United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
KEITH C. BACHTELL and RENEE D. BACHTELL, as Administrators of the Estate of Jamison Taylor Bachtell, dec'd and in their own right, Plaintiffs,
GENERAL MILLS, INC. and SIGNATURE BRANDS LLC, Defendants/ Third Party Plaintiffs.
FLAIR FLEXIBLE PACKAGING CORPORATION and MANTO INTERNATIONAL LIMITED Third-Party Defendants
H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is Signature Brands LLC's
(“Signature”) Motion for Leave to File Amended
Answer with Counter-claim against Keith C. Bachtell and Renee
D. Bachtell. (Doc. 61.) For the reasons below, the court
shall deny the motion.
November 29, 2018, Plaintiffs Keith C. Bachtell (Mr.
Bachtell) and Renee D. Bachtell (Mrs. Bachtell) (together,
“Bachtells” or “Plaintiffs”) sued
Defendants General Mills, Inc. and Signature
(“Defendants”). Plaintiffs allege that their son
died when he choked to death on the cap to an icing tube that
Defendants improperly designed and sold. On January 31, 2019,
Signature filed a standard answer alleging multiple
affirmative defenses. Two weeks later, it filed a third-party
complaint against two different third parties seeking
indemnification and contribution for Plaintiffs' claims.
On June 11, 2019, Signature filed a motion for leave to file
another third-party complaint against the health-care
providers that treated the Bachtells' son. The court
granted said leave, after which Signature filed that
third-party complaint on October 29, 2019.
November 14, 2019, Signature filed an additional motion for
leave, this time seeking permission from the court to file a
counterclaim, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 13, for
contribution against Plaintiffs. In essence, Signature argues
that Plaintiffs' own negligence contributed to their
son's death, rendering them joint tortfeasors with
Signature for each other's harm. (See Doc.
61-1.) This motion has been fully briefed. It is thus ripe
STANDARD OF REVIEW
as here, a party seeks to amend a pleading after a responsive
pleading has been served, it may do so ‘only by leave
of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and
leave shall be freely given when justice so
requires.'” Dimensional Comm'cns, Inc. v.
OZ Optics, Ltd., 148 Fed.Appx. 82, 85 (3d Cir. 2005)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)). “‘Among the grounds
that could justify a denial of leave to amend are undue
delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, and
futility.'” Id. (quoting In re
Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434
(3d Cir. 1997)). “‘An amendment is futile if the
amended complaint would not survive a motion to
dismiss.'” Cnty. of Hudson v. Janiszewski,
351 Fed.Appx. 662, 666 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Alvin v.
Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir. 2000)).
the parties primarily argue about whether the amendment is
timely and whether the underlying evidence is sufficient to
justify Signature's counterclaim. A new scheduling order
is likely to be entered soon, rendering timeliness a
non-issue, and the question of whether Signature's
pleaded counterclaim is supported by the evidence is
irrelevant. As such, neither issue is helpful to the court.
Nonetheless, the court shall sua sponte deny the
motion on ripeness grounds. Peachlum v. City of York,
Pa., 333 F.3d 429, 433 (3d Cir. 2003)
(“[C]onsiderations of ripeness are sufficiently
important that the court is required to raise the issue
sua sponte even though the parties do not.”);
Nat'l Park Hosp. Ass'n v. Dep't of
Interior, 538 U.S. 803, 808 (2003) (“[T]he
question of ripeness may be considered on a court's own
Pennsylvania law, a claim for contribution is not ripe until
a judgment has been rendered against the party seeking
contribution. Kenda v. Clark Equip. Co., No.
85-CV-6534, 1986 WL 814, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 1986)
(collecting cases). Rule 14(a)(1) authorizes a third-party
plaintiff to bring an unripe contribution claim against a
third-party defendant, even though its actionability is
contingent on an underlying judgment being entered.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 14(a)(1) (“[A] defending
party may, as third-party plaintiff, serve a summons and
complaint on a nonparty who is or may be liable to
it for all or part of the claim against it.”) (emphasis
supplied); see Stahl v. Ohio River Co., 424 F.2d 52,
56 (3d Cir. 1970) (“This language [in Rule 14(a)(1)]
clearly recognizes contingent liability.”). But Rule
13, which governs counterclaims, contains no such language:
Rule 13 refers only to claim that have ‘matured' at
the time they are pleaded as counterclaims. The crucial time
for determining whether a claim may be filed as a
counterclaim under the Rule 13(a) and Rule 13(b) is the time
pleadings are filed. Claims which have ‘matured'
after the filing of a party's pleadings in the action may
be pleaded with the permission of the court under Rule 13(e).
But under the specific language of Rule 13(e) such permission
may be given only if the claim is a ‘matured' one
at the time permission is requested.
Stahl, 424 F.2d at 54-55 (internal citations
omitted). As such, a “claim for contribution is not a
matured claim as contemplated under Rule 13(e) because such
claim is contingent upon a verdict and judgment establishing
liability of a party as a joint tortfeasor.”
Id. This is a sufficient basis to deny the motion.
See, e.g., Cobb v. Nye, No. 4:14-cv-0865, 2015 WL
3702515, at *2 (M.D. Pa. June 12, 2015) (dismissing
defendant's contribution counterclaim under
Stahl); Barnes v. Maumee Express,
Inc., No. 01-CV-5766, 2003 WL 21659176, at *1 (E.D. Pa.
Jan. 27, 2003) (same); Kenda, 1986 WL 814 at *1-2
reasons outlined above, the court shall deny Signature leave
to file a contribution counterclaim against ...