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Wyatt v. Owens

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

October 12, 2016

Michael E. Wyatt, Plaintiff,
Johnny Owens, et al., Defendants.


          Norman K. Moon, Judge

         Michael E. Wyatt (“Plaintiff”), acting pro se, filed this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Johnny Owens, Allen Shelton, William Harris, Scott Wyatt, and M.D. Pickeral used excessive force while arresting Plaintiff on July 3, 2012. Compl. at 1-4. On January 30, 2015, these defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of that case. (Dkt. 25). The Court granted that motion in part and denied it in part on August 20, 2015. (Dkt. 31). The claims against Harris and Pickeral were dismissed because they were neither present at nor involved with the alleged incident, while the case against the remaining defendants was allowed to proceed. Id. Harris and Pickeral had been misidentified by Plaintiff at the time of filing his pro se complaint from prison. (Dkt. 81 at 1).

         On June 10, 2016, after retaining counsel, Plaintiff filed a motion with the Court for leave to amend his complaint; he wished to replace the two dismissed defendants with Thomas Nicholson and Robert Worsham, pursuant to Rule 15. (Dkt. 58). The Court granted Plaintiff's unopposed motion, and the complaint was promptly amended to add Nicholson and Worsham. (Dkts. 59, 60). Following the amendment, the defendants in the case are Owens, Shelton, Wyatt, Nicholson, and Worsham (“Defendants”). On September 2, 2016, Nicholson and Worsham filed a motion for summary judgment, which is now before the Court, arguing that the claims against them are barred by the statute of limitations. (Dkt. 73). In addition to the motion for summary judgment, Defendants filed a motion in limine to preclude the introduction of evidence by Plaintiff's expert on police conduct, Dennis Waller. (Dkt. 75).

         Because Plaintiff's amended complaint satisfies the relation-back requirements of Rule 15(c), as discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied. Furthermore, Defendants' motion in limine to exclude Dennis Waller's testimony is denied because Waller's anticipated expert testimony is relevant under Rule 401 and 402, and his use of police policies as one factor in forming his opinion does not require exclusion under Rule 403, provided that his testimony does not equate policy violations with constitutional violations.

         I. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted if the Court concludes that no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, based on the totality of the evidence, including pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and affidavits. Whiteman v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 729 F.3d 381, 385 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). A genuine issue of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         To demonstrate that a genuine issue of material fact exists, a party may not rest upon his own mere allegations or denials. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Rather, the party must “proffer[] sufficient proof, in the form of admissible evidence, that could carry the burden of proof of his claim at trial.” Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1993). To this end, a district court has an “affirmative obligation . . . to prevent ‘factually unsupported claims [or] defenses' from proceeding to trial.” Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24).

         B. Analysis

         Thomas Nicholson and Robert Worsham ask the Court to dismiss the claims against them as they are barred by Virginia's two-year statute of limitations. (Dkt. 73 at 1).

         Defendants correctly state that there is no issue of material fact between the parties regarding the date of the incident and the date of initial filing: July 3, 2012 and December 1, 2013, respectively. (Dkt. 74 at 3; Dkt. 30 at 4). Because “[t]here is no federal statute of limitations for § 1983 claims, . . . the state limitations period which governs personal injury actions is applied.” Lewis v. Richmond City Police Dep't, 947 F.2d 733, 735 (4th Cit. 1991) (citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 280, (1985)). In Virginia, the limitations period for personal injury actions is two years from “when the plaintiff possesses sufficient facts about the harm done to him that reasonable inquiry will reveal his cause of action.” Va. Code § 8.01-243(a); Nasim v. Warden Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951, 955 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc); see also Va. Code § 8.01-230. Defendants argue that because Plaintiff's complaint was not amended to add Nicholson and Worsham until June 30, 2016, (dkt. 60), the limitations period lapsed nearly two years prior to the filing. (Dkt. 74 at 3).

         Plaintiff responds by invoking Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c), which governs amended and supplemental pleadings. (Dkt. 81 at 1). Rule 15(c) states that “[a]n amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the amendment changes the party or naming of the party against whom a claim is asserted” and three requirements are satisfied: (1) the amendment arises out of the same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence”; (2) the new parties received notice of the action sufficient to avoid prejudice in defending it on the merits; and (3) “the new parties knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the property party's identity.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c); see also Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 466-75 (4th Cir. 2007) (discussing the relation-back requirements of Rule 15(c) in great detail).

         1. The amendment arises out of the same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence”

         There is no dispute between the parties that the amendment arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence. The First Amended Complaint alleges that Nicholson and Worsham were present at the arrest of the Plaintiff and involved in the use of excessive force. (Dkt. 60). The First Amended Complaint simply replaces the previously misidentified defendants with Nicholson and Worsham. Id. “Because the substantive allegations in the amended complaint were identical to those contained in the initial complaint, the requirements of relation back under Rule ...

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