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Dove v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

March 30, 2004


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No.: 9



At this formative stage, the instant wrongful termination case subscribes to the idea of second chances. Before the court is the defendant's motion for leave to amend its answer to the complaint with the affirmative defense of res judicata. The plaintiff challenges the proposed amendment on the grounds of undue delay and undue prejudice. Given that neither of the claimed bases exist for denying the proposed amendment, the court grants the defendant leave to amend its answer pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a).


The plaintiff began working for the defendant ("the defendant" or "WMATA") on September 4, 1973. Compl. ¶ 6. After the plaintiff received three suspensions in 1995, the defendant eventually terminated him on June 3, 1997. Dove v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12443, at *2-3 (D.D.C. Aug. 5, 1999) (Hogan, J.) (" Dove I"). As grounds for firing the plaintiff, the defendant pointed to complaints by customers that the plaintiff had acted rudely toward them, along with the plaintiff's turbulent employment history. Id. at 2. Thereafter, the plaintiff challenged his termination by filing suit against the defendant, claiming race, sex, and age discrimination. Id. at 1. On August 5, 1999, the court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment, reasoning that the plaintiff had not satisfied his prima facie case of discrimination because it was "clear" that he "was not performing at or near WMATA's legitimate expectations." Id. at 5. The D.C. Circuit subsequently affirmed the grant of summary judgment. Dove v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 4064, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 2, 2000).

As Dove I progressed, the defendant re-instated the plaintiff's employment. Compl. ¶ 14. On May 8, 2002, however, the defendant once again discharged the plaintiff for allegedly "being discourteous and unprofessional to a customer." Id. ¶ 18.

The plaintiff filed the instant action on September 15, 2003 in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiff's complaint alleges that this time the defendant wrongfully terminated him without cause by relying solely on "unsubstantiated accusations of customer dissatisfaction." Id. ¶¶ 40, 43. The plaintiff further claims, inter alia, that the defendant violated the plaintiff's First Amendment rights, slandered him, intentionally and negligently inflicted emotional distress upon him, and engaged in unfair labor practices. Id. ¶¶ 23-35, 52-95.

On October 21, 2003, the defendant removed the case to this court. On October 29, 2003 the defendant filed an answer denying each of the plaintiff's claims. Ten weeks later, the defendant filed a motion for leave to amend its answer under Rule 15(a) so as to add the affirmative defense of res judicata, arguing that the grant of summary judgment in Dove I bars in whole or in part the plaintiff's instant claims.*fn1 Def.'s Mot. at 1. The court now addresses the defendant's motion.


A. Legal Standard

Rule 15(a) governs the amendment of pleadings, stating generously that"leave [to amend] shall be freely given when justice so requires," FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a), and "instructs the [d]istrict [c]court to determine the propriety of amendment on a case by case basis." Harris v. Sec'y, United States Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 126 F.3d 339, 343 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Whether to grant or deny leave to amend rests in the district court's sound discretion. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Such discretion is not unlimited, however, for it is an"abuse of discretion" when a district court denies leave to amend without a"justifying" or sufficient reason. Id.; Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Reasons that justify a denial of leave to amend include undue delay, bad faith, repeated failure to cure a pleading's deficiencies, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility of amendment. Foman, 371 U.S. at 182; Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 548-49 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Caribbean Broad. Sys., Ltd. v. Cable & Wireless P.L.C., 148 F.3d 1080, 1084 (D.C. Cir. 1998).

Courts require a sufficient basis for denial of leave to amend because the purpose of pleading under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is"to facilitate a proper decision on the merits," not to set the stage for"a game of skill in which one misstep by counsel may be decisive to the outcome." Foman, 371 U.S. at 181-82 (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48 (1957)).

To further the goal of deciding cases on their merits and avoiding adjudication by technicality, Rule 15 allows for amendment"whereby a party who harmlessly failed to plead an affirmative defense may find satisfaction" rather than allowing the party to lose because of a minor technical mistake made in its original pleading. Harris, 126 F.3d at 343. Under Rule 15(a), the non-movant generally carries the burden in persuading the court to deny leave to amend. Cf. Dussouy v. Gulf Coast Inv. Corp., 660 F.2d 594, 598 n.2 (5th Cir. 1981) (endorsing exceptions to the general rule that the burden of persuasion rests with the non-movant in the Rule 15(a) context); see also Gudavich v. District of Columbia, 22 Fed. Appx. 17, ...

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