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Abraha v. Colonial Parking, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 5, 2019

Berthe Benyam Abraha, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Colonial Parking, Inc., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Berthe Benyam Abraha, Esayas Akalu, Samuel Habtewoled, and Gedlu Melke have moved for leave to amend their [1] Complaint. Defendants Colonial Parking, Inc. (“Colonial”) and FCE Benefits Administrators, Inc. (“FCE”) oppose, citing delay, prejudice, and futility. Upon consideration of the briefing, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court shall GRANT Plaintiffs' [65] Motion to Amend to Their Complaint. Defendants shall have an opportunity to pursue further discovery based on Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs bring this putative class action against their former employer, Colonial, and its benefits plan administrator, FCE, for Defendants' alleged violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). In separate counts against Colonial and FCE, Plaintiffs' two-count Complaint alleges that the Defendants breached various fiduciary, co-fiduciary, and other obligations under ERISA. When both Defendants moved to dismiss these allegations in the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court found that Plaintiffs had stated a claim in nearly all respects. See Mem. Op., Abraha v. Colonial Parking, Inc., 243 F.Supp.3d 179 (D.D.C. 2017) (“Abraha I”), ECF No. 28 (finding that Plaintiffs failed only as to Section 1133 claim for insufficient claims procedure, which Court treated as conceded).

         After a hotly contested period of discovery, the Court denied without prejudice Plaintiffs' motion for class certification, finding that inadequacies in the parties' briefing inhibited the Court's assessment of the merits. See Mem. Op., Abraha v. Colonial Parking, Inc., 311 F.Supp.3d 37 (D.D.C. 2018) (“Abraha II”), ECF No. 62. Those deficiencies warranted an opportunity for Plaintiffs to amend their Complaint and seek the Court's leave to file it, if Defendants would not consent. Abraha II, 311 F.Supp.3d at 41-42. Acknowledging that it was “not the Court's standard practice to do so, ” the Court articulated the following four elements that the Court “expect[ed] to see in any viable amended class action complaint”:

• “An amended complaint should expressly identify each of Plaintiffs' allegations against Defendants in this action.
• “Any allegation of fraudulent concealment sufficient to toll the statute of limitations must be pled with particularity under the Federal Rules and must comport with further standards in this Circuit. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b); Larson v. Northrop Corp., 21 F.3d 1164, 1172-74 (D.C. Cir. 1994).
• “An amended complaint should sufficiently describe each named Plaintiff's employment dates and circumstances so as to make clear his connection, if any, to Defendants during each portion of the proposed class period.
• “The amended complaint should set forth a class definition that will be consistent with any subsequently renewed motion for class certification.”

Id. The Court also directed Defendants to focus their response on any prejudice that amendment would create, but to postpone any statute of limitations arguments until a more suitable motion under a less generous standard. See Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2) for amending complaint).

         The parties proceeded to brief Plaintiffs' motion to amend, punctuated only by an unsuccessful period of mediation. Plaintiffs' reply brief attached expert reports that Defendants had marked as confidential or containing confidential information pursuant to the parties' [37] Stipulated Confidentiality Agreement and Protective Order (“Protective Order”). That public filing drew Defendants' immediate objections, which resulted in the Court's decision to seal the attachments containing Colonial's expert reports and to defer a decision as to the portion of Colonial's request seeking sanctions for Plaintiffs' breach of the Protective Order. See Colonial's Emergency Mot. to Seal and for Sanctions, ECF No. 75; Min. Order of Sept. 27, 2018.[2]

         Briefing having concluded, the Plaintiffs' motion to amend is now ripe for decision. The Court shall address Colonial's ripe motion for sanctions in a separate ruling.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), captioned “Amendments Before Trial, ” a party is permitted to amend its complaint or other pleading “once as a matter of course within” certain alternative time periods. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). “In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Rule 15 makes clear that when the court's leave is sought, that leave should be “freely give[n] . . . when justice so requires.” Id.; see Willoughby v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 100 F.3d 999, 1003 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (finding that leave to amend a complaint is within the court's discretion and “should be freely given unless there is a good ...


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