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Carlson v. Hardeman County

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

June 26, 2019

AMELIA CARLSON, Plaintiff,
v.
HARDEMAN COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART, DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT ORDER DENYING HARDEMAN COUNTY'S MOTION TO DISMISS AS MOOT

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Amelia Carlson's Motion to Amend Complaint (ECF No. 18) filed on April 22, 2019. Defendant Hardeman County, Tennessee has filed a response in opposition, and Carlson has filed a supplemental brief addressed to the statute of limitations issue.[1] For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Carlson filed her initial Complaint for the violation of her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on October 26, 2018. Carlson is a licensed private investigator who was hired to investigate Jonathan Joy, a member of the Bolivar City Council in Hardeman County, Tennessee. Carlson was hired to investigate Councilman Joy's business dealings with the County and whether Councilman Joy was a legal resident of the City of Bolivar. The Complaint alleges that during the course of Carlson's investigation, Councilman Joy made a stalking complaint against her to the Hardeman County Sheriff's Department and caused a warrant to issue for her arrest. Carlson denies that she was stalking Joy. Carlson alleges that Hardeman County arrested her without probable cause based on Councilman Joy's false report and that her arrest resulted in the violation of her constitutional rights. The Complaint made a number of allegations about the conduct of Councilman Joy but named only Hardeman County as a defendant to the action.

         Although Plaintiff filed suit in October 2018, Plaintiff did not cause summons to issue until January 9, 2019. See Local R. 4.1(a) (“A party filing a complaint or any other pleading that requires the issuance of a summons . . . shall prepare and submit the summons to the Clerk.”). Plaintiff's proof of service (ECF No. 8) showed that she had Hardeman County served on January 23, 2019, just two days before the 90-day period for service had run. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). After counsel for Hardeman County entered an appearance, and the Court granted the County an extension of time to file its responsive pleading, Hardeman County filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss (ECF No. 13) on March 8, 2019. In response to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed the Motion to Amend now before the Court as well as a separate response in opposition to the County's Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Plaintiff states in her response that the filing of her motion to amend the pleadings renders the County's motion to dismiss moot.

         In the Motion to Amend her Complaint, Plaintiff argues that she has met the liberal requirements for amending her pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) and that her proposed amendment will not prejudice the County. Plaintiff has attached a copy of her proposed amended complaint to the Motion. Plaintiff's amended pleading would add two new Defendants to the action: Councilman Jonathan Joy and the City of Bolivar. Plaintiff's amended pleading would allege the same factual background regarding her private investigation of Councilman Joy and Councilman Joy's false report that Plaintiff had engaged in stalking him. The proposed amended complaint specifically alleges that Councilman Joy intentionally made the false report to thwart Plaintiff's investigation and that the affidavit of complaint against Plaintiff contained material defects. Plaintiff alleges that Councilman Joy acted under color of law to violate her constitutional rights and that the City of Bolivar ratified Councilman Joy's actions.

         From these premises the proposed amended complaint alleges (1) that Hardeman County's failure to train and supervise court employees and officers of the Hardeman County Sheriff's Department resulted in her false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) that Councilman Joy made a false complaint against Plaintiff and that Hardeman County acted on his false complaint for the purpose of interfering with Plaintiff's First Amendment rights; and (3) that Hardeman County, the City of Bolivar, and Councilman Joy conspired to violate Plaintiff's constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3).

         Hardeman County opposes Plaintiff's Motion to Amend and argues that the proposed amendment would be futile for several reasons. First, the amended pleading makes only conclusory allegations about the existence of a county policy or custom to violate citizens' First Amendment rights or that such a policy or custom was the moving force behind the alleged violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights. Second, the amended pleadings' new claims against Councilman Joy and the City of Bolivar are brought outside of the one-year statute of limitations on Plaintiff's section 1983 claims. Plaintiff alleges that her false arrest occurred in January 2018. However, Plaintiff did not file her Motion to Amend until April 2019, outside of the one-year limitations period, and the proposed amendment would not relate back to the date on which Plaintiff originally filed suit. Finally, the proposed amended complaint fails to state a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) against Hardeman County. Plaintiff does not allege that Hardeman County conspired to deprive her of her constitutional rights on the basis of her race or any other protected category or that Hardeman County joined such a conspiracy pursuant to a policy or custom. For all of these reasons, Hardeman County argues that Plaintiff's proposed amendment would be futile.

         At the direction of the Court, Plaintiff has filed a supplemental brief addressed only to the statute of limitations issue. Plaintiff asserts in her brief that her proposed amended complaint should relate back to the date of her original filing, making her newly added claims against Councilman Joy and the City of Bolivar timely. Plaintiff argues that each of Rule 15(c)'s requirements for relation back are satisfied. Both Councilman Joy and Bolivar would have been on notice during the limitations period that Plaintiff had brought claims implicating their conduct and exposing them to civil liability, though Plaintiff does not explain whether this notice was actual or constructive or how either party would have received such notice. While acknowledging Sixth Circuit precedent for the proposition that the relation back doctrine will not apply to newly added parties, Plaintiff maintains that the factual allegations of the initial Complaint largely concerned Councilman Joy's conduct. Plaintiff contends then that the line of Sixth Circuit cases holding that a claim against a new party will not relate back is distinguishable.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) allows a party to amend its pleading only with the opposing party's consent or by leave of court. Rule 15(a)(2) adds that a court “should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).

In the absence of 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, futility of the amendment, etc. the leave sought should, as the rules require, be “freely given.”

Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 905 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). “[T]he thrust of Rule 15 is to reinforce the principle that cases should be tried on their merits rather than the technicalities of pleadings.” Herhold v. Green Tree Servicing, LLC, 608 Fed.Appx. 328, 330-31 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Moore v. City of Paducah,790 F.2d 557, 559 (6th Cir. 1986)). The Sixth Circuit has remarked that “the case law in this Circuit manifests liberality in allowing ...


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