NUCKLES v. U.S.

3:01cv753(MRK)

2004 | Cited 0 times | D. Connecticut | February 10, 2004

ORDER

Plaintiff Robert Nuckles filed this lawsuit against the United Statesof America pursuant to the Suits in Admiralty Act,46 U.S.C. § 741-752, on May 1, 2001 in connection with injuries heallegedly suffered while aboard a United States owned vessel. OnDecember 24, 2003, defendant filed a Motion To Amend Its Answer To RaiseAn Additional Affirmative Defense [doc. #32] ("Motion To Amend") toinclude the "borrowed servant" defense. The defendant not having filedan opposition within the twenty-one day time period under LocalRule 7(a), the Court issued an Order granting defendant's Motion To Amendon January 26, 2004 [doc. #32] ("Order"). See D.Conn. L. Civ. R. 7("Failure to submit a memorandum in opposition to a motion may be deemedsufficient cause to grant the motion, except where the pleadings providesufficient grounds to deny the motion.").

On February 2, 2004, the parties appeared before the Court for a finalpre-trial conference to discuss outstanding issues in advance of trial.In the course of the final pre-trial conference, plaintiff voiced anobjection to the Court's January 26, 2004 granting of defendant's MotionTo Amend to include the "borrowed servant" defense. As the deadline forfiling an opposition to defendant's Motion to Amend had long sincepassed, the Court instructed the plaintiff to file aPage 2motion for reconsideration of its January 26, 2004 Order grantingdefendant's Motion To Amend and to explain, assuming the Court grantedthe motion for reconsideration, why the defendant's Motion To Amendshould be denied. Thereafter, on February 2, 2004, plaintiff filed anObjection To Defendant's Motion To Amend Its Answer [doc. #34]("Objection") and a Motion For Reconsideration Of Allowing Defendant'sMotion To Amend Its Answer [doc. #35] ("Motion For Reconsideration").Defendant filed a Reply to the foregoing on February 5, 2004 [doc. #36]("Reply"). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion ForReconsideration Of Allowing Defendant's Motion To Amend Its Answer [doc.#35] is hereby GRANTED, but, upon reconsideration, the Court reaffirmsits January 26, 2004 Order granting defendant's Motion To Amend ItsAnswer To Raise An Additional Affirmative Defense [doc. #32] andtherefore DENIES plaintiff's Objection to Defendant's Motion to Amend ItsAnswer [doc. # 35].

As the Second Circuit has held, the standard for granting a motion forreconsideration is strict, and such a motion"will generally be deniedunless the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data thatthe court overlooked — matters, in other words, that mightreasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court."Shrader v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir.1995). A motion for reconsideration is warranted only "to correctmanifest errors of law or fact, hear newly discovered evidence, considera change in the applicable law or prevent manifest injustice." U.S.Titan, Inc. v. Guangzhou Zhen Hua Shipping Co., Ltd., 182 F.R.D. 97,100 (S.D.N.Y. 1998), aff'd, 241 F.3d 135 (2d Cir. 2001).

Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration is grounded in an oversight— plaintiff's counsel states that he erroneously presumed that aformal objection to defendant's Motion To Amend was unnecessary becausehe believed that he would have an opportunity to oppose the Motion toPage 3Amend at the final pre-trial conference scheduled for February 2,2004. However, counsel had no basis for presuming that plaintiff was notbound by the obligations set forth in the Local Rules to file timelyobjections to motions, particularly since the final pre-trial was notscheduled to take place until well beyond the deadline to file anobjection. Moreover, the calendar informing parties of the finalpre-trial conference was mailed on January 5, 2004, and thus the MotionTo Amend, which was not referred to in the calendar, had been pending atleast twelve days before the parties received notice of the finalpre-trial conference.

That said, the governing Scheduling Order [doc. #30] issued by thisCourt, ordered discovery to close on December 1, 2003, and plaintiff hadevery reason to expect that it would not be required to conductadditional discovery to respond to amendments filed after the close ofdiscovery. In addition, the information defendant acquired on December16, 2003, which allegedly prompted defendant's Motion To Amend, appearsto have been ascertainable before the close of discovery. Finally, theCourt recognizes that plaintiff could be prejudiced by defendant'seleventh hour request to amend. See Jin v. Metropolitan Life Ins.Co., 310 F.3d 84, 101 (2d Cir. 2002) ("Leave to amend should befreely granted, but the district court has the discretion to deny leaveif there is good reason for it, such as futility, bad faith, undue delay,or undue prejudice to the opposing party."); see also Zahara v. Townof Southold, 48 F.3d 674, 685-86 (2d Cir. 1995) (plaintiff's requestto amend complaint denied because it was filed two and one-half yearsafter commencement of action); Ansam Associates v. Cola Pretroleum,Ltd., 760 F.2d 442, 446 (2d Cir. 1985) (motion to amend deniedbecause discovery had closed and non-movant had already filed motion forsummary judgment).

