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Karn v. PTS of America, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 26, 2018

PTS OF AMERICA, LLC, et al. Defendants.



         In his proposed Amended Complaint, Plaintiff William Jeffrey Karn now seeks to bring this action against Defendants PTS of America, LLC d/b/a Prisoner Transportation of America (“PTS”), Brevard Extraditions, LLC d/b/a/ U.S. Prisoner Transport, Inc. (“U.S. Prisoner Transport”), Jorge Santiago, Christopher Cabrera, James Lebron, and Robert Mitchell King, Sr. (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging various constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and state common law claims resulting from Defendants' transport of Plaintiff, a pre-trial detainee, from Maryland to South Carolina in December 2015. Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint, ECF No. 32. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion shall be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On or about December 9, 2015, Plaintiff was arrested in Montgomery County, Maryland for failure to timely pay child support in Horry County, South Carolina. ECF No. 32-1 ¶ 15. On December 23, 2015, Plaintiff waived an extradition hearing and was taken to a facility in Montgomery County to await transport to South Carolina. See id. ¶¶ 15-16. Thereafter, Defendants transported Plaintiff to Horry County by van. Plaintiff alleges that what should have been an approximate seven hour, 418 mile drive turned into a nine day, 2, 500 mile trip, during which time Plaintiff was subjected to “horrendous physical and mental abuses, including depriving him of restroom breaks and sleep, indiscriminately dispensing pepper spray into the van, and forcing him to sit for extended periods of time in his human waste and the human waste of other prisoners.” Id. at 2.

         Plaintiff filed his initial eight-count Complaint on September 26, 2016 against PTS and unidentified individual drivers, sued collectively as John Does #1-6. ECF No. 1.[2] PTS filed an Answer to Plaintiff's negligence claim, ECF No. 10, and moved to dismiss the remaining claims. ECF No. 9. The Court dismissed Plaintiff's state common law claims, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim under the Fourth Amendment, both claims under the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause against PTS. ECF No. 21. The Court allowed Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause to proceed against the individual drivers, finding that Plaintiff adequately alleged that the individual drivers subjected him to unconstitutional conditions of confinement that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. ECF No. 21 at 16-19. The Court further provided Plaintiff with the opportunity, through discovery, to identify the individual drivers and amend the Complaint accordingly. Id. at 16 n.5.

         Plaintiff now moves to amend his Complaint and add individual drivers Jorge Santiago, James Lebron, Christopher Cabrera, and Robert King, Sr. as named defendants. ECF No. 32 ¶ 4. Plaintiff also seeks to add U.S. Prisoner Transport, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of PTS and employer of three of the individual drivers, as a named defendant. Id. ¶ 5. Furthermore, Plaintiff seeks to supplement his Complaint with additional factual allegations in support of his previously-dismissed negligent hiring, training, and supervision claim, § 1983 claim under the Fourteenth Amendment against PTS, and claims under the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Id. Based on these additional factual allegations, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts the following claims: Negligence against all Defendants (Count I); 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Due Process Clause against PTS, U.S. Prisoner Transport, and the individual officers in their official capacities (Count II); 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Due Process Clause against the individual officers in their individual capacities (Count III); Violation of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights against all Defendants (Count IV); and Negligent Training/Supervision/Retention against PTS and U.S. Prisoner Transport (Count V). ECF No. 32-1.


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), plaintiffs may amend their complaint with the court's leave. “[T]he general rule is that leave to amend a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) should be freely given, unless the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would have been futile.” Steinburg v. Chesterfield Cnty. Planning Comm'n, 527 F.3d 377, 390 (4th Cir. 2008). A proposed amendment is considered futile if it cannot withstand a motion to dismiss. See Perkins v. United States, 55 F.3d 910, 917 (4th Cir. 1995). PTS opposes Plaintiff's Motion with respect to Counts II, IV, and V, arguing that the amended claims are futile in light of the analysis underlying the Court's prior dismissal.[3] ECF No. 33 at 5.[4]

         But as a preliminary matter, PTS argues that because the Court dismissed these claims without specifying if the dismissal was with or without prejudice, the claims were effectively dismissed with prejudice and cannot be re-litigated through Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Id. at 4. In support of its argument, PTS points to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 41(b), which provides that any dismissal “-except one for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or failure to join a party under Rule 19-operates as an adjudication on the merits.” Similarly, “[c]ourts have held that, unless otherwise specified, a dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is presumed to be both a judgment on the merits and to be rendered with prejudice.” See McLean v. U.S., 566 F.3d 391, 396 (4th Cir. 2009); see also Carter v. Norfolk Cmty. Hosp. Ass'n, 761 F.2d 970, 974 (4th Cir. 1985) (“A district court's dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is, of course, with prejudice unless it specifically orders dismissal without prejudice.”).

         However, neither Rule 41(b), nor the Court's presumptive dismissal of certain claims with prejudice, prohibits Plaintiff from amending his Complaint now. “Plaintiffs whose actions are dismissed are free to subsequently move for leave to amend pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b) even if the dismissal is with prejudice.” Abdul-Mumit v. Alexandria Hyundai, LLC, -- F.3d --, Nos. 17-1582, 17-1587, 17-1611, 2018 WL 3405474, at *6 (4th Cir. July 13, 2018) (citing Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 427-28 (4th Cir. 2006)). As recognized in Laber:

[a] district court may not deny [a motion to amend the complaint] simply because it has entered judgment against the plaintiff-be it a judgment of dismissal, a summary judgment, or a judgment after a trial on the merits. . . . Instead, a post-judgment motion to amend is evaluated under the same legal standard as a similar motion filed before judgment was entered-for prejudice, bad faith, or futility.

         438 F.3d at 427 (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).[5] Regardless of how the Court adjudicated Plaintiff's claims in its initial Order, Rule 15 still guides whether the Amended Complaint is proper. See Matrix Capital Management Fund, L.P. v. BearingPoint, Inc., 576 F.3d 172, 194 (4th Cir. 2009) (finding that district court abused its discretion in denying leave to amend claims dismissed with prejudice when court “merely repeated the reasons it had previously offered for dismissing the operative complaint . . . [and] made no determinations about prejudice, bad faith, or futility with respect to the proposed second amended complaint”). Therefore, the Court's prior dismissal, even if presumed to be with prejudice, does not automatically bar Plaintiff from amending his Complaint.

         With regard to whether the amendments are proper, PTS does not allege that Plaintiff's amendments will result in prejudice or were made in bad faith. A trial date has not been set, there remains ample time for additional discovery, if needed, and Plaintiff only seeks to supplement his prior claims with additional factual allegations. As such, the Court has no basis to find that the amendments are prejudicial or made in bad faith. See Laber, 438 F.3d at 426 (“[w]hether an amendment is prejudicial will often be determined by the nature of the amendment and its timing”); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir.1999) (noting that merely adding specificity to allegations generally does not cause prejudice to the opposing party). The Court must now assess whether the amendments are futile.

         A. Negligent Training, Supervision, and ...

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