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Alires v. San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 4, 2019

SAN DIEGO GAS & ELECTRIC CO., et al, Defendants.


          Hon. Cynthia Bashant United States District Judge

         This case is one of nine cases in a consolidated matter. (See 17-cv-2433-BAS-JLB, ECF No. 19 (consolidation order).) Plaintiffs allege that in September 2017, they were traveling in an Assault Amphibious Vehicle (“AAV”) at Camp Pendleton. The AAV came into contact with a gas line, resulting in an explosion and fire, which injured Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs allege this incident occurred because the gas line was not in compliance with the Camp Pendleton Requirements, and had the line been in compliance, the vehicle would have not come into contact with the line. (17-cv-2433, ECF No. 1.) San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (“SDG&E”) is the only named Defendant in Plaintiffs Alires' complaint. (18-cv-1390, ECF No. 1.) Southern California Gas Company is also named as a Defendant in other cases in this consolidated action.

         Plaintiffs Marco and Leah Alires moves for leave to file an amended complaint. (“Mot., ” ECF No. 28.) SDG&E opposes the motion. (“Opp'n, ” ECF No. 29.) Plaintiffs did not file a reply in support of their motion. The Court finds resolution of this matter is suitable without the need for oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), a plaintiff may amend his complaint once as a matter of course within specified time limits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1). “In all other cases, 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).

         While courts exercise broad discretion in deciding whether to allow amendment, they have generally adopted a liberal policy. See United States ex rel. Ehmcke Sheet Metal Works v. Wausau Ins. Cos., 755 F.Supp. 906, 908 (E.D. Cal. 1991) (citing Jordan v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, 669 F.2d 1311, 1324 (9th Cir.), rev'd on other grounds, 459 U.S. 810 (1982)). Accordingly, leave is generally granted unless the court harbors concerns “such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). The non-moving party bears the burden of showing why leave to amend should not be granted. Genentech, Inc. v. Abbott Labs., 127 F.R.D. 529, 530-31 (N.D. Cal. 1989).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs' operative complaint alleges that SDG&E was the contractor responsible for the design, installation, maintenance, repair, and operation of the gas systems at Camp Pendleton. (ECF No. 1, at ¶ 10.) Plaintiffs seek to add three new Defendants whom he states he previously identified as Doe Defendants: Sempra Energy, Southern California Gas Company, and San Diego Pipeline Company. (Mot. at 2.)[1] Plaintiffs allege that all Defendants transport, distribute, and sell natural gas and that the subject gas line at Camp Pendleton may have been subcontracted by one of the Defendants. (See ECF No. 28-2 (proposed amended complaint).)

         Plaintiffs states they received documents through discovery on August 26, 2019 that led them to request leave to add these Defendants. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiffs provide no more detail as to what the documents are or what information they contain. Plaintiffs argue SDG&E will not be prejudiced by the amendment because the amended complaint makes no changes to the claims against SDG&E. Plaintiffs also state the new Defendants will not be prejudiced because the amendment is made “within the two year statute of limitations” period. (Id.)

         A. Futility

         SDG&E's primary argument in its opposition is that the amendment is futile. “Futility of amendment can, by itself, justify the denial of a motion for leave to amend.” Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995); see Miller v. RykoffSexton, Inc., 845 F.2d 209, 214 (9th Cir. 1988) (“A motion for leave to amend may be denied if it appears to be futile or legally insufficient.”). A proposed amendment is “futile if no set of facts can be proved under the amendment to the pleadings that would constitute a valid and sufficient claim or defense.” Miller, 845 F.2d at 214. “Importantly, in deciding whether a claim is adequately pled, the court may not consider allegations or documents outside of the pleadings or exhibits attached to the complaint.” L.A. Gem & Jewelry Design, Inc. v. NJS.COM, LLC, No. CV1702747ABJEMX, 2018 WL 6131185, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 5, 2018) (citing Outdoor Media Grp., Inc., v. City of Beaumont, 506 F.3d 895, 899 (9th Cir. 2007)); see also Robillard v. Opal Labs, Inc., 337 F.Supp.3d 962, 969 (D. Or. 2018) (holding that in evaluating a motion for leave to amend, the court may only consider allegations in the proposed amended complaint, documents incorporated by reference into the complaint, and documents appropriate for judicial notice).

         SDG&E attached five exhibits to its opposition and points to each as evidence that the proposed new Defendants had no connection to or involvement with the subject gas line. SDG&E does not argue why the Court can or should consider these documents in evaluating Plaintiffs' motion. The documents are not referenced in the complaint, and SDG&E does not point out any reason why the documents are subject to judicial notice. Therefore, the Court declines to consider the documents at this stage.

         At this point in the case, the Court cannot say with certainty that Plaintiffs will not be able to offer any facts supporting a valid claim against the new Defendants. Plaintiffs allege all Defendants transport, distribute, and sell natural gas. Even if it was undisputed that the government owns the subject gas line, as SDG&E alleges, it is possible that one or more of the energy companies still had some involvement or ...

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