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Prima Partners, LLC v. Waterhouse

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 25, 2017

PRIMA PARTNERS, LLC, Plaintiff/Counter Defendant,
v.
STEPHEN L. WATERHOUSE, LINDA L. WATERHOUSE Defendants/Counter Claimants

          ORDER

          MICHAEL E. HEGARTY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendants/Counter Claimants Stephen L. Waterhouse and Linda L. Waterhouse (collectively “the Waterhouses”) seek to amend their counterclaims to add causes of action for outrageous conduct and prevailing party attorney fees. Because the Waterhouses withdrew their outrageous conduct claim in their reply brief, the Court denies the Waterhouses' motion without prejudice to the extent it seeks to add this claim. Regarding the claim for prevailing party attorney fees, the Court holds that the Waterhouses have not shown good cause for seeking an amendment of the Scheduling Order. Accordingly, the Waterhouses' motion to amend is denied in part and denied without prejudice in part.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 4, 2016, Plaintiff/Counter Defendant Prima Partners, LLC filed an Amended Complaint in state court. Am. Compl., ECF No. 5. Prima Partners claims that on July 11, 2016, it entered into a contract to buy and sell real estate with the Waterhouses. Id. Pursuant to the contract, Prima Partners agreed to purchase property located at 285 Forest Road, Unit A, Vail, Colorado 81657. Id. at ¶ 7; Ex. A to Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 20-2. The contract required the Waterhouses to disclose any known latent defects with the property. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. Immediately after taking possession of the unit, Prima Partners discovered numerous serious defects that the Waterhouses did not disclose. Id. at ¶ 18. Moreover, Prima Partners allegedly learned that the Waterhouses knew of these defects when they submitted their disclosures. Id. at ¶ 19.

         On November 23, 2016, the Waterhouses removed the case to this Court. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. On December 5, 2016, the Waterhouses filed their original Answer and Counterclaims, which asserted a statutory claim for attorney fees arising out of frivolous litigation. ECF No. 11, at ¶¶ 39-41.

         On January 11, 2017, the Court entered a Scheduling Order, which set March 17, 2017 as the deadline for joinder of parties and amendment of pleadings. ECF No. 19. On that deadline, Prima Partners filed a Motion to Amend Complaint. ECF No. 20. The Court granted the motion in so far as it sought to add a claim for exemplary damages and factual allegations regarding additional leaks Prima Partners recently discovered. Order on Prima Partners' Motion to Amend 10, ECF No. 34. However, the Court denied Prima Partners' request to add a theory of damages based on the failure of a Section 1031 exchange. Id. Prima Partners filed a Second Amended Complaint in accordance with the Court's order on April 25, 2017. ECF No. 35.

         In response, the Waterhouses filed an Amended Answer on May 16, 2017. ECF No. 39. Contemporaneously, the Waterhouses submitted the present Motion for Joinder and Leave to Amend Counterclaims. ECF No. 38. The Waterhouses initially sought to add claims for outrageous conduct causing severe emotional distress and prevailing party attorney fees, which are provided for in the parties' contract to buy and sell real estate. Id. at 3; Am. Answer & Countercls. ¶¶ 96-106, ECF No. 39. As part of their outrageous conduct claim, the Waterhouses sought to join James Butterworth, Prima Partners' sole owner, as a Counter Defendant. Am. Answer & Countercls. ¶¶ 99-106. However, in their reply brief, the Waterhouses withdrew their request to add the outrageous conduct claim. Reply 1-2, ECF No. 45. The Waterhouses did not withdraw their request to add a counterclaim for prevailing party attorney fees.

         Prima Partners opposes the Waterhouses' motion to amend on the basis that an amendment is improper pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(a) and 16(b). Prima Partners' Resp. to Mot. to Amend, ECF No. 41. Specifically, Prima Partners contends the claim for prevailing party attorney fees is untimely. Id. at 2-4. Although the Waterhouses argue a separate claim for attorney fees is unnecessary under Colorado law, they claim that adding it out of “an abundance of caution” will not prejudice Prima Partners. Mot. to Amend 5.

         ANALYSIS

         Because the Waterhouses withdrew their proposed outrageous conduct claim, see Reply 1-2, the Court must analyze only whether an amendment is proper to add a cause of action for prevailing party attorney fees. The Court will first analyze whether the Waterhouses show good cause for an amendment of the Scheduling Order to add this claim. Because the Court does not find good cause, the Court need not determine whether an amendment is proper pursuant to Rule 15(a).

         This Court set March 17, 2017 as the deadline for joinder of parties and amendment of pleadings. Scheduling Order 10, ECF No. 19. The Court has not extended this deadline.[1] Therefore, granting the Waterhouses' motion would necessitate an amendment of the Scheduling Order under Rule 16(b), which requires that the Waterhouses show good cause. Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4); Minter v. Prime Equip. Co., 451 F.3d 1196, 1205 n.4 (10th Cir. 2006) (“This Circuit adopted a similar interpretation of Rule 16(b)'s ‘good cause' requirement in the context of counterclaims asserted after the scheduling order deadline.” (citing SIL-FLO, Inc. v. SFHC, Inc., 917 F.2d 1507, 1518-19 (10th Cir. 1990))).

         In order to show good cause under Rule 16(b)(4), the Waterhouses “must provide an adequate explanation for any delay” in meeting the Scheduling Order's deadline. Minter, 451 F.3d at 1205 n.4. If the Waterhouses “knew of the underlying conduct but simply failed to raise [the] claims, ” good cause does not exist. Gorsuch, Ltd., B.C. v. Wells Fargo Nat. Bank Ass'n, 771 F.3d 1230, 1240 (10th Cir. 2014). “Rule 16 erects a more stringent standard [than Rule 15(a)], requiring some persuasive reason as to why the amendment could not have been effected within the time frame established by the court.” Colo. Visionary Acad. v. Medtronic, Inc., 194 F.R.D. 684, 687 (D. Colo. 2000).

         However, rigid adherence to the Scheduling Order is not advisable. SIL-FLO, Inc., 917 F.2d at 1519. A failure to seek amendment within the deadline may be excused due to oversight, inadvertence, or excusable neglect. Id. Additionally, “[t]he fact that a party first learns through discovery of information which may lead to amendment of deadlines set forth in the Scheduling Order constitutes good cause.” Riggs v. Johnson, No. 09-cv-01226-WYD-KLM, 2010 WL 1957110, at *3 (D. Colo. Apr. 27, 2010), adopted by 2010 WL 1957099 (D. Colo. May 17, 2010).

         Here, the Court holds that good cause does not exist for an amendment of the Scheduling Order's deadline for joinder of parties and amendment of pleadings. Critically, the Waterhouses knew of the conduct giving rise to their proposed counterclaim at the time they filed their original answer and counterclaim. The claim for prevailing party attorney fees is based solely on a provision in the parties' contract to buy and sell real estate. Am. Answer & Countercls. ¶ 109 (“Pursuant to Section 22 of the Contract, the Court ‘shall award to the prevailing party all reasonable costs and expenses, including attorney fees.'”). Therefore, the Waterhouses likely knew of their ability to seek attorney fees in any subsequent litigation at the time they entered into the contract. At the latest, the Waterhouses learned of the provision when Prima Partners filed its original Complaint seeking attorney fees based on the same contractual clause. See Compl. ¶¶ 39-42, ECF No. 4. Therefore, the Waterhouses “knew of the underlying conduct but simply failed to raise [the] claims.” Gorsuch, Ltd., B.C., 771 F.3d at 1240. Moreover, because the Waterhouses have not provided any reason, let alone a persuasive one, ...


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