifically refers to or adopts the
earlier pleading." W. Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC
v. Huntington Nat. Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 171 (3d Cir.
2013) (quotation marks omitted); see also Snyder v.
Pascack Valley Hosp., 303 F.3d 271, 276 (3d Cir. 2002)
("An amended complaint supercedes [sic] the original
version in providing the blueprint for the future course of a
the proposed Third Amended Complaint adds three parties and
some factual assertions concerning these parties, but it does
not add any additional counts to the current operative
complaint. Far from being "a new action, " the
proposed complaint only alleges that these proposed
Defendants are also liable for the causes of action already
alleged in the Second Amended Complaint.
second argument as to why the Court should deny Plaintiffs
motion to amend is that Plaintiff has acted with undue delay.
(Doc. 197 at 6). "Delay alone will not constitute
grounds for denial" of a motion for leave to amend.
Bjorgung v. Whitetail Resort, LP.,550 F.3d 263, 266
(3d Cir. 2008) (citing Cureton v. Natl Collegiate Athl.
Ass'n,252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001)). Undue
delay, however, may justify a denial of a motion for leave to
amend. United States ex rel. Customs Fraud
Investigations, 839 F.3d at 249. "Delay becomes
'undue, ' and thereby creates grounds for the
district court to refuse leave, when it places an unwarranted
burden on the court or when the plaintiff has had previous
opportunities to amend." Bjorgung, 550 F.3d at