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Ari v. Galios

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 17, 2014

AHMIK HOPKINS MINTER ARI, et al., Plaintiffs,



In this civil rights case arising out of Defendant Mark Galios' use of deadly force against decedent Akinlabi Minter, the parties have filed motions in limine regarding the upcoming jury trial (Dkt. Nos. 86-90, 92-95), as well as other briefing addressing damages issues (Dkt. Nos. 85, 101). Plaintiffs have also moved to amend the operative complaint to add a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Dkt. No. 108). Finally, Galios has moved to bifurcate the amount of punitive damages at trial. (Dkt. No. 86.) Having carefully considered the parties' submissions, and having had the benefit of oral argument on February 27, 2014, the Court rules on the motions as set forth below. In addition, the Court sets a further pretrial conference for April 3, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.


A. Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend

At the pretrial conference, the Court granted Plaintiffs' request for leave to file a motion to amend the operative complaint to add a claim alleging that Galios' use of deadly force against Minter violated Plaintiffs' own rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs request to add the new claim so they may seek damages for the loss of familial relations between themselves and Minter, their father. The parties only realized just prior to the pretrial conference that such damages cannot be sought in connection with Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment survivor's claim; Plaintiffs' own Fourteenth Amendment claim is required. Because Defendant will not be prejudiced by the amendment and, indeed, filed motions in limine which assumed that Plaintiffs could seek damages for the loss of familial relations, the Court GRANTS the motion; however, the Court STRIKES Plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint to the extent it seeks to add new claims based on Galios' use of non-deadly force, which were neither included in the Court's grant of leave nor discussed in Plaintiffs' motion to amend.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) states that a party may amend a complaint before trial "with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave" and that the "court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Though Rule 15(a) is "very liberal... a district court need not grant leave to amend where the amendment: (1) prejudices the opposing party; (2) is sought in bad faith; (3) produces an undue delay in litigation; or (4) is futile." AmerisourceBergen Corp. v. Dialysist West, Inc., 465 F.3d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 2006). Undue delay cannot alone justify the denial of a motion to amend. Owens v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 712-13 (9th Cir. 2001). The most important factor is prejudice to the opposing party. Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 330-31 (1971).[1]

1. Prejudice to the opposing party

Galios' arguments regarding prejudice fall within three categories: 1) lack of discovery; 2) inability to file dispositive motions; and 3) harm to strategy.

Regarding discovery, Galios asserts that the new Fourteenth Amendment claim would require additional discovery because the claim includes a subjective element, whereas the Fourth Amendment claim-the only claim currently in the case-involves only an objective inquiry. Galios contends that he has neither had an opportunity for discovery into the new claim nor an opportunity to evaluate the evidence Plaintiffs intend to use to support the claim. The Court is not persuaded that Galios' concerns, though valid, constitute prejudice. While Plaintiffs' proposed Fourteenth Amendment claim appears to require a finding that Galios acted with some sort of subjective awareness or intent, [2] Galios fails to articulate what additional discovery he anticipates producing to defend the claim, as well as what additional discovery he anticipates Plaintiffs will produce to prove their claim. Beyond asking Galios a few additional questions on the witness stand regarding his state of mind, the Court does not envision any evidence that will be presented at trial to prove the Fourteenth Amendment claim that would not have already been presented at trial absent the claim. In all likelihood, the jury will be asked to simply infer that the subjective element is satisfied based on the same evidence that would support a finding that Galios' use of deadly force was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment; in other words, with respect to liability, there is nearly identical overlap between the two claims. To the extent Galios' concern is that Plaintiffs will seek to introduce his personnel records, the Court notes that, as addressed below, Plaintiffs have expressly stated in response to Galios' motion in limine to exclude personnel record that they would not seek to introduce evidence of such record. Accordingly, Plaintiffs shall not be permitted to introduce such evidence at trial to prove their new Fourteenth Amendment claim.

To facilitate and expedite the anticipated de minimis discovery into the subjective element of the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the Court ORDERS Plaintiffs to respond to any interrogatory served on them concerning the new claim by no later than one week after receiving a copy of the interrogatory.

