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Wyatt v. Owens

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

November 10, 2016

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



         Michael E. Wyatt (“Plaintiff”), acting pro se, filed this case on September 11, 2014, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Johnny Owens, Allen Shelton, William Harris, Scott Wyatt, and M.D. Pickeral (“Defendants”) used excessive force while arresting Wyatt on July 3, 2012. (Dkt. 1 at 1-4). Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of that case against all defendants. (Dkt. 25). That motion was granted in part and denied in part. (Dkt. 31). The case against Harris and Pickeral was 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, 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 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15. (Dkt. 58). The Court granted Plaintiff's motion, and the complaint was promptly amended to add Nicholson and Worsham without objection. (Dkts. 59 & 60). On September 2, 2016, Nicholson and Worsham filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the claims against them were barred by the statute of limitations. (Dkt. 73). The Court found that the claims against Nicholson and Worsham properly related back under Rule 15(c)(1), and thus the claims against them were not time barred. (Dkt. 96).

         Plaintiff then filed a motion to amend the complaint again, this time to add Pittsylvania County Sheriff Michael Taylor, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for failing to train or supervise the officers involved in the incident, also known as a “Monell claim.” (Dkt. 72); see Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). On October 12, 2016, the Honorable Robert S. Ballou, United States Magistrate Judge, denied the motion to amend, on the basis that the claims against Sheriff Taylor did not relate back pursuant to Rule 15(c)(1), and thus they were time barred. (Dkt. 95). Judge Ballou held that relation back was impermissible because Plaintiff failed to satisfy all three required elements of Rule 15(c)(1). (Id.) Plaintiff then filed a motion for reconsideration of Judge Ballou's order. The matter has been briefed and is ripe for decision.

         Because Judge Ballou's order was not clearly erroneous and Plaintiff's amended complaint does not satisfy the requirements for relation back under Rule 15(c)(1), Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration will be denied.

         I. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72 permits a party to submit objections to a magistrate's ruling to the district court within fourteen days of the order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72; see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The standard of review applied by the district court differs depending on whether the issue decided by the magistrate is dispositive or nondispositive of the litigation. For dispositive matters, the district court undertakes a de novo review of those portions of the magistrate's report and recommendation to which objections were made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 48 (4th Cir. 1982). If an issue is nondispositive, however, the district court will modify or set aside the magistrate judge's order only if it “is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). The parties agree that Judge Ballou's order should be reviewed using the “clearly erroneous or . . . contrary to law” standard. (Dkt. 99 at 3; dkt 105 at 2); see also Everett v. Cherry, 671 F.Supp.2d 819, 820 (E.D. Va. 2009) (employing a “clearly erroneous” standard for evaluating a magistrates decision to deny a motion to amend).

         A ruling is “clearly erroneous” only when the totality of the record leaves the Court with “the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948); Minyard Enterprises, Inc. v. Se. Chem. & Solvent Co., 184 F.3d 373, 380 (4th Cir. 1999). It is “‘contrary to law' when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure.” Bowers v. Univ. of Virginia, No. 3:06-cv-00041, 2008 WL 2346033, at *3 (W.D. Va. June 6, 2008). “The leading treatise on federal practice and procedure describes altering a magistrate's nondispositive orders as ‘extremely difficult to justify.'” Carlucci v. Han, 292 F.R.D. 309, 312 (E.D. Va. 2013) (quoting 12 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3069 (2d ed. 1997)); see also McDonough v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., No. 3:09-cv-00071, 2010 WL 1418878, at *8 (W.D. Va. Apr. 8, 2010).

         II. Analysis

         The parties do not dispute that the date of the incident and the date of initial filing are 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). Thus, there is no question that, in the absence of relation back, Plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Taylor accrued and expired over two years ago.

         To survive the statute of limitations, Plaintiff invokes Rule 15, which governs amended and supplemental pleadings. (Dkt. 81 at 1). Rule 15(c)(1) 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 is 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)(1). Furthermore, “the grant or denial of an opportunity to amend is within the discretion of the District Court.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         If Plaintiff cannot establish that his claims against Sheriff Taylor relate back under Rule 15(c)(1), then his claims will be time barred, and thus leave to amend must be denied as futile. Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006).

         A. The same “conduct, transaction, or occurrence”

         The Supreme Court has held that “[s]o long as the original and amended petitions state claims that are tied to a common core of operative facts, relation back will be in order.” M ...

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