United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
employment discrimination case, Plaintiff Rachel Jones
asserted a claim for a hostile work environment under Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
(“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Stat. 951 et seq.,
against Defendants Pennsylvania State Police
(“PSP”) and Sergeant Mike Tinneny. Plaintiff was,
during the relevant times of her Complaint, a patrol trooper
for the PSP. According to Plaintiff, the PSP failed to stop
her co-worker and ex-boyfriend, Trooper Craig Acord, from
harassing her. Plaintiff furthermore claimed that Sergeant
Tinneny aided and abetted the hostile work environment.
four-day trial, the jury awarded $250, 000 to Plaintiff,
finding that the PSP violated both Title VII and the PHRA.
Sergeant Tinneny was found not liable. Defendants now move
for a new trial under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure or, alternatively, seek a reduction of the
jury's award. For the reasons that follow,
Defendants' motion shall be denied.
motion, a court may grant a new trial “for any reason
for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an
action at law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
59(a)(1)(A). However, “it should do so only when
‘the great weight of the evidence cuts against the
verdict and . . . a miscarriage of justice would result if
the verdict were to stand.” Leonard v. Stemtech
Int'l Inc, 834 F.3d 376, 386 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting
Springer v. Henry, 435 F.3d 268, 274 (3d Cir.
2006)). The power to grant a new trial is limited to ensure
that a court “does not substitute its judgment of the
facts and the credibility of the witnesses for that of the
jury.” See Id. (quoting Delli Santi v. CNA
Ins. Cos., 88 F.3d 192, 201 (3d Cir. 1996));
Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., 100 F.3d
1061, 1076 (3d Cir. 1996) (en banc). Indeed, granting a new
trial may “effect a denigration of the jury system
and to the extent that new trials are granted the judge takes
over, if he does not usurp, the prime function of the jury as
the trier of facts.” Id. (internal quotation
moving for a new trial, Defendants contend that: (1) the
Court committed an error of law when it denied, during trial
and from the bench, Defendants' motion to amend the
pleadings under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure; and (2) the jury instructions confused and misled
the jury. Each purported error will be considered in turn.
Request for Amendment under Rule 15
Defendants' Initial Request for Amendment under Rule
addressing the merits of Defendants' request for
amendment under Rule 15(a), some procedural background is
necessary. On January, 11, 2017, Defendants' filed an
Answer in which they admitted, inter alia, that:
• Plaintiff s complaints about harassment by Acord
“were not taken seriously”;
• Plaintiff reported Acord's harassment to a
lieutenant, but was told “there was no need for an
investigation” at the time;
• Internal Affairs of the PSP conducted witness
interviews only after Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”); and
• Starting in November 2015, the PSP began investigating
Plaintiff s harassment claim pursuant to a second EEOC
trial, Plaintiff sought to read those admissions into
evidence. In response, Defendants submitted a letter to the
Court, styled as a “Motion to Amend, ” which
sought leave to amend their Answer pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 15(b)(1) to “conform to the
discovery and evidence as it has been presented at
15(b)(1) authorizes amendment of pleadings in two ways: (i)
when “a party objects that evidence is not within the
issues raised in the pleadings” or (ii) when an
“issue” is “tried by the parties'
express or implied consent.” Ruling from the bench, the
Court found that Defendants had not shown - either by letter
or in argument - that either provision applied and, thus,
denied the motion. Defendants have not challenged that
Defendants' Subsequent Oral Request for Amendment under
after the Court's decision on their Rule 15(b) motion,
Defendants switched their theory for an amendment - arguing
that they should be granted leave to amend under Rule 15(a)
instead. They provided no case law to support their position,
contending simply that “justice so require[d]”
it. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Without the benefit of briefing,
the Court looked to the language of Rule 15(a) and denied
Defendants' request to amend for two reasons. First, by
its own terms, Rule 15(a)'s heading provided that it
governed “Amendments Before Trial.” Accordingly,
because Defendants sought amendment during trial,
the Court concluded that Rule 15(a) did not apply. Second,
the Court noted that prior, competent counsel for Defendants
made the admissions, and justice did not require amendment
simply because current counsel for Defendants disagreed with
prior counsel's decision.