The Court is also not persuaded that Galios' inability to file a dispositive motion on the new claim before trial constitutes prejudice. If, after Plaintiffs' case is presented to the jury, Galios believes that he is entitled to judgment on the Fourteenth Amendment claim, Galios may move for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). Further, the Court is not persuaded that the evidence presented in support of the new claim will "taint" the jury such that Galios will be prejudiced if the claim is belatedly adjudicated in his favor. (Dkt. No. 109 at 18.) As discussed above, there is nothing in the parties' submissions that indicates that the evidence in support and defense of the claim will materially differ from the evidence the jury will already hear on the Fourth Amendment claim. To the extent Galios argues that any discussion of his subjective intent may ultimately confuse the jury in distinguishing between the relevant standards under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, the jury instructions will clearly delineate the standards of the claims that remain once the evidence has been submitted.

Galios also appears to argue that if the claim is presented to the jury, it would prejudice him because a finding that Galios acted with a purpose to harm "could form a basis for a potential punitive [damages] finding." (Dkt. No. 109 at 18 ("It would be more of a longshot for the jury to find punitive damages if they simply deemed that Ofc. Galios acted in an objectively unreasonable manner than if they found he acted with a purpose to harm'....").) While a jury's finding in favor of Plaintiffs on the Fourteenth Amendment claim would not bode well for Galios in many respects, that is hardly the type of prejudice that Rule 15 addresses.

Finally, Galios asserts that allowing in a new claim would "be a huge windfall for only one side" and that it would be the equivalent of a sports referee changing the rules in the middle of the match. (Dkt. No. 109 at 19.) Not so. Rule 15 expressly allows for the addition of new claims- regardless of when in the "match" the motion is made-so long as the rule's requirements are met. That a new claim will be added to the case cannot alone form the basis for prejudice as the addition of new claims is precisely what Rule 15 envisions. Moreover, Galios' motions in limine plainly reveal that he believed, albeit erroneously, that damages available only under the Fourteenth Amendment-the loss of familial relations-were already at issue in this Fourth Amendment case. For example, as discussed below, Galios seeks to exclude evidence of Minter's relationship with his mother on the ground that the relevant damages are the loss of familial relations between Minter and his children, not Minter and his mother. ( See Dkt. No. 89 at 3 ("The issue on damages is the relationship between Decedent and his children.").) Thus, Galios should be well-prepared to execute his trial strategy with respect to Fourteenth Amendment damages.

2. Bad faith

Galios next contends that Plaintiffs' bad faith is demonstrated on the face of the proposed Third Amended Complaint attached to Plaintiffs' motion to amend. While the Court agrees with Galios that the proposed Third Amended Complaint is not accurate (and part of it will be stricken as a result, as discussed below), the Court is not persuaded that the inaccuracies were made in bad faith; rather, they appear to be careless errors that result from the use of a caption from a previous version of the complaint.

3. Undue delay in the proceedings

Galios does not argue that the proposed amendment would produce an undue delay in the proceedings; rather, Galios contends that Plaintiffs have unduly delayed bringing their motion because they knew or should have known long ago that a Fourteenth Amendment claim did not exist in this case. Jackson v. Bank of Hawaii, 902 F.2d 1385, 1388 (9th Cir. 1990) ("A second factor in determining whether the district court properly denied the motion for leave to amend is whether appellants unduly delayed in filing their motion."). While it should have been apparent to Plaintiffs for some time that a Fourteenth Amendment claim was not in this case, Plaintiffs did not delay in bringing this motion once they realized that a Fourteenth Amendment claim was required to seek damages arising from the loss of familial relations between them and Minter. Further, the Court cannot conclude that Plaintiffs should have realized the limitation on damages for their Fourth Amendment survivor's claim earlier when Galios himself only realized the limitation just prior to the pretrial conference. The Court accordingly finds that Plaintiffs did not unduly delay in filing their motion.

4. Futility

Based on the Fourth Amendment claim summary judgment record, the Court cannot conclude that Plaintiffs' Fourteenth ...

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