Even though plaintiff effectively relinquished its right to object todefendant's Motion toPage 4Amend by failing to abide by the formal requirements of the LocalRules, the Court generally favors administering its cases on the meritsrather than on technicalities. Therefore, the Court is willing toreconsider its ruling on defendant's Motion to Amend. However, afterreviewing the parties' submissions and reconsidering the issue, the Courtwill not reverse its Order. There is adequate time for plaintiff toconduct the additional depositions needed in order to address properlydefendant's "borrowed servant" defense. In addition, to alleviate thepotential prejudice resulting from its late request to amend, defendantin its Reply pledges to cooperate in making witnesses available, andoffers to pay the court reporter's costs for the transcript of a reneweddeposition of Mr. Bailey, whose deposition plaintiff had already taken,provided that the re-deposition of Mr. Bailey is limited to mattersrelating to the borrowed servant defense. Reply at 4. The Court expectsdefendant to fulfill both of its pledges, and the parties represented tothe Court at the final pretrial that they do not anticipate any delay inthe trial date as a result of the additional depositions necessitated bythe "borrowed servant" defense. In these circumstances, the Court doesnot believe that plaintiff will be prejudiced by the amendment, and inthe absence of demonstrated prejudice to plaintiff, the Court sees nolegitimate reason why defendant should be denied the opportunity to amendits Answer and prove its defense.

For the foregoing reasons, the Motion For Reconsideration Of AllowingDefendant's Motion To Amend Its Answer [doc. #35] is hereby GRANTED, but,upon reconsideration, the Court REAFFIRMS its January 26, 2004 Order[doc. #32] granting United States' Motion To Amend Its Answer To Raise AnAdditional Affirmative Defense [doc. #31] and DENIES plaintiffs Objectionto Defendant's Motion to Amend Its Answer [doc. # 35].Page 5

IT IS SO ORDERED.

ORDER

Plaintiff Robert Nuckles filed this lawsuit against the United Statesof America pursuant to the Suits in Admiralty Act,46 U.S.C. § 741-752, on May 1, 2001 in connection with injuries heallegedly suffered while aboard a United States owned vessel. OnDecember 24, 2003, defendant filed a Motion To Amend Its Answer To RaiseAn Additional Affirmative Defense [doc. #32] ("Motion To Amend") toinclude the "borrowed servant" defense. The defendant not having filedan opposition within the twenty-one day time period under LocalRule 7(a), the Court issued an Order granting defendant's Motion To Amendon January 26, 2004 [doc. #32] ("Order"). See D.Conn. L. Civ. R. 7("Failure to submit a memorandum in opposition to a motion may be deemedsufficient cause to grant the motion, except where the pleadings providesufficient grounds to deny the motion.").

On February 2, 2004, the parties appeared before the Court for a finalpre-trial conference to discuss outstanding issues in advance of trial.In the course of the final pre-trial conference, plaintiff voiced anobjection to the Court's January 26, 2004 granting of defendant's MotionTo Amend to include the "borrowed servant" defense. As the deadline forfiling an opposition to defendant's Motion to Amend had long sincepassed, the Court instructed the plaintiff to file aPage 2motion for reconsideration of its January 26, 2004 Order grantingdefendant's Motion To Amend and to explain, assuming the Court grantedthe motion for reconsideration, why the defendant's Motion To Amendshould be denied. Thereafter, on February 2, 2004, plaintiff filed anObjection To Defendant's Motion To Amend Its Answer [doc. #34]("Objection") and a Motion For Reconsideration Of Allowing Defendant'sMotion To Amend Its Answer [doc. #35] ("Motion For Reconsideration").Defendant filed a Reply to the foregoing on February 5, 2004 [doc. #36]("Reply"). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion ForReconsideration Of Allowing Defendant's Motion To Amend Its Answer [doc.#35] is hereby GRANTED, but, upon reconsideration, the Court reaffirmsits January 26, 2004 Order granting defendant's Motion To Amend ItsAnswer To Raise An Additional Affirmative Defense [doc. #32] andtherefore DENIES plaintiff's Objection to Defendant's Motion to Amend ItsAnswer [doc. # 35].

