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STITH v. CHADBOURNE & PARKE

June 19, 2001

MICHAEL STITH, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CHADBOURNE & PARKE, LLP, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, District Judge.

    OPINION

This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs motion to amend his complaint and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. In his motion to amend, plaintiff seeks to add five counts to the complaint and to add an additional defendant. Defendant opposes plaintiffs motion to amend and has moved for judgment on the pleadings with respect to both counts of the original complaint. Upon consideration of the arguments presented by the parties, the Court grants plaintiffs motion to amend in part and denies it in part and denies defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 14, 2000, plaintiff moved to amend his complaint seeking to add several additional counts and an additional defendant, Ms. Norwood. To support this motion, Mr. Stith alleges that the statements Ms. Norwood made to Chadbourne & Parke about Mr. Stith were false and defamatory, as were similar statements she made to the Prince George's County Police Department.

Before coming to this Court, Mr. Stith had filed an EEOC complaint on January 6, 1999, alleging that he was fired based on his gender. He amended his EEOC complaint on April 21, 1999, to add a claim of race discrimination. On May 7, 1999, Chadbourne & Parke filed a response with the EEOC, which repeated in substantial part the statements made by Ms. Norwood to the defendant and to the Prince George's County police — statements in which Ms. Norwood claimed that plaintiff had been stalking her with a firearm and harassing her at the office. See Plaintiffs Motion to Amend His Complaint, Exhibit 6, Chadbourne & Parke's May 7, 1999 Response. Mr. Stith reviewed the response and two memoranda appended to the response that were written by Susan Sheehan, the office manager at Chadbourne & Parke's Washington, D.C office, around the time of Mr. Stith's termination. See id., Exhibits 9 & 10, Memoranda by Susan Sheehan. The Sheehan memoranda included Ms. Norwood's statements about Mr. Stith as well as statements by other Chadbourne & Parke employees who either corroborated Ms. Norwood's allegations or, in the case of two other female employees, claimed that Mr. Stith had also harassed them in the past. See id. Ms. Sheehan's memoranda also stated that defendant contacted the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") the day prior to Mr. Stith's termination to report its concerns about plaintiff and to arrange for the police to be present when Mr. Stith was terminated. See id. Plaintiff alleges that all of these statements are untrue and thus are actionable as defamation.

Based on these facts, plaintiff now seeks to amend his complaint to add a gender discrimination claim under the D.C. Human Rights Act (Count III) and various defamation claims (Counts IV through VII). In Count IV, he seeks relief against Ms. Norwood for her own allegedly defamatory statements made to Chadbourne & Parke and to the Prince George's County police. Count V asserts a claim against Chadbourne & Parke for defamation based on a theory of vicarious liability for Ms. Norwood's statements. Count VI seeks recovery against Chadbourne & Parke for their own publications and republications of Ms. Norwood's statements when it responded to Mr. Stith's EEOC complaint and when it contacted the MPD to insure that Mr. Stith would leave the premises without incident after his termination. Count VII seeks recovery against Ms. Norwood for defamation based on the publications and republications by Chadbourne & Parke to the EEOC and to the MPD of statements made to the firm by Ms. Norwood.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend

Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may amend its complaint once as a matter of right and otherwise may amend only with leave of court or with the written consent of the adverse party. Leave should "be freely given when justice so requires." Rule 15(a), Fed.R.Civ.P.; 6 CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT, ARTHUR R. MILLER & MARY KAY KANE, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1473 (2d ed. 1990). The Court may deny leave if the party opposing the motion can provide a good reason why the amendment should not be allowed, including the clear futility of permitting the amendment. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962); Willoughby v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 100 F.3d 999, 1003 (D.C.Cir. 1996). An amendment is futile if it would not survive a motion to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings. See Willoughby v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 100 F.3d at 1003; Black v. National Football League Players Ass'n, 87 F. Supp.2d 1, 6 (D.C. 2000).

1. Plaintiffs Defamation Claims

a. Counts IV, V and VII

Three of plaintiffs four defamation claims asserted in the motion to amend concern Ms. Norwood's allegedly defamatory statements. Counts IV and VII seek recovery against Ms. Norwood directly (1) for statements she made to the Prince George's County police and to defendant, or (2) for statements made by defendant to the EEOC or to the District of Columbia police that essentially repeat what Ms. Norwood told the defendant. Although plaintiff seeks recovery against Chadbourne & Parke in Count V, he does so on the theory of the firm's vicarious liability for Ms. Norwood's statements.

Defendant argues that Counts IV, V and VII are all barred by the statute of limitations and cannot be added to the complaint. Statements made by Ms. Norwood were made prior to or at least no later than December 17, 1998, the date of plaintiffs termination, while plaintiffs motion to amend was not filed until April 14, 2000, more than one year later. Because the limitations period for bringing a defamation claim in the District of Columbia is one year, the Court concludes that the statute of limitations has run with respect to Counts IV, V and VII, all relating to statements made by Ms. Norwood. See D.C.Code § 12-301(4) (1995); Willoughby v. Potomac Electric and Power Co., 100 F.3d at 1003; Wallace v. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, 715 A.2d 873, 882-83 (D.C. 1998).

Plaintiff argues that he nevertheless should be allowed to add Ms. Norwood and the claims against her under Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A plaintiff is permitted to add ...


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