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Cousins v. Dutton-McCormick

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 11, 2019

DANIEL R. COUSINS, Plaintiff,
v.
REBECCA DUTTON-MCCORMICK, etal., Defendants,

          Daniel R. Cousins, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Stuart B. Drowos, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Daniel R. Cousins ("Plaintiff), an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC") in Smyrna, Delaware, filed this action alleging constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 3) He appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 5) The Complaint was screened as required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and Plaintiff was allowed to proceed on two claims. (See D.I. 7, 8) Plaintiff has filed a motion to amend and a motion to compel, opposed by Defendants Rebecca Dutton-McCormick ("Dutton"), C/O Enoch Totimeh ("Totimeh"), and "Lt. Barry Burman" ("Burman") (collectively "Defendants"). (D.I. 23, 34) Defendants have filed a motion to extend the discovery deadline and the dispositive motion deadline, opposed by Plaintiff. (D.I. 44)

         II. BACKGROUND

         The Complaint alleges that on the morning of June 25, 2014, Plaintiff went to a law library7 appointment to conduct legal research and type a manuscript when Dutton, the VCC law librarian, had C/O Totimeh come to the law library and confiscate Plaintiffs manuscript in retaliation for Plaintiffs having challenged Dutton's authority to deny persons their law library privileges. The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff informed Lt. Burman, Totimeh, and Dutton that he intended to file a lawsuit naming them as defendants, whereupon Burman ordered correctional officers to search Plaintiffs cell, confiscate all his research, materials, and writings, and take the material and all of Plaintiffs property to the education building, where Burman separated all of Plaintiff s papers. The Complaint also alleges that Plaintiff was immediately transferred from his minimum housing assignment to a maximum security housing assignment, at the direction of Burman.

         III. MOTION TO AMEND

         Plaintiff moves to amend to add new defendants and a new claim for a "continued chain of violations." (D.I. 23) Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), courts "should freely give leave [to amend] when justice so requires." However, "undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, [or] futility" could all "justify a denial of leave to amend." Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000). "'Futility' means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted" under the standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Le/on Twin El v. Marino, 722 Fed.Appx. 262, 265 (3d Cir. Jan. 8, 2018) (quoting Shane, 213 F.3d at 115). In evaluating whether a plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief could be granted, the court accepts "all factual allegations as true, construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determines whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Bronowicz v. Allegheny Cty., 804 F.3d 338, 344 (3d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation mark omitted).

         Plaintiff was issued a disciplinary report on January 17, 2015, by Amber Hylton ("Hylton"), who confiscated Plaintiffs handwritten manuscript after it was found in the possession of another inmate. (D.I. 23 at 4) Hylton determined the manuscript contained sexually explicit material and violated inmate housing rules. (Id.) Plaintiff argued with Hylton and told her he had sued another correctional officer for a similar write-up he received in the law library. (Id.) Sgt. Edward Madigan ("Madigan") reviewed the disciplinary report and concluded the "offense would be properly responded to by disciplinary hearing." (Id.) Plaintiff appeared at the disciplinary hearing before hearing officer Timothy Radcliffe ("Radcliffe"), pled guilty, and indicated that he did not intend to appeal the matter. (Id.)

         Plaintiff seeks to add Amber Biddle ("Biddle"), [1] Madigan, Radcliffe, and the Delaware Department of Correction ("DOC") as defendants. He alleges the foregoing individuals violated his First Amendment rights in a continued chain of violations as a result of the January 17, 2015 violation. In addition, he seeks to assert a municipal liability claim against the DOC.

         Plaintiff commenced this action on April 25, 2016. At the time, he was well aware of the January 17, 2015 occurrence and the individuals involved, given that he had by then received a disciplinary report, appeared at a disciplinary hearing, and pled guilty to the charges. Nonetheless, Plaintiff did not include the claim in his initial complaint and did not seek to add the allegation until July 3, 2018, some three and one-half years after the occurrence. Plaintiff provides no reasonable explanation for his failure to include the claim. In addition, the June 2014 and January 2015 occurrences are discrete acts that involve individuals different than Defendants and that occurred on a different date under different circumstances.

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff s January 2015 claims are time-barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations, the claim having occurred on January 17, 2015, yet Plaintiff not having filed the claim until July 3, 2018. In Delaware, § 1983 claims are subject to a two-year limitations period. See 10 Del. C. § S119; Johnson v. Cullen, 925 F.Supp. 244, 248 (D. Del. 1996). Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(c), an amended claim may relate back to the original, timely-filed complaint for purposes of compliance with a statute of limitations. See Singletary v. Pennsylvania Dep'. of Com, 266 F.3d 186, 189 (3d Cir. 2001J; Nelson v. County of Allegheny, 60 F.3d 1010, 1015 (3d Or. 1995). Here, however, the record does not support any of the conditions necessary for the successful relation back of an amended complaint to add new parties. See Singletary, 266 F.3d at 189. The additional claim did not arise out of the same conduct as the original pleading; the newly named party did not receive notice of the institution of the action within 120 days of the complaint, so the new party may be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits; and it is not the case that the newly-named party must have known or should have known within 120 days of the complaint that, but-for a mistake made by the plaintiff concerning the newly-named party's identity, the action would have been brought against the newly-named party in the first place. See id.

&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Plaintiff also seeks to add the DOC under a municipality liability theory. The Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution protects an unconsenting state or state agency from a suit brought in federal court by one of its own citizens, regardless of the relief sought See Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida,517 U.S. 44, 54 (1996); Pennburst State Sch. <&Hosp. v. Halderman,465 U.S. 89 (1984); Edelman v. Jordan,415 U.S. 651 (1974). As an agency of the State of Delaware, the DOC is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and, therefore, the proposed amendment as to the DOC is futile. See e.g., Evans v. Ford, ...


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