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Estate of Guziewicz v. Magnotta

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 5, 2017

ESTATE OF RAYMOND J. GUZIEWICZ and STEVEN J. GUZIEWICZ, Individually and as the Administrator of the Estate of Raymond J. Guziewicz, Plaintiffs,
v.
RENEE P. MAGNOTTA, Defendant.

          SAPORITO MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM

          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is an appeal of Magistrate Judge Saporito's January 25, 2017 Order granting in part Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to file an Amended Complaint. (Doc. 53.) For the reasons that follow, the Order of the Magistrate Judge will be set aside to the extent it found that the proposed amendment adding Agent Jerome Smith as a Defendant related back to the original Complaint under the “identity of interest” method of imputed notice.

         I. Relevant Background

         According to the Complaint, on January 27, 2012, arrest warrants were issued for Raymond J. Guziewicz ("Raymond") and Steven J. Guziewicz ("Steven") at the request of Magnotta, an agent of the Office of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania assigned to the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation. On January 31, 2012, Raymond was arrested by the Scranton City Police Department on the authority of the arrest warrant. He was charged with fifty-two felonies and twenty-six misdemeanors under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act. Raymond was incarcerated for four days until he posted bail on February 3, 2012. On September 6, 2012, all of the charges against Raymond were dismissed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because his arrest lacked probable cause. Steven spent eighteen months in prison and was sentenced to time served on December 18, 2013, after pleading guilty to one felony count of acquiring a controlled substance. Steven alleged that he was forced to plead guilty after three potential alibi witnesses died before Steven's trial date of September 23, 2013. In addition, it is alleged that Magnotta had a pattern of arresting Raymond and Steven since 2005 in order to extract guilty pleas from Steven notwithstanding a lack of probable cause to support the charges against Raymond.

         Steven is the administrator of Raymond's estate and brings this action in both his individual capacity and in his role as administrator of the estate. Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to amend the Complaint to add Agent Jerome Smith (“Smith”) as a Defendant on January 21, 2016. (Doc. 30.) Plaintiffs's proposed Amended Complaint alleges that Smith was Magnotta's immediate supervisor at or near the time of the events giving rise to the action and knew or should have known of Magnotta's propensity for filing criminal charges which were not supported by probable cause. (Doc. 30-1 ¶ 22.)

         Magnotta's last day of employment with the Office of Attorney General was November 8, 2013. (Kreiser Decl. ¶ 2, Doc. 34-3.) Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint on September 8, 2014, naming only Magnotta as a Defendant in her individual capacity. (Doc. 1.) On January 25, 2017, the Magistrate Judge entered a Memorandum (Doc. 50) and accompanying Order (Doc. 51) granting in part Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to file an Amended Complaint. The Magistrate Judge granted Plaintiffs leave to add Smith as a Defendant in this action and concluded that the amendment related back to the original Complaint. (Doc. 50, at 15-16.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Appeal of a Magistrate Judge's Order Determining a Nondispositive Pretrial Motion

         Local Rule 72.2 permits a party to appeal a magistrate judge's order determining a nondispositive pretrial motion or matter in any case in which the magistrate judge is not the presiding judge within fourteen (14) days after the order is issued. A district judge shall set aside any portion of the magistrate judge's order that is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); L.R. 72.2. “A magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous only ‘when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'” Wachtel v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 239 F.R.D. 376, 384 (D.N.J. 2006) (quoting Dome Petroleum Ltd. v. Emp'rs Mut. Liab. Ins. Co. of Wis., 131 F.R.D. 63, 65 (D.N.J. 1990) (quoting United States v. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948))). “To be contrary to law, a magistrate judge's order must have ‘misinterpreted or misapplied applicable law.'” Id. at 385 (quoting Gunter v. Ridgewood Energy Corp., 32 F.Supp.2d 162, 164 (D.N.J. 1998)).

         B. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) provides that after a responsive pleading has been filed, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” The Rule states that “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” 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, No. 3:15-cv-1010, 2016 WL 2859612, at *1 (M.D. Pa. May 16, 2016) (quoting Dole v. Arco Chem. Co., 921 F.2d 484, 486-87 (3d Cir. 1990)). However, a district court may exercise its discretion to deny a Rule 15 motion 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.” U.S. ex rel. Schumann v. Astrazeneca Pharm. L.P., 769 F.3d 837, 849 (3d Cir. 2014).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)[1] governs the relation back of amendments. In order for an amended complaint which adds a new defendant to relate back to the original complaint, three conditions must be met: (1) the claim against the newly named defendant must have arisen out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading; (2) within the 120-day period for service of the summons and complaint under Rule 4(m), the newly named party received notice of the institution of the action such that it will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits; and (3) within that same period of time, the newly named party knew, or should have known, that but for a mistake, she would have been named as a defendant in the first place. Robinson v. Adams, No. 09-3587, 2010 WL 3069647, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 4, 2010) (citing Singletary v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 266 F.3d 186, 194 (3d Cir. 2001)). “If the amendment relates back to the date of the filing of the original complaint, the amended complaint is treated, for statute of limitations purposes, as if it had been filed at that time.” Garvin v. City of Phila., 354 F.3d 215, 220 (3d Cir. 2003).

         III. ...


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