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Pridgen v. Appen Butler Hill, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 4, 2019



          James K. Bredar, Chief Judge.

         Chad Wenzlick Pridgen sued his employer, Appen Butler Hill ("Appen"), claiming discrimination, retaliation, and wage violations of federal and Maryland law. Pending before this Court is Pridgen's motion for leave to amend the complaint. Appen opposes the amendments. The motions have been fully briefed, and no hearing is required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part Pridgen's motion for leave to amend the complaint.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background [1]

         Pridgen began working for Appen as a Senior Auditor in 2010 and proceeded to work there for seven years. (Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 2.) Pridgen is homosexual, and, "shortly after learning" this fact, Appen began discriminating against him, largely in the form of "refusing to pay him for all hours worked" and "assigning him less and less work." (Id. ¶ 11.) In 2014, Appen demoted Pridgen to Annotator and, in 2017, terminated his employment entirely. (Id. ¶ 36, 39.)

         In October 2017, Pridgen filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland. (Notice of Removal ¶ 1, ECF No. 1.) Appen removed the action to this Court. (Id.) The initial complaint contained six counts. Pridgen alleged four Maryland law claims: discrimination under Title 20, Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-601 et seq. (Count I); violation of the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401 et seq. (Count II); violation of the Maryland Wage, Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-501 et seq. (Count III); and damages under the common law theory of quantum meruit (Count IV). Pridgen also alleged retaliation and wage violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") (Counts V and VI). In short, Pridgen alleged that he was not paid properly for the work that he did for Appen.

         On July 5, 2018-and on the court-ordered deadline to amend the pleadings-Pridgen moved for leave to amend his complaint. (Mot. to Amend, ECF No. 28.) The proposed amended complaint would add eight Appen employees as defendants to Counts II through VI. (Prop. Am. Comp., ECF No. 28-3.) Appen opposed the motion. (Def. Opp., ECF No. 29.) The proceedings were stayed for several months; consequently, the Court turns to the motion now.

         II. Motion for Leave to Amend

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), the Court should "freely give" a party leave to amend its pleadings "when justice so requires." See Jones v. Ceres Terminal, Inc., Civ. No. JKB-14-1889, 2014 WL 5088281, at *2 (D. Md. Oct. 8, 2014) ("Whether to permit the Plaintiff to file an amended complaint is a question that falls within the Court's discretion ...."). "This directive gives effect to the federal policy in favor of resolving cases on the merits instead of disposing of them on technicalities." Mayfield v. Nat'1 Ass 'nfor Stock Car Auto. Racing, Inc., 674 F.3d 369, 379 (4th Cir. 2012). Consequently, "leave to amend a complaint should be denied only when 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 be futile." Edell & Assocs., P.C. v. Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, 264 F.3d 424, 446 (4th Cir. 2001); see Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (concluding leave should be "freely given" absent an apparent reason "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.").[2] Appen opposes Pridgen's motion for leave to amend on the grounds of prejudice and futility.

         A. Prejudice

         Appen has the burden of showing that Pridgen's delay in amending would result in prejudice. See Class Produce Grp., LLC v. Harleysville Worcester Ins. Co., Civ. No. SAG-16-3431, 2018 WL 5785664, at *3 (D. Md. Nov. 5, 2018). Appen argues that, because the delay was "inordinate and unjustified," the amendment would prejudice Appen and the eight Appen employees that Pridgen seeks to join. (Def. Opp. at 13.) Mere delay is not sufficient to deny leave to amend, but delay coupled with prejudice warrants denial. Island Creek Coal Co. v. Lake Shore, Inc., 832 F.2d 274, 279 (4th Cir. 1987). To determine whether prejudice will occur, a court must consider the positions of the parties and the effect of amendment on those parties. Mary Kay Kane & A. Benjamin Spencer, Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, 6 Federal Practice and Procedure § 1487 (3d ed. 2018). "This entails an inquiry into the hardship to the moving party if leave to amend is denied, the reasons for the moving party failing to include the material to be added in the original pleading, and the injustice resulting to the party opposing the motion should it be granted." Id. Thus, whether an amendment is prejudicial depends on the timing and nature of the amendment. Class Produce Grp., 2018 WL 5785664, at *3.

         The timing of the amendment, here, weighs against a finding of prejudice. "[T]he further the case [has] progressed... the more likely it is that the amendment will prejudice the defendant." Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 427 (4th Cir. 2006); see McCall-Scovens v. Blanchard, Civ. No. ELH-15-3433, 2016 WL 6277668, at *5 (D. Md. Oct. 27, 2016) (holding prejudice would not occur because dispositive motions were not due for three months, trial date was not set, and discovery was ongoing). It is true that Pridgen moved to amend nine months after initially filing suit and he does not attempt to explain this delay. (Reply at 12, ECF No. 38 (asserting the motion for leave to amend complied with the scheduling order).) But, the proposed amendments come well before trial. Cf. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, Inc., 650 F.3d 423, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (affirming finding of prejudice where plaintiff moved to amend after discovery, at the "eleventh hour," and introduced six new claims, previously unaddressed by counsel and requiring additional discovery). And, discovery does not end for nearly six months. See Warner v. Cellco P'ship, Civ No. ELH-13-3100, 2015 WL 6956517, at *7 (D. Md. Nov. 10, 2015) (holding prejudice would not occur, even though discovery had ended, because trial date was not set, the proposed amendment was not complicated, and movant would agree to reopen discovery).

         Further, the nature of the amendment weighs against a finding of prejudice. "[P]rejudice can result where a proposed amendment raises a new legal theory that would require the gathering and analysis of facts not already considered by the opposing party ... ." Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 510 (4th Cir. 1986). This basis for a finding of prejudice does not apply for a few reasons. First, the Fourth Circuit noted that the basis "essentially applies where the amendment is offered shortly before or during trial." Id. Second, the proposed amended complaint does not add factual allegations, counts, or new legal theories. See Laber, 438 F.3d at 427 ("An amendment is not prejudicial ... if it merely adds an additional theory of recovery to the facts already pled and is offered before any discovery has occurred."). Pridgen seeks to add defendants to five of the six counts. No. doubt, the amendment would cause additional discovery, but such an expense-during the course of discovery which is already underway-does not amount to prejudice. See Island Creek Coal, 832 F.2d at 279-80 (holding that the need for new discovery and exploration of new issues after amendment was not enough to sustain a finding of prejudice).

         B. Futility

         Appen also argues that amendment would be futile. A court may deny leave to amend as futile if the proposed amended complaint would not meet the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. United States ex rel Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc.,525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008); see Ross v. Cecil Cty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., Civ. No. WDQ-11-181, 2012 WL 346625, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 31, 2012) (analyzing futility under Rule 12(b)). In keeping with the federal policy of resolving cases on their merits, courts allow plaintiffs every opportunity to cure defects in the pleadings, even where a court doubts plaintiffs ability to overcome these defects. Frazier v. Experian Info. Sols., Civ. No. GLR-18-68, 2018 WL 6726311, at *8 (D. Md. Dec. 21, 2018) (citing Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 252-53 (4th ...

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