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Sanders v. District of Columbia

February 27, 2009

CHRISTOPHER SANDERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint and defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon careful consideration of the parties' papers and the entire record in the case, the Court will grant plaintiff's motion to amend and will deny defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

The Court's Opinion of November 8, 2007, Sanders v. District of Columbia, 522 F. Supp. 2d 83 (D.D.C. 2007), describes the factual and procedural background in this case in some detail. Briefly, plaintiff Christopher Sanders was a Sergeant in the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD"). Plaintiff had resigned from the MPD, but shortly thereafter sought to rescind his resignation. Plaintiff alleged that the MPD's denial of his request to rescind his resignation was retaliation for earlier whistleblower activity in violation of his First Amendment rights and his procedural and substantive due process rights. See Sanders v. District of Columbia, 522 F. Supp. 2d at 86-87. He brought suit against the District of Columbia, former Chief of Police Charles H. Ramsey in his individual and official capacities, and Captain Jeffrey Herrold and a "John Doe" in their individual capacities.

In its November 8, 2007 Opinion, the Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's municipal liability claims against the District of Columbia, including the claims against Chief Ramsey in his official capacity, as well as plaintiff's substantive due process claims. See Sanders v. District of Columbia, 522 F. Supp. 2d at 88, 91-92. The Court denied defendants' motion to dismiss as to plaintiff's First Amendment and procedural due process claims against the individual defendants. See id. at 88-91.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave Amend the Complaint

Plaintiff initially named as defendants the District of Columbia, then Chief of Police Ramsey, and plaintiff's former superior Lieutenant Jeffrey Harold, as well as a "John Doe". Plaintiff now seeks to replace the John Doe with Chief of Police Cathy Lanier and Assistant Chief Alfred Broadbent, in their individual capacities, on the grounds that only recently, during the course of discovery in this case, did plaintiff learn of their alleged unconstitutional actions toward him. Defendant objects to the amendment on the grounds of futility, arguing that both Chief (then Commanding Officer) Lanier and Assistant Chief (then Special Services Officer) Broadbent have qualified immunity, and that the claims against both are barred by the statute of limitations.

Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for liberal amendment of pleadings, "when justice so requires." FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a); see, e.g., Howard v. Gutierrez, 237 F.R.D. 310, 312 (D.D.C. 2006) (quoting Davis v. Liberty Mutual Insurace Co., 871 F.2d 1134, 1136-37 (D.C. Cir. 1989) ("It is common ground that Rule 15 embodies a generally favorable policy toward amendments.") (citations omitted)). The presumption runs in the plaintiff's favor that he may amend his complaint "[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason - such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the [plaintiff], repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of the amendment, etc." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

The Court finds that permitting the amendment of the complaint to add Chief Lanier and Assistant Chief Broadbent as additional defendants is not futile and that the defendants have not articulated any prejudice from doing so. Defendants' argument as to futility on the qualified immunity question is doubtful in light of the Court's earlier denial of defendants' motion to dismiss on the grounds of qualified immunity. See Sanders v. District of Columbia, 522 F. Supp. 2d at 89-91. Defendants' statute of limitations argument depends on disputed factual questions of when plaintiff knew, or should have known, of the alleged unconstitutional acts by Chief Lanier and Assistant Chief Broadbent. Both of these arguments are more appropriately addressed in a motion to dismiss or, more likely, a motion for summary judgment, than on a motion to amend a complaint. Plaintiff's complaint will be amended to include Chief Lanier and Assistant Chief Broadbent as defendants in their individual capacities for the still pending First Amendment and procedural due process claims.

B. Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

1. Legal Standard

Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c). The standard of review for motions for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules is essentially the same as that for motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Schuchart v. La Taberna Del Alabardero, Inc., 365 F.3d 33, 35 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Ramirez v. Dep't of Corrections, 222 F.3d 1238, 1240-41 (10th Cir. 2000); Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d 1245, 1254 (D.C. Cir. 1987); Does I through III v. District of Columbia, 238 F. Supp. 2d 212, 216 (D.D.C. 2002) (citations omitted). On either motion, the Court may not rely on facts outside the pleadings and must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). As with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may grant judgment on the pleadings only if the facts alleged in the complaint do not "raise a right to relief above the speculative level," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), or fail to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also Nat'l Shopmen Pension Fund v. Disa, 583 F. Supp. 2d 95, 99 (dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(c) "if the plaintiff fails to plead 'enough facts to state a claim [to] relief that is plausible on its face.'" (citing Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)).

Plaintiff filed his motion to amend the complaint before defendants filed their motion for judgment on the pleadings. As discussed above, the Court is granting plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint. The Court therefore has treated the motion for ...


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