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Jenkins-Dyer v. Drayton

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 27, 2014

ANITA L. DRAYTON, et al., Defendants.


DAVID J. WAXSE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's pro se Motion For Leave To File Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 37). Plaintiff seeks to amend her complaint to state with more particularity her allegations against Defendant ExxonMobil Corporation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 1001 et seq. ("ERISA"), and to add as a party defendant Douglas F. Garrison, ExxonMobil Employee Benefits Plan Administrator. For reasons stated below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion.

I. Background Information

On July 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed her petition pro se in the District Court of Wyandotte County, Kansas. She names two defendants, Anita L. Drayton and ExxonMobil Corporation, against whom she alleges intentional torts arising out of Defendants' allegedly wrongful withholding of proceeds of an employee benefit plan.[1] Plaintiff's petition does not set out separate causes of action against each Defendant and it makes no mention of ERISA.[2] On September 18, 2013, ExxonMobil filed a notice of removal, asserting that this Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims because the petition alleges a cause of action under ERISA.[3] Both Defendants sought an extension of time to answer or otherwise respond to the petition, and before the new deadline Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b).[4] Plaintiff then moved to amend her complaint to set forth separate counts against each Defendant and to state two ERISA claims against ExxonMobil.[5] One month later Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment.[6] Before the Court ruled on the motions, Plaintiff filed a second motion for leave to amend.[7] In her second motion, Plaintiff repeats the amended allegations from her first motion and also seeks to add another defendant, Douglas F. Garrison, to her ERISA claims.

II. Legal Standards

Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to amend the party's pleading once as a matter of course (1) within 21 days after serving it or (2) within 21 days after a responsive pleading or a Rule 12(b), (e), or (f) motion is served.[8] Subsequent amendments are allowed only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party.[9] Leave to amend is a matter committed to the sound discretion of the district court, [10] and the court "should freely give leave when justice so requires."[11] A district court should refuse leave to amend "only upon a showing of undue delay, undue prejudice to the opposing party, bad faith or dilatory motive, failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, or futility of amendment."[12] A proposed amendment is futile if the amended complaint would be subject to dismissal.[13]

The Court also liberally construes the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff.[14] This does not mean, however, that the Court must become an advocate for the pro se plaintiff.[15] Liberally construing a pro se plaintiff's complaint means that "if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so despite the plaintiff's failure to cite proper legal authority, [her] confusion of various legal theories, [her] poor syntax and sentence construction, or [her] unfamiliarity with pleading requirements."[16]

III. Analysis

Plaintiff acknowledges Defendants' motions to dismiss and urges the Court to give her an opportunity to amend her pleading before dismissing her case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. As drafted, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint recognizes that her allegations relating to ExxonMobil's employee savings plan should be framed as ERISA causes of action and that the plan administrator is a proper party defendant.[17] ExxonMobil and Drayton argue that Plaintiff's motion should be denied as futile and they repeat and/or specifically incorporate arguments from their briefs in support of their respective motions to dismiss. While a plaintiff's motion to amend and a defendant's motion to dismiss often have arguments in common, as they do here, they do not share the same legal standard. Thus, even if the case is ultimately disposed of through a renewed motion to dismiss, that does not automatically make amendment futile as a matter of law.

A. Futility

It is well settled that a court may deny a motion to amend as futile if the proposed amendment would not withstand a motion to dismiss or if it otherwise fails to state a claim.[18] Dismissal of a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only when it appears "beyond a doubt" that a party can prove no set of facts in support of the theory of recovery that would entitle her to relief.[19] The issue before this Court is therefore not whether Plaintiff ultimately will prevail on her ERISA and intentional tort claims, but whether she is entitled to offer evidence to support her allegations.[20]

1. Drayton's Opposition

Drayton argues that Plaintiff's proposed Second Amended Complaint is futile because it does not provide a basis for the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over Drayton. Drayton has also filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's petition for lack of personal jurisdiction.[21] In opposing Plaintiff's motion to amend, Drayton raises a single argument, i.e. that Plaintiff has asserted no new factual allegation which would permit the Court to exercise jurisdiction. Drayton incorporates the arguments she made in her memorandum in support of her motion to dismiss and in her reply in further support thereof.[22] Drayton has not articulated a basis for the Court to deny Plaintiff an opportunity to file and serve her Second Amended Complaint. Instead, Drayton asserts that the pleading is futile because the Court lacks jurisdiction ...

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