As the Second Circuit has held, the standard for granting a motion forreconsideration is strict, and such a motion"will generally be deniedunless the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data thatthe court overlooked — matters, in other words, that mightreasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court."Shrader v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir.1995). A motion for reconsideration is warranted only "to correctmanifest errors of law or fact, hear newly discovered evidence, considera change in the applicable law or prevent manifest injustice." U.S.Titan, Inc. v. Guangzhou Zhen Hua Shipping Co., Ltd., 182 F.R.D. 97,100 (S.D.N.Y. 1998), aff'd, 241 F.3d 135 (2d Cir. 2001).

Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration is grounded in an oversight— plaintiff's counsel states that he erroneously presumed that aformal objection to defendant's Motion To Amend was unnecessary becausehe believed that he would have an opportunity to oppose the Motion toPage 3Amend at the final pre-trial conference scheduled for February 2,2004. However, counsel had no basis for presuming that plaintiff was notbound by the obligations set forth in the Local Rules to file timelyobjections to motions, particularly since the final pre-trial was notscheduled to take place until well beyond the deadline to file anobjection. Moreover, the calendar informing parties of the finalpre-trial conference was mailed on January 5, 2004, and thus the MotionTo Amend, which was not referred to in the calendar, had been pending atleast twelve days before the parties received notice of the finalpre-trial conference.

That said, the governing Scheduling Order [doc. #30] issued by thisCourt, ordered discovery to close on December 1, 2003, and plaintiff hadevery reason to expect that it would not be required to conductadditional discovery to respond to amendments filed after the close ofdiscovery. In addition, the information defendant acquired on December16, 2003, which allegedly prompted defendant's Motion To Amend, appearsto have been ascertainable before the close of discovery. Finally, theCourt recognizes that plaintiff could be prejudiced by defendant'seleventh hour request to amend. See Jin v. Metropolitan Life Ins.Co., 310 F.3d 84, 101 (2d Cir. 2002) ("Leave to amend should befreely granted, but the district court has the discretion to deny leaveif there is good reason for it, such as futility, bad faith, undue delay,or undue prejudice to the opposing party."); see also Zahara v. Townof Southold, 48 F.3d 674, 685-86 (2d Cir. 1995) (plaintiff's requestto amend complaint denied because it was filed two and one-half yearsafter commencement of action); Ansam Associates v. Cola Pretroleum,Ltd., 760 F.2d 442, 446 (2d Cir. 1985) (motion to amend deniedbecause discovery had closed and non-movant had already filed motion forsummary judgment).

Even though plaintiff effectively relinquished its right to object todefendant's Motion toPage 4Amend by failing to abide by the formal requirements of the LocalRules, the Court generally favors administering its cases on the meritsrather than on technicalities. Therefore, the Court is willing toreconsider its ruling on defendant's Motion to Amend. However, afterreviewing the parties' submissions and reconsidering the issue, the Courtwill not reverse its Order. There is adequate time for plaintiff toconduct the additional depositions needed in order to address properlydefendant's "borrowed servant" defense. In addition, to alleviate thepotential prejudice resulting from its late request to amend, defendantin its Reply pledges to cooperate in making witnesses available, andoffers to pay the court reporter's costs for the transcript of a reneweddeposition of Mr. Bailey, whose deposition plaintiff had already taken,provided that the re-deposition of Mr. Bailey is limited to mattersrelating to the borrowed servant defense. Reply at 4. The Court expectsdefendant to fulfill both of its pledges, and the parties represented tothe Court at the final pretrial that they do not anticipate any delay inthe trial date as a result of the additional depositions necessitated bythe "borrowed servant" defense. In these circumstances, the Court doesnot believe that plaintiff will be prejudiced by the amendment, and inthe absence of demonstrated prejudice to plaintiff, the Court sees nolegitimate reason why defendant should be denied the opportunity to amendits Answer and prove its defense.

For the foregoing reasons, the Motion For Reconsideration Of AllowingDefendant's Motion To Amend Its Answer [doc. #35] is hereby GRANTED, but,upon reconsideration, the Court REAFFIRMS its January 26, 2004 Order[doc. #32] granting United States' Motion To Amend Its Answer To Raise AnAdditional Affirmative Defense [doc. #31] and DENIES plaintiffs Objectionto Defendant's Motion to Amend Its Answer [doc. # 35].Page 5

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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