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Nin v. Luzerne County Children & Youth Services

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 23, 2017

KARELIZ NIN Plaintiff
v.
LUZERNE COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBERT D. MARIANI, JUDGE

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Kareliz Nin's Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint to Join Additional Defendant (Doc. 19). Nin seeks leave to amend her Complaint to add Luzerne County as an additional defendant in this action. Nin does not seek to add any new claims. (Id. at ¶ 6). Defendant Luzerne County Children and Youth Services filed a Brief in Opposition to Plaintiffs Motion (Doc. 21). The matter having been fully briefed, it is now ripe for resolution. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion.

         Plaintiff initiated this action in October, 2016, by filing a Writ of Summons in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, naming as Defendants Luzerne County and Luzerne County Children and Youth Services ("LCCYS"). On April 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in state court, alleging one count of violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and naming only LCCYS as a defendant. (Doc. 1-1). LCCYS thereafter timely removed the action to this Court on the basis of federal question (Doc. 1) and filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. 3). On August 25, 2017, Plaintiff filed her motion for leave to amend the complaint to add Luzerne County as a defendant. (Doc. 19).

         II. Standard of Review

         "The court should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The Supreme Court has described this rule as follows:

[Rule 15(a)'s] mandate is to be heeded. If the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits. 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."

Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed. 222 (1962) (internal citations omitted); see also Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d Cir. 2006) ("Among the factors that may justify denial of leave to amend are undue delay, bad faith, and futility.").

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiffs motion to amend was filed in a timely manner on August 25, 2017, in accordance with this Court's Case Management Order of July 20, 2017 (Doc. 13).

         Here, LCCYS asserts that Luzerne County is immune from suit, that the statute of limitations on Plaintiffs claim has expired, and that Plaintiffs "own failure to file the Complaint against a party initially served with a writ at the initiation of this claim" should now bar Plaintiff from filing the proposed amended complaint. (Doc. 21, at 1-2).

         Defendant's entire argument with respect to Luzerne County's purported immunity from suit is that "[t]he addition of Luzerne County is futile in that this party is immune from suit, so Plaintiff has no valid grounds for recovery against this party." (Doc. 21, at 5-6). Although Defendant broadly references its brief in support of its motion to dismiss as evidence of this assertion, it fails to explain here why the County is entitled to immunity. Because LCCYS has not provided this Court with any substantive, factual, or legal arguments to support its assertion that the County is entitled to immunity, the Court will not address this argument in the present opinion. However, this decision should not be interpreted as precluding the making of such an argument in a motion to dismiss by Luzerne County, should it so choose.

         With respect to Defendant's argument that the statute of limitations has expired, this assertion also forms one basis for Defendant's motion to dismiss (see Doc. 7, at 5-8). The argument here appears to be premised on the same argument as that set forth in the motion to dismiss, to wit, that the current complaint in this matter is barred by the statute of limitations. The logical extension of this argument is that if the first complaint is barred by the statute of limitations, then even if this Court were to find that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint relates back to the first Complaint, Plaintiff would still be barred from asserting a cause of action against Luzerne County. Nonetheless, Plaintiff strongly disagrees with Defendant with respect to when the cause of action accrued. (See Doc. 10, at 7-8 (arguing in her brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss that the two year statute of limitations began to run on her claim "on or around October 29, 2014."). As a result, Defendant's argument at this time would require the Court to evaluate factual and legal assertions better left for a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. With respect to the present motion, the Court is not in a position to determine whether Plaintiff's claim against LCCYS is barred by the statute of limitations. As such, assuming that Plaintiff's proposed amendment to her Complaint relates back to the date of the original pleading, the Court cannot say at this time that as a matter of law the statute of limitations bars this suit against the County. Assuming, without deciding, that Plaintiffs Complaint against LCCYS is not barred by the statute of limitations, the Court must turn to Rule 15(c) to determine whether Plaintiffs proposed amendment adding Luzerne County as a defendant relates back to the original complaint.[1] Despite Rule 15(a)'s liberal policy allowing for the amendment of pleadings, "if a litigant seeks to add a party after the statute of limitations on its claim has run, the essence of Rule 15(a) is not reached, unless the Court finds that the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), which governs the relation back of amendments, have been satisfied." Wine v. EMSA Ltd. Partnership, 167 FRD 34, 37 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). In relevant part, pursuant to Rule 15(c), an amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when:

(C) the amendment changes the party or the naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted, if Rule 15(c)(1)(B)[2] is satisfied and if, within the period provided by Rule 4(m) for serving the summons and ...

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