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Jackson v. Ossell

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 24, 2019

Howard G. Jackson, Plaintiff,
v.
David Ossell, et al., Defendants.

          Howard G. Jackson, pro se Plaintiff.

          Stephen J. Christie, Esq., St. Paul City Attorney, counsel for Defendant David Ossell.

          ORDER

          BECKY R. THORSON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Amend his Complaint. (Doc. No. 53.) The Court issued a briefing schedule, allowing Plaintiff to file any written argument supporting his motion by November 30, 2018. (Doc. No. 55.) Plaintiff filed documents in support of his motion (Doc. Nos. 58, 59, 60), and Defendant Ossell filed opposition documents. (Doc. Nos. 68, 69, 70, 71.) A hearing was held on Plaintiff's motion on December 18, 2018. (See Doc. No. 74, Minute Entry.) On December 19, 2018, the Court received an unsolicited document from Plaintiff (with exhibits), which appeared to supplement his already submitted oral and written argument on his motion.[1](Doc. No. 79.) Even though this document was submitted in violation of the Local Rules and without permission of the Court, the Court allowed this document with the exhibits to be filed as a separate sealed document on the docket. (See Doc. No. 78, 1/3/19 Order allowing the filing.) In Plaintiff's motion documents, he seeks to add new claims and new parties. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion (Doc. Nos. 53, 58).

         BACKGROUND

         On December 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against David Ossell, Melissa Gunderson, and the Ramsey County Human Services Department. (Doc. No. 1.) He thereafter clarified that he intended to sue Ossell and Gunderson in both their personal and official capacities. (See Doc. No. 6.) After receiving that clarification, this Court recommended dismissal without prejudice of the official capacity claims for failure to adequately allege that Ossell or Gunderson were acting pursuant to an official policy or unofficial custom of Ramsey County, and recommended dismissal without prejudice of Ramsey County Human Services Department for failure to plead allegations indicating the county acted unlawfully. (Doc. No. 8.) United States Chief Judge John R. Tunheim issued an order consistent with that recommendation on April 30, 2018. (Doc. No. 17.)

         On May 14, 2018, Ossell filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint. (Doc. No. 21.) That motion was denied on November 6, 2018, based on this Court's recommendation. (Doc. No. 57; see Doc. No. 49, Sealed Report and Recommendation.) Therefore, at the time Plaintiff filed his papers supporting the present motion to amend, Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim asserted against Defendants Ossell and Gunderson in their personal capacity remained, and still remains.[2]

         Although Plaintiff's motion to amend papers are not clear as to what he is specifically seeking to add, it appears that he is seeking to add back in the official capacity claims against Ossell and Gunderson as well as claims against various other Defendants - i.e., the City of Saint Paul; the County of Ramsey; the State of Minnesota; the Minnesota Department of Human Service/”H.S.D.”; the Saint Paul Police Department; Todd Axtell, Chief of the Saint Paul Police Department; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney. (See generally Doc. Nos. 53, 58.) It appears that Plaintiff is trying to add claims against the City of Saint Paul, the County of Ramsey, the State of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services based on their supervisory role over Defendants Ossell and Gunderson or other entities. It also appears that Plaintiff is attempting to add claims in addition to his current Fourth Amendment claim - including one that relates to the alleged misconduct in how the “H.S.D.” handled Plaintiff's matter in state court, and one based on “Malice” that seems to be connected to actions taken with respect to the underlying child protection/child custody proceedings. Defendant Ossell, as an employee of the St. Paul Police Department, opposes the motion with respect to the proposed amendments that assert new claims against himself and the other St. Paul parties-the City of St. Paul, the St. Paul Police Department, and Chief Todd Axtell-on the grounds that the proposed amendments are futile. (Doc. No. 68, Def. Ossell's Mem. of Law Opposing Pl.'s Mot. to Am. Compl. (“Def.'s Mem.”).) Defendant Gunderson has not responded and is yet to be served.[3]

         DISCUSSION

         Except where amendment is permitted as a matter of course, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave [and] [t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The trial court has discretion to decide whether to grant leave to amend. Niagara of Wis. Paper Corp. v. Paper Indus. Union-Mgmt. Pension Fund, 800 F.2d 742, 749 (8th Cir. 1986). “There is no absolute right to amend.” Becker v. Univ. of Neb. at Omaha, 191 F.3d 904, 908 (8th Cir. 1999). “[E]ven where some prejudice to the adverse party would result if the motion to amend were granted, that prejudice must be balanced against the hardship to the moving party if it is denied.” Buder v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 644 F.2d 690, 694 (8th Cir. 1981). “[D]enial of leave to amend pleadings is appropriate only in those limited circumstances in which undue delay, bad faith on the part of the moving party, futility of the amendment, or unfair prejudice to the non-moving party can be demonstrated.” Roberson v. Hayti Police Dep't, 241 F.3d 992, 995 (8th Cir. 2001).

         A futility challenge to a motion to amend a complaint is successful where “claims created by the amendment would not withstand a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” DeRoche v. All Am. Bottling Corp., 38 F.Supp.2d 1102, 1106 (D. Minn. 1998); see also Lunsford v. RBC Dain Rauscher, Inc., 590 F.Supp.2d 1153, 1158 (D. Minn. 2008) (stating that a motion to amend is futile if the amended complaint would not survive a motion to dismiss). “Likelihood of success on the new claim or defenses is not a consideration for denying leave to amend unless the claim is clearly frivolous.” Becker, 191 F.3d at 908.

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555. This standard “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].” Id. at 556. Whether a complaint states a claim is a question of law. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986). “Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989).

         First, with respect to Plaintiff's alleged official-capacity claims against Ossell and Gunderson, the claims as alleged are futile for the same reasons stated by this Court in its March 19, 2018 Report and Recommendation. Plaintiff's proposed amendments do not adequately allege that Ossell or Gunderson were acting pursuant to an official policy or unofficial custom of Ramsey County during the course of the actions alleged to have violated Jackson's constitutional rights. See, e.g., Ware v. Jackson Cnty., Mo., 150 F.3d 873, 880 (8th Cir. 1998). That Ramsey County employed Ossell and Gunderson at the time of their alleged misconduct is not sufficient to establish liability. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978).

         Second, if Plaintiff is seeking to add as Defendants the City of Saint Paul; the County of Ramsey; the State of Minnesota; the Minnesota Department of Human Service/”H.S.D.”; the Saint Paul Police Department[4]; Todd Axtell, Chief of the Saint Paul Police Department; or John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, the motion to amend is denied because Plaintiff has not pled facts that would support a plausible claim against any of these parties. Put another way, Plaintiff has not pled facts that implicate any of these parties in the alleged wrongdoing (i.e., illegal search and seizure) that Plaintiff complains of. See Parrish v. Ball, 594 F.3d 993, 997 (8th Cir. 2010) (noting that plaintiff must show that the governmental entity “itself caused the constitutional violation at issue” in order to sustain an official-capacity claim). Alleging that entities or individuals supervised or were employers of Ossell or Gunderson at the time of the alleged violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights is not enough. See Shimota v. Wegner, No. 15-1590 (JRT/FLN), 2016 WL 1254240, at *11 (D. Minn. Mar. 29, 2016) (dismissing supervisory and Monell claims because plaintiff's conclusory allegations were insufficient); see also Parrish, 594 F.3d at 997 (“[A] local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents on a respondeat superior theory of liability.”) (quotations omitted). Without allegations that, if ...


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