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Lake v. Hezebicks

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

January 15, 2015

STACY E. LAKE, Plaintiff,


MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint, [Dkt. 21], and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. [Dkt. 14.] For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to amend and the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court DENY Defendants' motion to dismiss.

I. Background

Stacy E. Lake ("Plaintiff") claims she suffered injuries in a car accident on June 26, 2012. [Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 7-10.] She alleges that on this date, William Hezebicks was operating a motor vehicle within the scope of his employment with Stan Koch & Sons Trucking, Inc. (collectively "Defendants") when he negligently lost control and collided with Plaintiff's vehicle. [ Id. ]

The alleged accident occurred in Putnam County, Indiana, which is located within the Southern District of Indiana. [ See id. ¶¶ 5-7.] Plaintiff, however, originally filed suit on May 8, 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. See Lake v. Hezebicks, No. 1:14-CV-143-PPS, 2014 WL 1874853, at *1 (N.D. Ind. May 9, 2014). That court noted that the accident giving rise to this lawsuit occurred in the Southern District of Indiana and accordingly dismissed Plaintiff's complaint on the grounds that venue was improper in the Northern District. [ See Dkt. 21 ¶¶ 4-5.] The dismissal was without prejudice, and the judge for the Northern District thus observed that "if Lake wants to pursue her case, she is free to file a complaint in the Southern District of Indiana." [ See id. ¶ 7.]

Plaintiff followed that advice and filed her present complaint in this Court on November 3, 2014. [Dkt. 1.] Defendants responded with the currently pending Motion to Dismiss. [Dkt. 14.] They contend that under Indiana law, Plaintiff had two years from the date of the accident in which to file her complaint. [ Id. ¶ 3.] Because the alleged accident occurred on June 26, 2012, and because Plaintiff did not file her complaint with this Court until November 3, 2014, Defendants conclude that Plaintiff's claim "is in violation of Indiana law as the statute of limitations for such a claim expired by the time Plaintiff filed [her] Complaint." [ Id. ] They thus ask the Court to dismiss this action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). [ Id. at 2.]

Plaintiff responded in two ways. First, she filed the currently pending Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint. [Dkt. 21.] She "seeks to amend her Complaint to clarify the history of this case and to establish on the face of the Complaint that her initial Complaint against the Defendants was filed prior to the expiration of the Statute of Limitations." [ Id. ¶ 8.] To that end, her proposed amended complaint includes additional allegations recounting the procedural history of this case. [ See Dkt. 21-1.] Second, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss. [Dkt. 27.] She argues that her complaint in this Court was timely filed by operation of Indiana's Journey's Account Statute, Ind. Code Ann. § 34-11-8-1, which allows for the survival of certain otherwise untimely causes of actions. [ See Dkt. 27 at 3.]

II. Discussion

Pursuant to Rule 15(a)(1)(B), Plaintiff has a right to amend her pleading "once as a matter of course" within 21 days after service of Defendants' motion to dismiss. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B). Accordingly, a motion to amend was not even necessary in this instance. However, because such a motion has been filed and opposed, the Court will address the motion.

The Court should "freely give" leave to amend a pleading "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). This rule, however, does not mandate that leave be granted in every case: "district courts have broad discretion to deny leave to amend where there is undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies, undue prejudice to the defendants, or where the amendment would be futile." Arreola v. Godinez, 546 F.3d 788, 796 (7th Cir. 2008). Defendants have the burden of showing that such a reason exists to deny the amendment. See, e.g., Smith v. Chrysler Corp., 938 F.Supp. 1406, 1412 (S.D. Ind. 1996).

Defendants in this case do not contend that Plaintiff's amendment is unduly prejudicial, that it is the result of bad faith, or that Defendant unduly delayed in filing her motion for leave to amend. [ See Dkt. 28.] Instead, they note that Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint adds only six brief paragraphs that recount the procedural history of this case, including the initial filing of a complaint in the Northern District of Indiana and the resulting dismissal of that complaint. [ See Dkt. 28; Dkt. 21-1 ¶¶ 11-16.] They contend that this information is "extraneous" and has "nothing to do with the facts and circumstances" of the accident that gave rise to Plaintiff's claims, such that the Court should deny Plaintiff's motion. [Dkt. 28 ¶ 3.]

This argument is meritless. As noted above, a court may deny leave to amend where the proposed amendment would be futile. Arreola, 546 F.3d at 796. A proposed amended complaint, in turn, is futile when it would not survive a motion to dismiss.[1] Garcia v. City of Chicago, Ill., 24 F.3d 966, 970 (7th Cir. 1994); see also McCoy v. Iberdrola Renewables, Inc., 760 F.3d 674, 685 (7th Cir.) reh'g denied, 769 F.3d 535 (7th Cir. 2014) ("District courts may refuse to entertain a proposed amendment on futility grounds when the new pleading would not survive a motion to dismiss.").

Here, Defendants have already moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, [Dkt. 14], and the futility inquiry thus turns on whether Plaintiff's proposed amended complaint would survive that motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Trochuck v. Patterson Companies, Inc., 851 F.Supp.2d 1147, 1149 (S.D. Ill. 2012) (determining futility of amendment with respect to pending motion to dismiss); Parkey v. Bowling, No. 3:07-CV-267, 2008 WL 2169007, at *7 (N.D. Ind. May 22, 2008) (same). The Court, that is, will determine whether Defendants' motion to dismiss would succeed against the amendment complaint.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the action was not filed within the relevant statute of limitations. [Dkt. 15 at 1.] Typically, a complaint need not address such affirmative defenses, but "the statute of limitations may be raised in a motion to dismiss if the allegations of the complaint itself set forth everything necessary to satisfy the affirmative defense.'" Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 579 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Lewis, 411 F.3d 838, 842 (7th Cir.2005)). In this case, Defendants note that the statute of limitations for this cause of action is two years [Dkt. 15 at 1 (citing Ind. Code Ann. § 34-11-2-4(a)(1))], and that the complaint itself indicates that the cause of action accrued on June 26, 2012, [ see Dkt. 1 ¶ 7], but that the complaint was not filed in this Court until November 3, 2014-i.e., more than two years later. [ See Dkt. 1] They thus conclude that ...

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