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Chen v. D'Amico

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

November 29, 2017

SUSAN CHEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NATALIE D'AMICO, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO AMEND

          JAMES L. ROBART UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Plaintiffs Susan (Shiying) Chen, Naixiang Lian, J.L., and L.L.'s (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) motion for leave to amend their complaint. (Mot. (Dkt. # 58).) The court has considered the motion, the parties' submissions in support of and in opposition to the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Plaintiffs' motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs allege various violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law by Defendant City of Redmond, Washington (“the City”);[2] individual police officer Defendants Natalie D'Amico, Ron Gibson, Kristi Wilson, and unnamed John Does A-D (collectively, “the Redmond Officers”); Defendant Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”); and 10 named and unnamed DSHS employees (collectively, “Defendants”). (FAC ¶¶ 7-20.)[3] Plaintiffs' allegations arise from a series of interactions between Plaintiffs and certain Defendants that began in October of 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.)

         According to Plaintiffs, DSHS's Child Protective Services (“CPS”) visited Plaintiffs' home on October 23, 2013, to investigate an allegation made earlier that day against Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian by a doctor who had examined their son, J.L. (Id.) The social worker from CPS convinced Ms. Chen and Mr. Lian to take J.L. to Seattle Children's Hospital, where he was found to be malnourished and was subsequently placed into protective custody. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.) Soon after, RPD began a criminal investigation, led by Officer D'Amico, into possible child neglect by Ms. Chen. (Id. ¶ 59.) On December 9, 2013, Officer D'Amico signed a probable cause affidavit to file criminal charges against Ms. Chen. (Id. ¶ 65.) Plaintiffs allege that the affidavit, made upon Officer D'Amico's knowledge, contained untrue statements and omitted exculpatory information. (Id. ¶¶ 66-72.) On December 13, 2013, Officer D'Amico sent her investigation report and probable cause affidavit to the King County Prosecuting Attorney, which resulted in the Prosecuting Attorney's office filing a criminal information against Ms. Chen on January 31, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 85-86.) On September 19, 2014, the Prosecuting Attorney's office dropped the charges. (Id. ¶ 88.)

         Just over two years later, on December 21, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a pro se complaint against the City in King County Superior Court. Chen v. City of Redmond, No. C17-0569JLR, Dkt. # 1 (“Redmond Compl.”) at 16. The same day, Plaintiffs filed a separate lawsuit against Officer D'Amico in this court. (12/21/16 Order (Dkt. # 4); see generally Dkt.) On April 17, 2017, the City removed the state action to federal court and answered the complaint the following day. Chen, No. C17-0569JLR, Dkt. ## 2, 5. The parties subsequently agreed to consolidate the two cases. (See 7/5/17 Order (Dkt. # 20).) On August 9, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint without seeking the court's leave or a stipulation from the Defendants. (See 10/16/17 Order at 3-5.) Because the City had already filed a responsive pleading to the complaint against it, the court granted the City's motion to strike the FAC as to the City only. (Id.) Plaintiffs now seek leave to amend their allegations as to the City and to assert claims against all Defendants in a single pleading.[4] (See Mot. at 1-2.)

         Plaintiffs propose to amend their complaint against the City by bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Redmond Officers in their personal capacities for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (FAC ¶¶ 116, 134, 143; Prop. SAC (Dkt. # 58-1) ¶¶ 116, 134, 143.) In addition, Plaintiffs propose a Monell claim against the City for the Redmond Officers' alleged conduct in carrying out municipal policies or practices that caused Plaintiffs' constitutional harms.[5] (Prop. SAC ¶¶ 119-30); see Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978) (allowing municipalities to be sued directly as “persons” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for injuries caused by municipal policies that violate the United States Constitution). Plaintiffs also propose state law claims alleging that the City is directly or vicariously liable for malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), negligent investigation, negligent supervision, and abuse of criminal legal process. (Id. ¶¶ 187-278.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         A “court should freely give leave [to amend a pleading] when justice so requires, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), “because the purpose of [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15] is to facilitate decision on the merits, rather than on the pleadings or technicalities, ” Novak v. United States, 795 F.3d 1012, 1020 (9th Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, this rule should be interpreted and applied with “extreme liberality.” Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. Rose, 893 F.2d 1074, 1079 (9th Cir. 1990). In doing so, courts typically consider five factors: (1) futility of amendment, (2) prejudice to the opposing party, (3) undue delay, (4) bad faith, and (5) whether the party previously amended its complaint. Wizards of the Coast LLC v. Cryptozoic Entm't LLC, 309 F.R.D. 645, 651 (W.D. Wash. 2015) (citing Allen v. City of Beverly Hills, 911 F.2d 367, 373 (9th Cir. 1990)). Here, the City does not argue that Plaintiffs' proposed amendments are brought in bad faith, there has been any undue delay, or Plaintiffs previously amended their claims against the City. (See generally Resp.) Thus, the court addresses only the futility of amendment and prejudice when considering the motion to amend.