Rule 15(a) Standard and Its Application
decision of whether to grant or deny a motion for leave to
amend under Rule 15(a) rests “within the sound
discretion of the district court.” Howze v. Jones
& Laughlin Steel Corp., 750 F.2d 1208, 1212 (3d Cir.
1984). If the deadline for amendment as a matter of course
has passed, Rule 15(a) provides that “a party may amend
its pleading only with the opposing party's written
consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(a)(2). “The court should freely give leave when
justice so requires.” Id.
the Rule 15(a) heading upon which the Court based its ruling
during trial, requests for Rule 15(a) amendments are not
necessarily limited to matters before trial. In their motion
for a new trial, Defendants cite to Charpentier v.
Godsil which holds that requests for Rule 15(a)
amendments are not categorically barred during trial. 937
F.2d 859, 863-64 (3d Cir. 1991) (noting that a
“responsive pleading may be amended at any
time by leave of court to include an
affirmative defense”) (emphasis added); see also
id. at 864 (“Consequently, we believe that the
district court possessed discretion to permit an amendment of
the answer to assert this defense even after the
verdict was returned.”) (emphasis added).
And, based on the Court's independent research, it is
clear that requests for amendment under Rule 15(a) may be
made at various stages of litigation. See Mullin v.
Balicki, 875 F.3d 140, 149 (3d Cir. 2017)
(“Lacking a time limit or an outer bound on when
amendment is permissible, the Rule instructs courts to
‘freely give leave [to amend] when justice so
requires.”); see also Newark Branch, NAACP v. Town
of Harrison, N.J., 907 F.2d 1408, 1417 (3d Cir. 1990)
(“Accordingly, courts have held that grants for leave
to amend complaints should be routinely granted to
plaintiffs, even after judgments of dismissal have been
entered against them, if the appropriate standard for leave
to amend under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) is satisfied.”);
Levin v. Weissman, 594 F.Supp. 322, 329 (E.D. Pa.
1984), judgment aff'd, 760 F.2d 258 (3d Cir.
1985) (“There was discretion to permit plaintiff to
amend his complaint immediately after he rested his case. . .
.”). In light of Charpentier, Defendants now
claim that their request for amendment under Rule 15(a)
should have been granted.
leave to amend under Rule 15(a) is not given automatically.
Leave may be denied for various reasons, such as when the
request for amendment fails to specify “what [the
movant's] amendment would have looked like.”
Petratos v. Genentech, Inc., 855 F.3d 481, 493 (3d
Cir. 2017). Additionally, in deciding whether “leave to
amend might reasonably be denied, ” prejudice to the
opposing party is considered. Mullin, 875 F.3d at 149.
“[P]rejudice to the non-moving party is the touchstone
for the denial of an amendment.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted). Here, two reasons justify denial of
Defendants' cursory request, absent citation to authority
or identification of exactly what they wanted to amend in
their answer, warranted a denial. It is only in their
post-trial briefing that Defendants have taken issue
with specific admissions and have offered particularized
reasons as to why “justice” might require
amendment. Because the Motion to Amend failed to tender any
proposed amendment or identify “the particular grounds
on which amendment [was] sought, ” denial of the Rule
15(a) motion was proper. Petratos, 855 F.3d at
493-94; see also Williams v. Martin-Baker Aircraft
Co., 389 F.3d 1251, 1259 (D.C. Cir. 2004).
and more significantly, amending admissions made by
Defendants' in their answer to Plaintiff's Complaint
at the eleventh hour during trial would have unduly
prejudiced Plaintiff. Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate
Athletic Ass'n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001)
(“[U]ndue prejudice to the non-moving party is a
sufficient ground for denial of leave to amend.”).
Plaintiff's counsel received Defendants' admissions
nearly a year before trial began and relied on these
admissions in preparing trial strategy. To enact wholesale
but unspecified changes to Defendants' factual admissions
in the midst of trial - all without any briefing or adequate
explanation - would have required Plaintiff's attorney to
re-think his trial strategy on the fly thus unduly
prejudicing Plaintiff. See id.; see also
Synthes, Inc. v. Marotta, 281 F.R.D. 217, 228 (E.D. Pa.
2012) (noting that ...