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Dwyer v. Southwest Airlines Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

May 8, 2019

ANGELA DWYER et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO., Defendant. CONSOLIDATED WITH: MELISSA WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO., Defendant. MELISSA WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant. ANGELA DWYER et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant. MELISSA WARD as Parent and Next Friend of RONALD TILLMAN and GREYSON OWENS, her minor children, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants. VANESSA JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALETA A. TRAUGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is plaintiff Vanessa Jackson's Motion to Amend Complaint (Doc. No. 99). Jackson seeks to amend her Complaint under Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Southwest Airlines Co. and the United States of America both oppose the proposed additional damages claim on the grounds that it is futile. (Doc. Nos. 103, 104.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court will deny that portion of the Motion to Amend on the grounds of futility. The court will grant as unopposed the plaintiff's request to remove a claim for one category of damages.

         I. Background

         Vanessa Jackson filed her original Complaint in this action on December 4, 2018. In February 2019, this case was consolidated with the case Angelina Dwyer et al. v. Southwest Airlines Co., No. 3:16-cv-03262, which had previously been consolidated with four other member cases. The consolidated cases all arise from the same December 15, 2015 aviation incident at Nashville International Airport that occurred when an aircraft operated by Southwest Airlines Co. (“Southwest”) departed a taxiway. The plaintiffs in the consolidated cases were all passengers on the aircraft at the time the incident occurred, and they allegedly suffered personal injuries as a result of it.

         Jackson amended her Complaint in March 2019, with the consent of the defendants, to substitute the United States as a defendant in the place of the United States Federal Aviation Administration. (See Doc. Nos. 87-89.) She filed her present motion within the deadline set forth in the operative Case Management Order for amending the pleadings. In her motion, she seeks permission to add a claim for damages in the form of the loss of household services and to remove her claim for damages in the form of future loss of earning capacity. The United States does not oppose the removal of the claim for damages associated with the loss of future earning capacity. However, it opposes the addition of the new claim for damages on the grounds that it would be futile, because “Tennessee law does not permit a plaintiff to seek personal injury damages for loss of value of past and future household services outside of the context of a loss of consortium claim.” (Doc. No. 103, at 3.) Southwest's Response simply “adopts and incorporates by reference” the United States' Response. (Doc. No. 104, at 1.) The plaintiff filed a Reply, arguing that there is no available Tennessee precedent excluding damages for loss of the value of household services. (Doc. No. 105.)

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) provides that a party can amend its pleading once “as a matter of course” under limited circumstances. Rule 15(a)(2) applies “[i]n all other cases, ” and it provides that a party may amend “only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Such leave should be freely given “when justice so requires.” Id. Rule 15(a)(2) “embodies a ‘liberal amendment policy.'” Brown v. Chapman, 814 F.3d 436, 442-43 (6th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).

         To determine whether to grant leave under this liberal policy, courts weigh several factors, including “[u]ndue delay in filing, lack of notice to the opposing party, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility of amendment.” Wade v. Knoxville Utils. Bd., 259 F.3d 452, 458-59 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Generally, futility provides an independent basis for dismissal when any claims sought to be added “could not survive a motion to dismiss.” Midkiff v. Adams Cty. Reg'l Water Dist., 409 F.3d 758, 767 (6th Cir. 2005).

         III. The Plaintiff's Motion

         The change sought in the proposed amendment is slight and, on its face, relatively innocuous. In the original Complaint and First Amended Complaint, Jackson identified the damages she seeks to recover in this action as follows:

43. Plaintiff has suffered, and will continue to suffer, the following types of harm, for which she is entitled to damages from Defendants:
a. Past and future medical expenses;
b. Future loss of earning capacity;
c. Past and future pain and suffering;
d. Permanent physical impairment;
e. Past and future emotional ...

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