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Washington v. Dewey

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 30, 2019

WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
DEWEY ET AL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT [DKT. 46]

          Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Laurence Washington's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint [Dkt. 46 (Mot. for Leave to File Am. Compl.)]. Plaintiff seeks to amend the complaint to add an additional claim and to add an additional defendant. Defendant Detectives Frank Napolitano and Daniel Ortiz (collectively, “Defendants”) oppose the motion on the grounds that it is untimely, unduly prejudicial, and futile. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On August 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed this action pro se. See [Dkt. 1 (Compl.) at 1]. He alleged that he witnessed the robbery and murder of Marshall Wiggins by Michael Gaston, provided information to police against Gaston, and was placed in witness protection. Several months later, Plaintiff called the Superior Court in Manchester, CT and left a voicemail message stating he would not testify against Gaston unless his girlfriend, who was being held on an unrelated matter, was released from jail. Soon after, he was arrested for felony murder, first degree robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree. He brought claims against Judge Julia Dewey, Assistant State's Attorney David Zagaja, the East Hartford Police Department, Detective Napolitano, Detective Ortiz, and Lieutenant Francis McGeough alleging that his arrest was retaliatory. The Court conducted its initial review and found that the Fourth Amendment false arrest and malicious prosecution claims could proceed against Detectives Napolitano and Ortiz in their individual capacities. See [Dkt. 9 (Initial Review Order) at 1]. All other claims and defendants were dismissed. Id.

         On April 19, 2018, counsel was appointed for Plaintiff. He now seeks to amend his original pro se complaint to add a retaliation claim against Defendants and to assert all claims against Lieutenant McGeough. Plaintiff also notes that the proposed amended complaint has been redrafted to the traditional format which he claims will benefit the parties and the Court. Defendants oppose the motion and argue that it is untimely, unduly prejudicial, and futile.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under Rule 15(a), “[t]he court should freely give leave [to amend pleadings] when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). Courts should grant applications to amend unless there is good reason to deny the motion such as “futility, bad faith, undue delay, or undue prejudice to the opposing party.” Min Jin v. Metro Life Ins. Co., 310 F.3d 84, 101 (2d Cir. 2002). A pro se plaintiff's motion to amend should be considered with even greater leniency because “a pro se litigant should be afforded every reasonable opportunity to demonstrate that he has a valid claim.” Satchell v. Dillworth, 745 F.2d 781, 785 (2d Cir. 1984). “A pro se complaint is to be read liberally. Certainly the court should not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated.” Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Supreme Court has instructed that leave to amend should be granted “absent 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, or futility of the amendment[.]” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         The Second Circuit has “referred to the prejudice to the opposing party resulting from a proposed amendment as among the ‘most important' reasons to deny leave to amend.” AEP Energy Servs. Gas Holding Co. v. Bank of Am. N.A., 626 F.3d 699, 725 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); see also State Teachers Ret. Bd. v. Fluor Corp., 654 F.2d 843, 856 (2d Cir. 1981). An “[a]mendment may be prejudicial when, among other things, it would require the opponent to expend significant additional resources to conduct discovery and prepare for trial or significantly delay the resolution of the dispute.” AEP Energy, 626 F.3d at 725-26 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Courts have granted motions to amend where the litigation has progressed significantly, even past discovery, on the grounds that absent a showing of prejudice, leave to amend should be freely given. See e.g., State Teachers Ret. Bd., 654 F.2d at 845-46 (amendment allowed after three-year interval); Middle Atl. Utils. Co. v. S.M.W. Dev. Corp., 392 F.2d 380, 385 (2d Cir. 1968) (amendment allowed after three-year interval and notice of trial readiness and plaintiff was aware of facts supporting new claims two years before filing of original complaint).

         III. Analysis

         A. Undue Delay

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff unduly delayed in seeking to amend the complaint because Plaintiff's counsel first appeared in May 2018 - nine months prior to the instant motion. Specifically, they claim that Plaintiff has shown no good cause to amend because he could have amended the complaint much sooner since it is based on information contained in Plaintiff's original pro se complaint. Defendants also claim that the deference traditionally given to pro se litigants should not be extended to Plaintiff's counsel.

         In response, Plaintiff claims he did not receive a significant portion of the documentary discovery until September 2018 and the transcript from Michael Gaston's criminal trial until January 2, 2019. See [Dkt. 51 (Reply to Response to Motion) at 3]. Plaintiff also argues that he did not know the extent of McGeough's involvement until Defendant Napolitano's deposition on January 17, 2019 where Napolitano testified that McGeough supervised the Defendants and the investigation into Plaintiff, participated in an interview with Plaintiff, and participated in the decision to seek an arrest warrant against him. Plaintiff filed his motion on January 25, 2019, within weeks of learning the extent of McGeough's involvement. Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff did not unduly delay in filing the motion for leave to amend.

         B. Futility

         Defendants claim that Plaintiff's motion should be denied because the proposed First Amendment retaliation claim is futile. “Leave to amend may be denied on grounds of futility if the proposed amendment fails to state a legally cognizable claim or fails to raise triable issues of fact.” AEP Energy, 626 F.3d at 726. The Court should dismiss claims for futility “only where it is beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his amended claims.” Pangburn v. Culbertson, 200 F.3d 65, 70-71 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). As the ...


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