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B.S. v. York County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 22, 2019

B.S., a minor, by Natalie M.R. Burston, Esq., Guardian Ad Litem, Plaintiff
YORK COUNTY, et al., Defendants


          KANE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 28.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff B.S. (“Plaintiff”), is a minor residing in York County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 1.) Defendants are York County, which operates a department known as the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families (“York County OCYF”), Nan Mavor (“Mavor”), Cathy Lyman (“Lyman”), and Jacy Nemec (“Nemec”), who were caseworkers or supervisors employed by York County OCYF.[2] (Id. ¶¶ 4-8.)

         In 2012, York County OCYF removed Plaintiff from his mother's home. (Id. ¶ 11.) York County OCYF assigned caseworkers Mavor and/or Nemec to Plaintiff's case. (Id. ¶ 12.) Lyman was the supervisor in charge of Plaintiff's case. (Id. ¶ 13.) Upon Plaintiff's removal from his mother's home, York County OCYF was required to find an appropriate placement for Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 14.) York County OCYF placed Plaintiff in foster care with Ronald Witmer. (Id. ¶ 15.) In March of 2013, Plaintiff was adjudicated dependent on York County OCYF. (Id. ¶ 16.) York County OCYF recommended that physical and legal custody of Plaintiff be given to Ronald Witmer and his wife, Mary Ann Stough. (Id. ¶ 17.) Ronald Witmer and Mary Ann Stough received legal custody of Plaintiff in 2013. (Id. ¶ 18.) In January of 2014, York County OCYF closed Plaintiff's case but required that it be notified of any change in Plaintiff's custody. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.)

         While Plaintiff was in the custody of Witmer, Witmer sexually abused him, and in the spring of 2017, was arrested for that abuse. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Ultimately, Witmer pled guilty to Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, 18 Pa..C.S. § 3123(a)(7), and Corruption of Minors, 18 Pa.C.S. § 6301(a)(1)(ii), related to his sexual abuse of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 25.) Prior to Plaintiff's placement in Witmer's home, Witmer had sexually abused young boys on at least two occasions, resulting in two criminal convictions in 1989 and 1991. (Id. ¶¶ 29-44.)

         On October 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed his complaint in this Court alleging that York County OCYF should never have placed him in Witmer's home given his history of sexual abuse of young boys. (Id. ¶¶ 45-47.) Plaintiff's complaint alleges that at the time of these events, York County OCYF was inadequately staffed and its caseworkers insufficiently trained, resulting in the oversights that led to Plaintiff's placement in Witmer's home. (Id. ¶¶ 48-53.) Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff's complaint asserts two claims against York County OCYF, Mavor, Lyman and Nemec: count one alleges a state-created danger claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and count two alleges a special relationship claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 56-74.) Defendants filed an answer to the complaint on February 5, 2018. (Doc. No. 10.)

         Soon after the filing of Plaintiff's complaint, Plaintiff filed a motion to appoint a guardian ad litem for Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 7.) On February 15, 2018, the Court granted in part Plaintiff's motion for the appointment of a guardian ad litem and appointed Natalie M.R. Burston, Esq. as guardian ad litem for Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 11.)

         Shortly thereafter, the Court held a case management conference in this matter and referred the case to mediation pursuant to the Court's mandatory mediation program. (Doc. Nos. 14-16.) When the case failed to resolve through mediation, the Court issued a case management order that bifurcated the issues of liability and damages, setting October 9, 2018 as the date for the close of fact discovery on liability issues, and November 9, 2018 as the date for dispositive motions related to the issue of liability. (Doc. No. 19.) Plaintiff subsequently filed an unopposed motion for a two-month extension of time to complete discovery on liability issues, which the Court granted, setting December 9, 2018 as the date for the close of discovery and January 8, 2019 as the date for the filing of liability-related dispositive motions. (Doc. No. 27.)

         On November 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 28), with a proposed first amended complaint attached as an exhibit (Doc. No. 28-3), and a supporting brief (Doc. No. 29). After receiving an extension of time to respond to the motion, Defendants filed their Brief in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Amend on November 29, 2018 (Doc. No. 33), with exhibits (Doc. No. 33-1). Plaintiff filed a Reply Brief in further support of his motion on December 13, 2018. (Doc. No. 34.) Defendants then requested permission to file a sur-reply brief, which the Court granted. (Doc. No. 38.) On January 4, 2018, Defendants filed their sur-reply brief (Doc. No. 39), with supporting exhibits (Doc. No. 39-1). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.[3]


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) governs Plaintiff's request for amendment and provides, in pertinent part, that after amending a complaint once as a matter of right, “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.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). As the Supreme Court has stated, “the grant or denial of an opportunity to amend is within the discretion of the District Court . . . outright refusal to grant the leave without any justifying reason appearing for the denial is not an exercise of discretion, it is merely an abuse of discretion and inconsistent with the spirit of the Federal Rules.” See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         Grounds potentially justifying denial of leave to amend are “undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, and futility.” See id.; In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997). “Futility” means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See In re NAHC, Inc. Sec. Litig., 306 F.3d 1314, 1332 (3d Cir. 2002); In re Burlington, 114 F.3d at 1434. In assessing “futility, ” a district court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See In re Burlington, 114 F.3d at 1434; 3 Moore's Federal Practice, § 15.15[3] at 15-55 to 15-61 (3d ed. 2013). Accordingly, in assessing the potential futility of a proposed amended complaint, the Court must accept as true the allegations in the proposed amended complaint and construe those allegations in the light most favorable to the party seeking leave to amend. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010).

         The issue of “prejudice” focuses on hardship to the defendant if the amendment were permitted, specifically, whether amendment “would result in additional discovery, cost, and preparation to defend against new facts or new theories.” See Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir. 2001). With regard to “undue delay, ” the Third Circuit has held that the mere passage of time does not require that a motion to amend a pleading be denied; “however, at some point, the [movant's] delay will become ‘undue,' placing an unwarranted burden on the court, or will become ‘prejudicial,' placing an unfair burden on the opposing party.” See Adams v. Gould, Inc., 739 F.2d 858, 868 (3d Cir. 1984). In assessing the issue of “undue” delay, the Court's focus is on the movant's motives for not amending sooner. See id.


         Plaintiff's motion and supporting brief seek leave to file a first amended complaint that accomplishes the following: (1) it corrects some factual inaccuracies in his original complaint that were revealed in the course of discovery; (2) it adds an additional defendant, Ashley Rohrbaugh (“Rohrbaugh”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20;[4] and (3) it adds a Monell claim for municipal liability against Defendant York County OCYF. Defendants oppose the addition of Ashley Rohrbaugh as a defendant and the addition of a Monell claim against Defendant York County OCYF, arguing that the Court should ...

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