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Anderson v. United States

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

April 17, 2019

INGE T. ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


          Robert S. Lasnik United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on “Defendant's Motion for Leave to Amend Answer and Counterclaim.” Dkt. # 86. Plaintiff is suing her former husband to recover amounts owing under an I-864 affidavit of support and for damages arising out of an alleged failure to provide financial support during marriage and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.[1] Defendant answered the amended complaint on October 2, 2018, but most of his affirmative defenses and counterclaims were dismissed at plaintiff's request. Two of his affirmative defenses - unjust enrichment and breach of contract/breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing - were recharacterized as counterclaims and allowed to proceed, along with his request for declaratory judgment. The only affirmative defense to survive was one for setoff. Defendant now seeks leave to amend his answer. Plaintiff opposes the motion on procedural and substantive grounds

         A. Procedural Deficiencies

         Plaintiff correctly points out that defendant's motion is overlength and that the proposed pleading does not indicate where alterations have been made. The Court will not consider the last three pages of defendant's motion but has considered the proposed pleading.

         To the extent plaintiff is seeking sanctions under Rule 11, the motion is procedurally improper. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(2). Contrary to plaintiff's argument (Dkt. # 91 at 3), her motion for default judgment, which was filed two weeks before defendant filed the offending document, cannot possibly satisfy the notice and safe harbor provisions of Rule 11.

         B. Amendment Standards

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4), case management deadlines established by the Cou “may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent.” Rule 16 was amended in 1983 to require scheduling orders that govern pre-trial as well as trial procedure. The purpose o the change was to improve the efficiency of federal litigation: leaving the parties to their own devices until shortly before trial was apparently costly and resulted in undue delay. Under the new rule, once a case management schedule issues, changes will be made only if the movant shows “good cause.”

Rule 16(b)'s “good cause” standard primarily considers the diligence of the party seeking the amendment. The district court may modify the pretrial schedule “if it cannot reasonably be met with the diligence of the party seeking the extension.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16 advisory committee's notes (1983 amendment) . . . .

Johnson v. Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 975 F.2d 604, 609 (9th Cir. 1992). See also Zivkovic v. S. Cal. Edison Co., 302 F.3d 1080, 1087-88 (9th Cir. 2002) (where plaintiff failed to “demonstrate diligence in complying with the dates set by the district court, ” good cause was not shown).

         The case management deadline related to amendment of the pleadings is set relatively early in the case to ensure that the parties have time to serve discovery regarding all of the claims and defenses at issue. In this case, however, plaintiff lodged an amended complaint just before the amendment deadline, and there was a delay before the proposed amendment was accepted by the Court. Defendant timely filed his response and, when the Court found many of his affirmative defenses and counterclaims deficient, promptly filed this motion to amend. To the extent the amendments are aimed at remedying the deficiencies identified by the Court, defendant was diligent once the need for amendment became apparent. One proposed amendment is not a response to the Court's order, however, but rather an attempt to introduce entirely new theories or claims into the case. Discovery has now closed, and defendant has not explained why these theories or claims were not brought forward in the twenty-two months that this action has been pending.

         Satisfying Rule 16's good cause requirement is only the first hurdle defendant faces. Under Rule 15, there is a “strong policy in favor of allowing amendment” (Kaplan v. Rose, 49 F.3d 1363, 1370 (9th Cir. 1994)), but “[c]ourts may decline to grant leave to amend . . . if there is strong evidence of undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, or futility of amendment, etc.” Sonoma County Ass'n of Retired Employees v. Sonoma County, 708 F.3d 1109, 1117 (9th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). Thus, despite there being good cause for extending the deadline for amending the pleadings, amendment will still be denied if it is the product of bad faith, would be futile, or would prejudice plaintiff.

         C. First Affirmative Defense: Res Judicata/Claim Preclusion/Issue Preclusion

         In defendant's response to plaintiff's motion to dismiss (Dkt. # 53 at 8), he argued that res judicata was a defense to plaintiff's breach of contract claim. In that context, the Court found that, despite the fact that plaintiff alleged a breach of the I-864 affidavit and requested enforcement of those obligations in her divorce petition, there was no indication that the claim was actually litigated or resolved in the state proceedings. The Court therefore concluded that the res judicata defense failed as a matter of law.

         The Court sees no reason to reconsider that conclusion. “To determine whether the doctrine bars a suit, the Court looks to the res judicata rules of the state from which the original judgment arises.” Li Liu v. Kell, 299 F.Supp.3d 1128, 1132 (W.D. Wash. 2017). In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the claim preclusion prong of res judicata bars successive litigation of a claim on which final judgment has been entered, even if new facts or issues could be brought to bear. The issue preclusion prong bars successive litigation of issues of fact or law that were resolved in the earlier action and were essential to the judgment entered, even if the issue subsequently arises in the context of an entirely new claim. Lee v. Spoden, 776 S.E.2d 798, 803 (Va. 2015). No. judgment was entered on plaintiff's I-864 breach of contract claim, there is no evidence that the state court ever mentions or considers that claim, the Marital Agreement that was incorporated into the state court ...

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