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Staton v. Doe

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

October 12, 2016

GREGORY DELMUS STATON, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOE, ET AL., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Hon. Robert S. Ballou United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Gregory Delmus Staton, by counsel, seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for events that allegedly occurred during his transport from a jail in Virginia to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's office in Florida in September 2013. Staton also brings state law claims against the defendants. On August 19, 2016, I recommended denying Staton's motion for an extension of time to serve defendants not yet served and dismissing Staton's claims against defendants John Doe 2-10 and Jane Doe without prejudice, for failure to serve process within the time provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). Judge Norman K. Moon entered an order on September 12, 2016 adopting the Report and Recommendation. Currently before me are two motions: (1) motion to amend the complaint to name USG7, LLC in place of John Doe 1 (Dkt. No. 12); and (2) motion for default judgment as to USG7, LLC (Dkt. No. 13).[1]

         I. Motion to Amend

         Staton asserts that when he filed his complaint on September 29, 2015, he named an “unknown prisoner transport company as John Doe 1.” Staton has now identified the prisoner transport company as USG7, LLC. Staton also filed a return of service made on “John Doe 1, believed to be USG7, LLC.”[2]

         Staton cannot amend his complaint without “the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). This Rule provides that “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Id. The Supreme Court has emphasized this requirement, stating:

[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as 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, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be “freely given.”

Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Accordingly, futility is grounds for denial of a motion to amend under Rule 15(a)(2). Where a proposed amendment is made beyond the statute of limitations and it would not relate back to the original complaint, such an amendment would be futile. See United States v. Pittman, 209 F.3d 314, 318-19 (4th Cir. 2000) (holding that “[w]here the statute of limitations bars a cause of action, amendment may be futile and therefore can be denied”). Significantly, if Virginia's two-year statute of limitations for § 1983 applies, the amendment is likely barred by the statute of limitations and thus is futile.[3]

         However, Staton asserts in his complaint that he believes the four-year Florida statute of limitations applies to his § 1983 claims, and there is nothing currently before me that definitively contradicts his representation. Accordingly, I recommend that the motion to amend the complaint to name USG7, LLC in place of John Doe 1 be granted.

         II. Motion for Default Judgment

         Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the entry of default judgment when a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend. See Music City Music v. Alfa Foods, Ltd., 616 F.Supp. 1001, 1002 (E.D.Va.1985). However, prior to entering a default judgment, a court must be satisfied that the complaint states a legitimate cause of action. See Anderson v. Found. for Advancement, Educ. & Emp't of Am. Indians, 155 F.3d 500, 506 (4th Cir.1998) (holding that the district court erred in granting default judgment to the plaintiff where the plaintiff failed to state a claim). Because I find that the complaint fails to state a claim under § 1983 against either John Doe 1 or USG7, LLC, I recommend denying the motion for default judgment (Dkt. No. 13) and dismissing the claims against John Doe 1 with leave to amend.[4]

         A. Allegations

         Staton contends that John Doe 1 is a prisoner transport company that had a contract with Santa Rosa County, Florida, for the transport of prisoners. Compl. ¶ 2, Dkt. No. 1. John Doe 2 and Jane Doe were transporting agents employed by John Doe 1. The remaining defendants (John Doe 4-10 and Jane Doe) were “transporting agent[s], employers, or principles.” Id. at ¶ ¶ 4, 5. In September 2013, John Doe 1 transported Staton from a jail in Virginia to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office in Milton, Florida, pursuant to an extradition order to that jurisdiction. The trip lasted from September 26, 2013 until September 29, 2013.

         In his complaint, Staton alleges that he was “forced to ride in [a] van with 11 inmates” while shackled and handcuffed for an unsafe, tumultuous “non-stop ride that lasted for three 24- hour days” and was not given adequate food or water, allowed to shower, use the restroom, [5]brush his teeth, or sleep in a bed. Id. at ¶ ¶ 22-26, 28. The van had no air conditioning, and Staton asserts temperatures reached 100 degrees. Id. at 22. Staton alleges that as a result of the defendants' actions he “endured humiliation, severe emotional distress, psychiatric trauma and physical injury including but not limited to cuts, abrasions on his wrists, back, and body.” Compl.¶ 44, Dkt. No. 1.

         B. ...


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