         A court does not weigh all factors equally, however, because futility alone justifies denying leave to amend. Novak, 795 F.3d at 1020 (citing Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995)). A proposed amendment is futile “if no set of facts can be proved under the amendment to the pleadings that would constitute a valid and sufficient claim or defense.” Miller v. Rykoff-Sexton, Inc., 845 F.2d 209, 214 (9th Cir. 1988); see Gamez v. Ryan, No. CIV 12-00760 PHX RCB MEA, 2012 WL 8015674, at *2 (D. Ariz. Nov. 21, 2012) (citing Steckman v. Hart Brewing, Inc., 143 F.3d 1293, 1298 (9th Cir. 1998) (“A claim in a proposed amended complaint is futile if it would be immediately subject to dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) . . . for failure to state a claim . . . .”).

         Prejudice to the opposing party is another “critical factor.” Keiter v. Penn Mut. Ins. Co., 900 F.Supp. 1339, 1342 (D. Haw. 1995) (citing Jordan v. Cty. of L.A., 669 F.2d 1311, 1324 (9th Cir. 1982)). “Prejudice typically arises where the opposing party is surprised with new allegations which require more discovery or will otherwise delay resolution of the case.” Sharper Image Corp. v. Target Corp., 425 F.Supp.2d 1056, 1080 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (citing Acri v. Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 781 F.2d 1393, 1398-99 (9th Cir. 1986)). Thus, amendments proposed early in the proceedings are less likely to be prejudicial. See DCD Programs, Ltd. v. Leighton, 833 F.2d 183, 187-88 (9th Cir. 1987) (“Given that this case is still at the discovery stage with no trial date pending, nor has a pretrial conference been scheduled, there is no evidence that [the defendant] would be prejudiced by the timing of the proposed amendment.”). The party opposing amendment bears the burden of showing prejudice. Id. at 187.

         B. Motion to Amend

         Plaintiffs argue, and the City does not dispute, that the proposed amendments are offered in good faith and without any undue delay. (Mot. at 5-6; see generally Resp. (Dkt. # 63).) Plaintiffs also argue that the proposed amendments are not futile and that they will not result in any prejudice to the City because discovery has not begun, no trial date has been set, the same counsel has represented the City since this suit commenced, and the claims alleged arise out of events with which the City is already familiar. (Mot. at 6.) The City responds that the proposed amendments are futile, prejudicial, or both. (Resp. at 3.) For the reasons below, the court grants leave to amend the complaint to allege the proposed Section 1983 violations and the tort of malicious prosecution against the City. However, the court denies leave to add the proposed claims for IIED, negligent investigation, negligent supervision, and abuse of criminal legal process. The court now addresses each proposed claim in turn.

         1. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

         Plaintiffs propose to bring amended Section 1983 claims against the City both by bringing a Monell claim and by suing the Redmond Officers in their official capacities. (See Prop. SAC ¶¶ 101-51.) The proposed claims allege violations of Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as a result of the City's policies, practices, or customs. (See id.) In addition, Plaintiffs previously amended their complaint as of right to add personal-capacity claims under Section 1983 against the Redmond Officers for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. (See FAC ¶¶ 101-51; 10/16/17 Order at 4.)

         The City argues that Plaintiffs' proposed Section 1983 claims are “futile[] and [that] requiring its police officers to defend against them is prejudicial to the City.” (Resp. at 4.) It argues that the claims are futile because the claims against Officer D'Amico are barred by qualified immunity and the claims against then-Police Chief Gibson and then-Assistant Chief Wilson are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (Id. at 4-7.) In addition, the City argues that it is prejudiced because its “police chief is forced to expend time defending against [these] frivolous claim[s].” (Id. at 7.) Plaintiffs reply that the claims against the City are not time-barred (Reply (Dkt. # 68) at 3) and that the asserted qualified immunity defense for the Redmond Officers is not at issue because Plaintiffs seek leave to amend against the City only (see id.; see also 10/16/17 Order at 4).[6] Because the City's arguments focus on the futility of amending claims against the Redmond Officers-rather than the City-the court agrees with Plaintiffs and, thus, grants leave to amend their Section 1983 claims against the City.

         To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must plead facts giving rise to an inference that (1) he or she suffered a violation of rights either protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute, and (2) the violation was proximately caused by a person acting under color of state or federal law. See, e.g., Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). Individuals can be held personally liable for constitutional violations under Section 1983. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). However, a municipality cannot be held vicariously liable under Section 1983 for an individual employee's conduct. Bryan Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 689). As a result, establishing municipal liability under Section 1983 ...


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