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Shank v. Carleton College

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 7, 2019

Elizabeth M. Shank, Plaintiff,
Carleton College, Defendant.


          Eric C. Tostrud United States District Judge

         On October 15, 2018, Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer issued an order addressing several issues, including granting the motion of Plaintiff Elizabeth M. Shank (“Shank”) to amend her complaint to allege punitive damages in connection with her state-law claims. Defendant Carleton College (“Carleton”) objects only to the part of Judge Bowbeer's order finding that “good cause” existed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 16 to amend the scheduling order to permit consideration of Shank's late motion to amend. Having carefully reviewed the underlying order, the parties' arguments, and the applicable law, the Court will affirm Judge Bowbeer's finding of good cause and, as a result, her order granting Shank's motion to amend.


         The background facts are set forth more fully in court orders dated January 9, 2017 [ECF No. 41] and October 15, 2018 [ECF No. 221], and will not be recited at length here. In short, Shank brought this action challenging Carleton's alleged mishandling of two on-campus rapes. See First Am. Compl. ¶ 1 [ECF No. 6]. Shank originally sought punitive damages only as to her federal claim under Title IX, expressly noting in her complaint that “[t]he law of this District precludes the initial pleading of a claim of punitive damages as to state law claims.”[1] Id. ¶ n, 49 n.3. Approximately two years later, and after the close of discovery, she filed a motion to amend her complaint to add a claim for punitive damages as to her state-law claims. See Mot. to Amend [ECF No. 64]; Proposed Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 263-65, n [ECF No. 72-3].

         Shank's motion to amend was complicated by two issues: (1) the timeliness of her motion, in view of the scheduling order, and (2) a dispute about whether Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 or Minn. Stat. § 549.191 provided the applicable legal standard for considering the motion. Judge Bowbeer found that Shank's motion was untimely. ECF No. 221 (“Order”) at 13. Although the scheduling order from the initial pretrial conference had left a blank for “[m]otions seeking to add claim for punitive damages, ” ECF No. 45 at 3, Judge Bowbeer concluded that the general deadline of August 1, 2017, for “[m]otions seeking to amend pleadings, ” id., was controlling, making Shank's motion over a year late, Order at 12-13. And although the law in the District had long been that Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2)'s “freely give leave” standard yields to Minn. Stat. § 549.191's “prima facie evidence” standard, Judge Bowbeer joined a recent intra-District trend and concluded the opposite. See Order at 8-10. But neither of these rulings is at issue in this appeal. See Def.'s Obj. at 1-2 [ECF No. 229].

         The sole issue that Carleton appeals is Judge Bowbeer's threshold determination that “good cause” existed under Rule 16 to consider Shank's belated motion to amend under Rule 15. See Id. Having found good cause, Judge Bowbeer then entertained the merits of Shank's motion to amend. She concluded that the court was “not working with a tabula rasa” because Judge Schiltz had already concluded the complaint stated a claim for “deliberate indifference” under Title IX and “intentional or reckless” conduct for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Order at 15-16. The court held that these standards “closely approximate[] the punitive damages standard under Minnesota law” and that Shank had therefore “allege[d] a plausible claim ‘that the acts of the defendant show[ed] deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.'” Id. at 16-18 (second alternation in original) (quoting Minn. Stat. § 549.20). Accordingly, Judge Bowbeer granted Shank's motion to amend to add a claim for punitive damages as to her state-law claims. Id. at 19.



         Motions to amend for punitive damages are nondispositive motions, despite their potentially dispositive implications. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Local Rule 7.1(b)(4)(A)(i) (providing that “[n]ondispositive motions covered by this subsection include . . . motions to amend pleadings”); Daley v. Marriott Int'l, Inc., 415 F.3d 889, 893 n.9 (8th Cir. 2005) (referring to a motion for leave to amend the complaint as a “nondispositive pretrial motion”); Olson v. Brott, No. 09-cv-790 (JNE/JJG), 2009 WL 4912135, at *3 (D. Minn. Dec. 11, 2009) (rejecting plaintiff's argument that “the denial of his motion to amend . . . constituted a judgment on the merits” and was therefore dispositive, such that “the magistrate judge lacked jurisdiction to issue an order subject to a ‘clearly erroneous' or ‘contrary to law' standard of review” (citations omitted)). As a result, Judge Bowbeer's decision on the motion to amend will be reversed only if “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); accord Local Rule 72.2(b)(3).

         This standard of review “is extremely deferential.” Magee v. Trs. of the Hamline Univ., 957 F.Supp.2d 1047, 1062 (D. Minn. 2013). “A ruling is clearly erroneous when the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. A decision is contrary to law when a court fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure.” Smith v. Bradley Pizza, Inc., 314 F.Supp.3d 1017, 1026 (D. Minn. 2018) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “If the magistrate judge's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, the reviewing court may not reverse it even though had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently.” Meyer v. Haeg, No. 15-cv-2564 (SRN/HB), 2016 WL 29257, at *3 (D. Minn. Jan. 4, 2016) (reviewing decision to grant leave to amend).


         Shank's motion to amend implicates two federal rules and two state statutes: Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 and 16, and Minn. Stat. §§ 549.191 and 549.20. But only Rule 16 and its good-cause standard are directly at issue on appeal. A brief discussion of the interaction between Rules 15 and 16 is useful.

         Rule 15 requires the court to “freely give leave” to amend “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Even though this is a liberal standard, parties do not have an absolute right to amend for any claim at any time. See Sherman v. Winco Fireworks, Inc., 532 F.3d 709, 715 (8th Cir. 2008). A motion to amend may be denied for “compelling reasons such as undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the non-moving party, or futility of the amendment.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         But when a Rule 15 motion is brought after the court-ordered deadline, the court must conduct a “good cause” analysis under Rule 16 to determine if amendment of the scheduling order is appropriate.[2]See Sherman, 532 F.3d at 716; see also TCS Holdings, Inc. v. OnVoy, Inc., No. 07-cv-1200 (DWF/AJB), 2008 WL 11347408, at *2 (describing how the movant must show good cause to “justify modification of the scheduling order, thereby re-establishing the timeliness of the amendment motion itself”). This is a more stringent standard than in Rule 15. See Bradford v. DANA Corp., 249 F.3d 807, 809 (8th Cir. 2001) (calling the good-cause standard “less forgiving”). “The primary measure of good cause is the movant's diligence in attempting to meet the [scheduling] order's ...

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