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Walker v. BP Products North America Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

May 8, 2018

LASHAWNDA WALKER, individually and as next friend of her children, D.W., a minor, M.H., a minor, Z.H., a minor and M.W., a minor; KIMBERLY HUNTER, individually and as next friend of her child, M.C., a minor; AMOS WILLIAMS; ROBIN CLINTON, individually and as next friend of her children, J.S. Jr., a minor, J.C., a minor, and A.S., a minor; MARK STENSON; LATASHA EDWARDS, individually and as next friend of her child, B.H., a minor, and DIONNE HENDERSON, individually and as next friend of her children, C.B., a minor, and A.H., a minor, Plaintiffs,
v.
BP PRODUCTS NORTH AMERICA INC.; E I DU PONT DE NEMOURS and COMPANY; and ATLANTIC RICHFIELD COMPANY, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES T. MOODY, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the court on plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a third amended complaint. (DE # 88.) For the reasons identified below, plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs' second amended complaint alleged ten counts against various defendants, including BP Products North America, Inc. (“BP”), E I DuPont De Nemours and Company (“DuPont”), and Atlantic Richfield Company (“ARCO”) (collectively “defendants”) relating to plaintiffs' exposure to toxins at the West Calumet Public Housing Complex. (DE # 36.) This court granted ARCO's motion to dismiss in its entirety and granted portions of DuPont's motion to dismiss. (DE # 83.) Specifically, this court dismissed plaintiffs' 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against ARCO and DuPont on the basis that these defendants did not act under color of state law. (Id. at 9.)

         Plaintiffs now seek leave to file a third amended complaint, in which they reintroduce their Section 1983 claims against ARCO and DuPont and add additional parties. (DE # 88.) Plaintiffs believe that this court erroneously dismissed their Section 1983 claims against ARCO and DuPont based on the court's misunderstanding of their claims against these defendants, and they seek to address these errors by amending their complaint.[1] (Id. at 1-2.)

         ARCO and DuPont oppose the motion and argue that plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint does not add any additional facts that would permit the court to find that defendants acted under color of law. Rather, plaintiffs continue to allege that defendants were state actors because they entered into a consent decree with two governmental agencies. Defendants argue that plaintiffs' motion should be denied because the court dismissed these claims with prejudice and amendment would be futile.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Plaintiffs' motion to file a third amended complaint is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2). This rule states, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “[T]he decision to grant or deny a motion to file an amended pleading is a matter purely within the sound discretion of the district court.” Brunt v. Serv. Employees Int'l Union, 284 F.3d 715, 720 (7th Cir. 2002). “‘Although the rule reflects a liberal attitude towards the amendment of pleadings, courts in their sound discretion may deny a proposed amendment if the moving party has unduly delayed in filing the motion, if the opposing party would suffer undue prejudice, or if the pleading is futile.'” Soltys v. Costello, 520 F.3d 737, 743 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal citation omitted). “There is no abuse of discretion where the district court denies a motion for leave to amend when the proposed amendment would not cure the deficiencies identified in the earlier complaint.” Bell v. City of Chicago, 694 Fed.Appx. 408, 412 (7th Cir. 2017), reh'g and suggestion for reh'g en banc denied (Aug. 17, 2017). See also Gonzalez-Koeneke v. West, 791 F.3d 801, 807 (7th Cir. 2015).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiffs' Claims were Dismissed with Prejudice

         DuPont and ARCO both oppose plaintiffs' motion to amend on the basis that plaintiffs are attempting to revive claims that were dismissed with prejudice. (DE # 92 at 2-3; DE # 94 at 4.) Defendants maintain that because this court did not provide plaintiffs with an opportunity to replead their dismissed claims, the dismissal constituted a dismissal with prejudice. Plaintiffs do not offer any substantive response to this argument.

         Rule 41(b) states, “[u]nless the dismissal order states otherwise, a dismissal under this subdivision (b) and any dismissal not under this rule-except one for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or failure to join a party under Rule 19-operates as an adjudication on the merits.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41. “When a case of which the court has jurisdiction is dismissed because it fails to state a claim . . . the dismissal is a merits determination and is therefore with prejudice.” El v. AmeriCredit Fin. Servs., Inc., 710 F.3d 748, 751 (7th Cir. 2013). See also St. John v. Cach, LLC, 822 F.3d 388, 392 (7th Cir. 2016) (dismissal of a case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c) is a dismissal with prejudice); Georgakis v. Illinois State Univ., 722 F.3d 1075, 1077 (7th Cir. 2013) (dismissal of a case on the merits is a dismissal with prejudice unless the court grants the plaintiff leave to replead).

         This court's dismissal of plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims was made on the merits of those claims. The court did not provide plaintiffs an opportunity to replead. Thus, the dismissal of those claims was with prejudice.

         B. The Court's Dismissal Order was not ...


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