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Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

February 22, 2018

LYNDA DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WAL-MART STORES EAST, L.P., Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SUSAN K. LEE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Lynda Davis's Motion to Amend Complaint [Doc. 24]. She has attached a proposed amended complaint [Doc. 24-1]. Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., filed a response in opposition [Doc. 25], and Plaintiff filed a reply [Doc. 26]. This matter is now ripe.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant removed this case from the Bradley County Circuit Court on January 5, 2017, based on the Court's diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         In her original complaint, Plaintiff claims that she was seriously injured when the hood of her car fell on her hands while she was investigating the type of car battery she had. At the time, she had the hood propped up with the hood's internal metal rod. Five days before the incident, she had taken her car to Wal-Mart to have it serviced. She claims that while her car was being serviced, an employee damaged the metal rod such that it “became disengaged from its tether” and none of the employees informed Plaintiff about the issue or did anything to fix it [Doc. 1-2 at Page ID # 6].

         Plaintiff now seeks to amend her complaint to increase her request for compensatory damages from $100, 000 to $250, 000, and to add a request for $1, 000, 000 in punitive damages. She also includes new allegations concerning her car battery; specifically, that a Wal-Mart employee misrepresented what type of car battery Plaintiff had, either intentionally or while acting with gross negligence [Doc. 24-1]. She argues that “[b]ut for those misrepresentations no injuries would have occurred.” [id. at Page ID # 97].

         Previously, on December 29, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to enlarge time for filing a motion to amend her complaint [Doc. 19]. Over Defendant's objection, the Court permitted Plaintiff to file a motion to amend her complaint, despite the fact that the deadline for amendments was August 1, 2017. The Court noted:

Here, the Court is faced with two options, neither of which is appealing to the Court. On the one hand, the Court could deny Plaintiff's motion, which would potentially preclude Plaintiff from obtaining a determination of damages based on the merits of the claims. On the other hand, the Court could grant Plaintiff's motion, which would reward Plaintiff in spite of her failure to comply with the Court's scheduling order. Even though the Court does not condone Plaintiff's actions, or lack thereof, refusing to afford Plaintiff a limited opportunity to file a motion to enlarge the time to file a motion to amend might prevent the Court from resolving issues in this case on the merits. This result is too harsh given the circumstances at issue.

[Doc. 23 at Page ID # 91-92]. The Court ordered Plaintiff to file her motion to amend within three days of entry of the order. Plaintiff then timely filed the instant motion to amend [Doc. 24].

         II. ANALYSIS

         Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure directs that, where an amendment is not made as a matter of course, “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. Factors relevant in determining whether leave should be denied include “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, [and] futility of the amendment.” See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); see also Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 905 (6th Cir. 2003). Although leave to amend is ordinarily freely given under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, an amendment may be denied as futile if the claim sought to be added “could not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” See Rose v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 417, 420 (6th Cir. 2000).[1] A court is prohibited from looking to facts outside the proposed amended pleading when determining whether the amendment is futile. See Id. at 420-421.

         Defendant opposes certain aspects of the amendment, arguing that Plaintiff is asserting new facts which would require unidentified discovery, that allowing Plaintiff to assert those new facts would be prejudicial to Defendant because discovery closed on November 28, 2017, and that the amendment would be futile. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees with Defendant that Plaintiff has failed to properly plead facts or any legal theory that could support an award of punitive damages against Defendant, and therefore allowing that amendment would be futile. The Court will, however, allow Plaintiff to amend her complaint to increase the amount of compensatory damages she seeks, and to assert her additional allegations concerning the car battery.

         Under Tennessee law, which governs in this diversity action:

(g)(1) Notwithstanding subdivision (a)(9)[2], punitive damages may be awarded against a defendant based on vicarious liability for the acts or omissions of an agent or employee only if the finder of fact determines by special verdict based on clear and ...

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