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White v. Relay Resource

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

October 31, 2019

DEBRA VANESSA WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
RELAY RESOURCES and GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants General Services Administration (“GSA”), Emily Murphy, and the United States' (collectively the “Government Defendants”) motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 53). Having considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court STRIKES the claims against the Government Defendants in Plaintiff's amended complaint (Dkt. No. 47) and DENIES the Government Defendants' motion to dismiss as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court previously set forth the underlying facts of this case and will not repeat them here. (See Dkt. No. 40 at 1-3.) On July 9, 2019, the Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims against GSA. (See Dkt. No. 41.) In doing so, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend her breach of contract claim to allege, if she could, facts establishing (1) that a contract existed between Plaintiff and GSA; (2) the specific provisions which imposed a duty on GSA; and (3) how GSA breached the contract. (See Id. at 7.) Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint, but she did not amend her breach of contract claim. (See Dkt. No. 47.) Instead, Plaintiff added Emily Murphy, the Administrator of GSA, and the United States as defendants and asserted 10 new claims against the Government Defendants.[1] Those defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's new claims on the grounds that (1) Plaintiff did not comply with the Court's July 9 order, (see Dkt. No. 53 at 9), and (2) the amended complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted, (see Id. at 9-19).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiff's Compliance with the Court's Order

         The Government Defendants construe the Court's July 9 order as allowing Plaintiff to amend only her breach of contract claim and prohibiting her from adding additional claims. This construction is erroneous. (See Id. at 9.) The Court's July 9 order explained what Plaintiff had to do to amend her breach of contract claim; it did not limit Plaintiff's ability under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) to seek to amend her complaint by adding new claims. See Geier v. Mo. Ethics Comm'n, 715 F.3d 674, 677 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Whitaker v. City of Houston, 963 F.2d 831, 835 (5th Cir. 1992)) (holding that a party may amend under Rule 15(a) unless an order “expressly or by clear implication dismiss[es] the action”); (Dkt. No. 41 at 7). The only order relevant to Plaintiff's ability to add new claims is the Court's minute entry on July 6, 2019, which provides that pleading amendments are due by November 8, 2019. (See Dkt. No. 45 at 1.) That deadline has not yet passed.

         Although the Court's July 9 order does not prohibit Plaintiff from amending her complaint under Rule 15(a), she still must comply with the Rules' requirements before doing so. Rule 15(a)(1) allows a plaintiff to amend a complaint “once as a matter of course”-i.e., without the court's approval-within (1) 21 days after the plaintiff serves the complaint or (2) 21 days after the defendant serves a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier. If the plaintiff can no longer amend their complaint as a “matter of course, ” then they “may amend [their] [complaint] only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2) (emphasis added). To seek the court's leave, a party must file a motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(b)(1).

         Plaintiff appears to have violated Rules 7(b)(1) and 15(a) when she amended her complaint to add 10 new claims. Plaintiff could not amend her complaint as a matter of course because Defendant Relay Resources filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's original complaint on April 29, 2019-93 days before Plaintiff filed her amended complaint. (See Dkt. Nos. 15, 47.) In addition, the Court's July 9 order granted Plaintiff leave to amend only as to her contract claim; it did not give her permission to add 10 entirely new claims. (See Dkt. No. 41 at 7.) Accordingly, if Plaintiff wished to amend her complaint to add new claims, then Rules 7(b)(1) and 15(a)(2) required that she obtain Defendants' written consent or file a motion requesting leave from the Court. Plaintiff did neither.

         Plaintiff's failure to formally seek leave to amend her complaint leaves the Court caught between two competing principles. On the one hand, “pro se parties are held to the same procedural requirements as represented parties.” Steward v. Emerald Corr. Mgmt., LLC, 2014 WL 12798369, slip op. at 3 (D.N.M. 2014) (citing DiCesare v. Stuart, 12 F.3d 973, 979 (10th Cir. 1993)). On the other hand, courts “ha[ve] a duty to ensure that pro se litigants do not lose their right to a hearing on the merits . . . due to ignorance of technical procedural requirements.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). To reconcile these principles, “[d]istrict courts have liberally construed an amended complaint, that was filed without leave of court, as a motion for leave to amend the complaint.” Levy v. FCI Lender Servs., Inc., 2019 WL 3459030, slip op. at 2 (S.D. Cal. 2019) (citing Baker v. G.D. Lewis, 2012 WL 1932867, slip op. at 1 (N.D. Cal. 2012); Miller v. LaMontagne, 2011 WL 7379862, slip op. at 1 (S.D. Cal. 2011); Dauven v. George Fox Univ., 2010 WL 6089077, slip op. at 24 (D. Or. 2010)); see also Wennihan v. AHCCCS, 515 F.Supp.2d 1040, 1043-44 (D. Ariz. 2005); Hardrick v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., 2005 WL 8154641, slip op. at 3 (N.D.Ga. 2005). While courts do not universally follow this approach, see, e.g., Battles v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 272 F.Supp.3d 5, 12 (D.D.C. 2017) (striking amended complaint because pro se plaintiff failed to seek the court's permission before filing the complaint), the Court finds the approach appropriate in this case. Construing Plaintiff's amended complaint as a motion for leave to amend will not prejudice any party given that the parties have fully briefed the merits of Plaintiff's new claims. (See Dkt. Nos. 52-54, 56, 59, 66, 68, 70, 75.) In addition, forcing Plaintiff to formally seek leave to file an amended complaint would simply result in the parties duplicating their previous briefing.

         Because the Court construes Plaintiff's amended complaint as a motion for leave to amend, the Court must analyze Plaintiff's implied “motion” under Rule 15(a) instead of Rule 12(b). Rule 15(a)(2) states that “[the] court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” However, leave “need not be granted where the proposed amendment is futile.” Nordyke v. King, 644 F.3d 776, 788 n.12 (9th Cir. 2011). A proposed amendment is futile if it would be “subject to dismissal.” Steckman v. Hart Brewing, Inc., 143 F.3d 1293, 1298 (9th Cir. 1998). The test for whether a proposed amendment is futile is, therefore, identical to the test for whether a pleading survives a challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) or (6).[2] See Nordyke, 644 at 788 n.12 (citing Miller v. Rykoff-Sexton, Inc., 845 F.2d 209, 214 (9th Cir. 1988)). Accordingly, Plaintiff must establish that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over each of her new claims. Stock West, Inc. v. Confederated Tribes, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff must also allege sufficient facts, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. at 678.

         B. The Merits of Plaintiff's New Claims

         Plaintiff proposes to add 10 claims against the Government Defendants. For the reasons explained below, the Court ...


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