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Woods v. City of Reno

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 22, 2019

CATHY WOODS a/k/a ANITA CARTER, by and through her Personal Representative Linda Wade, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF RENO, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MIRANDA M. DU, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. SUMMARY

         Plaintiff Cathy Woods a/k/a Anita Carter was exonerated in September 2014 through DNA evidence, after having served over 35 years in prison for a murder she did not commit. In this case, Plaintiff sues law enforcement officers who were involved in the investigation that led to her murder charge and conviction, the county district attorney who oversaw the investigation, the City of Reno, and Washoe County-for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from her wrongful conviction and incarceration. (ECF No. 67.) Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”).[1] (ECF No. 147 (“Motion”).) Both because motions seeking leave to amend should be liberally granted, and Plaintiff's proposed amendments in her TAC are not futile, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The Court refers to its prior order on various Defendants' motions to dismiss (“Dismissal Order”) for the relevant facts, and does not restate those facts here. (ECF No. 101 at 2-6.) As pertinent to Plaintiff's Motion, in the Dismissal Order, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs failure to intervene claim against Dunlap, and conspiracy claim against Dunlap and Dennison. (Id. at 29-33, 39.) Plaintiff seeks to file her proposed TAC to reinstate the failure to intervene claim against Dunlap, and the conspiracy claim against Dunlap and Dennison, having added additional factual allegations to her Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) based on information she allegedly uncovered in discovery. (ECF No. 147 at 3.) In the Dismissal Order, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs conspiracy claim without prejudice. (ECF No. 101 at 33, 39.) And while the Court dismissed Plaintiffs failure to intervene claim against Dunlap with prejudice, the Court invited Plaintiff to seek the Court's leave to file an amended complaint if discovery yielded facts supporting her failure to intervene claim. (Id. at 26 n.19.) Thus, the Dismissal Order does not bar Plaintiffs Motion.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 (“Rule 15”) allows amendment only by leave of the court once responsive pleadings have been filed and in the absence of the adverse party's written consent. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). The Court has discretion to grant leave and should freely do so "when justice so requires." Allen v. City of Beverly Hills, 911 F.2d 367, 373 (9th Cir. 1990) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)). “In exercising its discretion, ‘a court must be guided by the underlying purpose of Rule 15-to facilitate a decision on the merits rather than on the pleadings or technicalities.'" DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 186 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting United States v. Webb, 655 F.2d 977, 979 (9th Cir. 1981)). Nonetheless, the Court may deny leave to amend if: (1) it will cause undue delay; (2) it will cause undue prejudice to the opposing party; (3) the request is made in bad faith; (4) the party has repeatedly failed to cure deficiencies; or (5) the amendment would be futile. See Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Publ'g, 512 F.3d 522, 532 (9th Cir. 2008).

         IV. DISCUSSSION

         Plaintiff argues the Court should grant her Motion because discovery has revealed facts allowing her to make more detailed factual allegations regarding her failure to intervene and conspiracy claims, and none of the Rule 15 factors weigh against granting her Motion. (ECF No. 147.) Defendants primarily argue that Plaintiffs Motion should be denied because her Motion is brought in bad faith and her proposed amendments are futile.[2] (ECF Nos. 151, 152.) The Court agrees with Plaintiff that the Court should grant her leave to amend here, especially given Rule 15's edict that leave should be freely given. The Court first addresses below Defendants' bad faith argument, and then addresses their futility argument.

         a. Bad Faith

         Dennison argues that Plaintiff's Motion is brought in bad faith-and should be denied on that basis. (ECF No. 151 at 5.) More specifically, Dennison argues that Plaintiff's proposed amendments contradict her discovery responses and are unsupported by the facts that have been adduced in discovery. (Id. at 2-4, 5.) The Court disagrees. Having reviewed them, the Court finds no contradiction between Plaintiff's proposed additions in the TAC and her discovery responses. (ECF Nos. 147-1, 151-1.) The Court further rejects as premature Dennison's argument that Plaintiff's proposed additions are unsupported by the facts that have been adduced in discovery. At this phase in the litigation, the Court must assume that the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint are true, and relies both on Plaintiff's counsel's representations and the backstop of Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 that those allegations have sufficient evidentiary support. (ECF No. 153 at 11-14.) Further, to the extent Dennison's bad faith argument is really that he disagrees the evidence establishes what Plaintiff alleges it establishes, that argument is properly made to the jury at trial. In sum, the Court is not persuaded it should deny Plaintiff's Motion because it was brought in bad faith.

         b. Futility

         Further, the Court disagrees with Defendants that Plaintiff's proposed amendments are futile. (ECF Nos. 151 at 5, 152 at 3-8.) “Amendment is futile only if no set of facts can be proven under the amendment that would constitute a valid and sufficient claim.” Stebbins v. Geico Ins. Agency, No. 2:18-cv-00590-APG-GWF, 2019 WL 281281, at *4 (D. Nev. Jan. 22, 2019) (citation omitted).

         Regarding Plaintiff's failure to intervene claim, the Court finds that permitting amendment would not be futile because her allegations in the TAC suggest she could prove facts establishing Dunlap's failure to intervene.[3] More specifically, amendment would not be futile because Plaintiff's allegations in the proposed TAC clarify the timeline of relevant events and support Plaintiff's failure to intervene claim against Dunlap. The ...


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