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Estate of Roemer v. Shoaga

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 31, 2017

THE ESTATE OF JAMES ROEMER, Plaintiff,
v.
ALI SHOAGA, in his individual capacity, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMER, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge [Docket No. 124] filed on October 26, 2016. Magistrate Judge Nina Y. Wang recommends granting in part Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint [Docket No. 99] to allow plaintiff to add claims against previously-dismissed defendants Thomas Boyer and Chase Felzein as well as proposed defendants David Johnson and Nathan Algien. Docket No. 124 at 32. On November 14, 2016, defendant filed a timely objection. Docket No. 126. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual and procedural history of this case are recited in the Recommendation, Docket No. 124 at 1-7, and will not be repeated here other than the following summary.

         On June 13, 2012, Paul Farley strangled his cellmate, James Roemer, to death. On June 12, 2014, Mr. Roemer's estate filed a complaint [Docket No. 1] alleging civil rights violations under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against employees of the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”) involved in allowing Mr. Farley to be housed with Mr. Roemer. The Court dismissed claims against all but one of these individuals, Mr. Ali Shoaga.[1] Docket No. 58.

         With only Mr. Shoaga remaining as the sole defendant, on November 18, 2015, the magistrate judge entered a scheduling order setting various deadlines, including a January 4, 2016 deadline for joiner of parties and amendments to the pleadings. Docket No. 62 at 2. Many disputes arose during the ensuing discovery. Of relevance to this motion, plaintiff served written discovery on defendant and a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition notice on CDOC on November 25, 2015. Id. at 4; Docket No. 99-3 at 8. Plaintiff's discovery requests and deposition notice sought information about the individuals and policies involved in the decisions leading to Mr. Farley becoming Mr. Roemer's cellmate. See, e.g., Docket No. 99-2 at 3; Docket No. 99-3 at 4, ¶¶ 5-10. It took some time for plaintiff to receive this information, to the extent it was ever produced. A Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of the CDOC occurred on April 19 and 29, 2016, but plaintiff sought additional information about the individuals involved in deciding Mr. Farley's housing and sought to reopen the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. Docket No. 124 at 6. Following a July 8, 2016 discovery conference, the magistrate judge ordered defendant to produce “the names of the individuals and corresponding positions who may be responsible for the classification and placement of Mr. Farley” and granted plaintiff leave to take an additional individual deposition in lieu of reopening the deposition of the CDOC. Id. (quoting Docket No. 97 at 1).

         On July 21, 2016, plaintiff filed the instant motion to amend that added claims against previously dismissed defendants Boyer and Felzein and new proposed defendants Johnson, Algien, Archuleta and Medina as well as three “Doe” defendants named only by title, Sterling Case Manager, Sterling Intelligence Officer, and Sterling Housing Lieutenant. Docket No. 99. On September 9, 2016 both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment that will be resolved in a separate order. Docket Nos. 109, 110. On October 26, 2016, the magistrate judge recommended granting plaintiff's motion to amend in part to allow the addition of proposed defendants Johnson, Algien, Boyer, and Felzein; not allowing any further discovery; and, if the Court granted amendment, setting a dispositive motions deadline 30 days after the Court's decision. Docket No. 124 at 32. On November 11, 2014, defendant objected to the Recommendation insofar as it allowed the addition of defendants. Docket No. 126 at 2.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Objection to the Motion to Amend

         Plaintiff's motion to amend claims that, following the dismissal of the other defendants, “[i]t became clear that Defendant Shoaga intended to lay blame at others' feet.” Docket No. 99 at 3. The motion then lays out plaintiff's efforts during discovery to determine the identity and positions of the CDOC employees who were involved in the decisions leading to Messrs. Roemer and Farley being housed together at the time of the murder. Id. at 4-7.

         The Recommendation examines the procedural history of discovery disputes between the parties. Docket No. 124 at 1-7. In analyzing the history in relation to the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4), Magistrate Judge Wang first concludes, based on her experience with the parties' discovery disputes, that plaintiff did not fail to act diligently. Docket No. 124 at 23. She finds good cause for amending because plaintiff learned the new information after the deadline to amend pleadings had passed. Id. Turning to the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a), the magistrate judge finds the amendment was timely for the same reasons. Id. at 25. In addressing bad faith, she finds that the proposed amendments are made in good faith against individuals allegedly involved with Mr. Roemer's murder based on facts learned during discovery. Id. at 26-27. On the issue of undue prejudice, Magistrate Judge Wang focuses on the potential prejudice to Mr. Shoaga and not the proposed defendants. She finds “including additional Defendants will not affect how Defendant Shoaga defends himself in this case.” Id. at 28 (citing Patton v. Guyer, 443 F.2d 79, 86 (10th Cir. 1971)). Addressing futility, the magistrate judge declines to address a potential statute of limitations defense that could be raised by the proposed defendants, concluding it would be better resolved by a dispositive motion. Id. at 30. In a ruling objected to by neither party, she also finds that it would be futile to add the three proposed John Doe defendants, Mr. Medina, and Mr. Archuleta because the amended complaint fails to state a claim against them. Id. at 32.

         1. Standard of Review

         As a threshold matter, the Court must first determine whether a motion to amend is a dispositive motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72. The Tenth Circuit has held that the list of dispositive motions provided by 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) is not an exhaustive list of the motions that must be reviewed as dispositive by a district judge. Ocelot Oil Corp. v. Sparrow Indus., 847 F.2d 1458, 1462 (10th Cir. 1988). Rather, motions with dispositive effect, even if not enumerated on the statutory list, are to be treated as dispositive if they have dispositive effect. Id. Given the stage of the case and the time that has passed since Mr. Roemer's murder, denial of the motion to amend would prevent plaintiff from being able to sue the proposed defendants. See id. (“The striking of Ocelot's pleadings with prejudice means that Ocelot can no longer sue the Browns. This sanction has the effect of dismissing Ocelot's action”). The Court will therefore review the Recommendation as if it made a recommendation on a dispositive motion.

         For dispositive motions, the Court must “determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). An objection is “proper” if it is both timely and specific. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known as 2121 East 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996).

         Rule 15(a) generally addresses amendment of pleadings prior to trial and provides that a court should “freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). However, Rule 16(b) applies when the deadline for amendment of pleadings as set in the scheduling order has passed. A scheduling order deadline “may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). Thus, the requirements of both rules must be satisfied in the present situation. “After a scheduling order deadline, a party seeking leave to amend must demonstrate (1) good cause for seeking modification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4) and (2) satisfaction of the Rule 15(a) ...


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