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Morris v. Sutton

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 5, 2019

JENNIFER MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN SUTTON, Defendant.

          ORDER RE: (1) PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND COMPLAINT; (2) COURT'S SUPPLEMENTAL JURISDICTION; AND (3) CLOSING CASE (DOC. NOS. 34, 38, 39, 44)

         I. Background

         This lawsuit is about an inmate, Jason Morris, who was murdered by his cellmate while incarcerated at California's Wasco State Prison, where Defendant John Sutton was the warden. Jason's wife, Plaintiff Jennifer Morris (“Plaintiff), filed this lawsuit, alleging that (1) Sutton negligently failed to protect Jason from being murdered by his cellmate and (2) several unnamed “Doe” defendants - who are presumably prison workers at Wasco State Prison - violated Jason's federal rights while acting under color of state law.

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiff has pleaded the following four claims for relief: (1) a claim against several unnamed Doe defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating Jason's and Plaintiffs rights under federal law; (2) a claim against several unnamed Doe defendants pursuant to California's Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 52.1(b), for violating Jason's and Plaintiffs rights under California and federal law; (3) a negligence claim against Defendant Sutton and several unnamed Doe defendants for negligently failing to protect Jason from being murdered by his cellmate; and (4) a wrongful death claim against Defendant Sutton and several unnamed Doe defendants.[1]

         Throughout this lawsuit, the Court has exercised original “federal question” jurisdiction over the § 1983 claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining California state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Discovery in this lawsuit is now closed and the deadline to amend the pleadings has expired. Currently pending before the Court are two motions: namely, Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend her complaint, Doc. No. 34, and Defendant Sutton's motion for summary judgment, Doc. No. 38. There is also a third important issue before the Court, which is whether the Court will continue to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs California state law claims. The Court's adjudication of these motions and issues is as follows.

         II. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the complaint.

         In Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend her complaint, Plaintiff informs the Court that she now knows the identities and names of three of the Doe defendants - namely, D. Standiford, A. Ball, and D. Silva-Escobar, all of whom were prison workers responsible for placing Jason in the prison cell where he was murdered by his cellmate. Plaintiff asks the Court for leave to amend her complaint so that she can identify and name the three prison workers as defendants in the complaint.

         In a sixteen-page findings-and-recommendation, the Magistrate Judge analyzed Plaintiffs motion and ultimately concluded that the motion should be denied because Plaintiff failed to satisfy the good cause standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 16 and the multi-factor standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15. See Doc. No. 39. Plaintiff did not file any written objections to the Magistrate Judge's findings-and-recommendation.

         The Court accepts in full the Magistrate Judge's findings-and-recommendation because it is neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to law. Accordingly, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend her complaint. As Plaintiffs operative complaint currently stands, this means that the § 1983 claim is not pleaded against any named defendants.

         B. Plaintiff's failure to state a § 1983 claim.

         Having denied Plaintiffs motion for leave to amend her complaint, it is now clear to the Court that the § 1983 claim fails to state a claim as a matter of law. This is because, as noted supra, the § 1983 claim is not pleaded against any named defendants. This makes the claim facially implausible at this post-discovery and post-amendment phase, see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”) (emphasis added); see also Cripe v. Unknown Party, 2017 WL 5194873, at *2 (S.D. Ill. Nov. 9, 2017) (dismissing a § 1983 claim because the claim was not pleaded against a named defendant), and violates the summons requirements and purpose of Fed.R.Civ.P. 4. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4 (requiring a summons to “be directed to the defendant”). The shelf-life of Plaintiff s Doe designations has expired: the designations were permitted as a placeholder for named defendants only during the discovery phase, not at trial. Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629 F.2d 637 (9th Cir. 1980); see also Green v. Doe, 260 Fed.Appx. 717, 719 (5th Cir. 2007); Estate of Rosenberg by Rosenberg v. Crandell 56 F.3d 35, 37 (8th Cir. 1995); Schiff v. Kennedy, 691 F.2d 196, 198 (4th Cir. 1982).

         Accordingly, the Court will dismiss the § 1983 claim, and the Court will do so with prejudice because Plaintiff was afforded the opportunity during discovery to identify the Doe defendants and then timely amend the complaint to name the defendants, but Plaintiff failed to do so, as discussed supra.

         C. Supplemental jurisdiction over California ...


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