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Hawkins v. Board of County Commissioners of Coffey County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

August 27, 2019

LAURA HAWKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COFFEY COUNTY, KANSAS, CHRISTOPHER PHELAN; KAREN MALEY; and BRENDA CHERRY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Angel D. Mitchell U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Laura Hawkins' Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 65). Ms. Hawkins seeks leave to file an amended pleading asserting a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim against Heidi Harris, the Coffey County Zoning and Subdivision Administrator. Defendants the Board of County Commissioners of Coffey County, Christopher Phelan, Karen Maley, and Brenda Cherry (collectively, “the County”) oppose the motion on the grounds that Ms. Hawkins has not shown good cause for some of the proposed amendments made after the scheduling order deadline; the proposed amended claim is subject to dismissal and is therefore futile; and Ms. Hawkins has not met the requirements for permissive joinder of Ms. Harris as a party defendant under Rule 20. For the reasons stated below, the court disagrees. Ms. Hawkins' motion to amend is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Hawkins alleges that Ms. Maley fired Ms. Hawkins from her position as a clerk in the Coffey County Treasurer's Office in retribution after Ms. Hawkins unsuccessfully challenged Ms. Maley in the Republican primary for the treasurer seat and subsequently ran an unsuccessful campaign as a write-in candidate in the general election-all the while, criticizing Ms. Maley and the Treasurer's Office during her campaign. Ms. Hawkins asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of her First Amendment and due process rights. She also asserts claims for alleged unpaid straight and overtime wages in violation of Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Kansas Wage Payment Act, K.S.A. 44-313, et seq.

         Ms. Hawkins seeks leave to amend to assert a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim against Ms. Harris. The proposed pleading alleges that Ms. Harris had previously told Ms. Hawkins and her husband that their property was not subject to zoning restrictions even though they raise domesticated deer on the land. Ms. Hawkins alleges that, after she filed this suit, Ms. Harris undertook an investigation and made the finding that the Hawkins property violated zoning ordinances because it constituted a “hunting preserve, ” even though the County did not cite a similar Coffey County business. She also alleges that she had an inquiry from the county environmental health department about a lagoon on the Hawkins property and was told that a complaint must have been filed. Ms. Hawkins alleges that Ms. Harris' actions amount to retaliation against her for exercising her First Amendment rights in bringing this suit.

         The scheduling order established a deadline of June 1, 2019, for motions to amend the pleadings. (ECF No. 56, at 9.) Ms. Hawkins filed this motion on July 31, 2019. She argues she could not have amended sooner because the allegations in the proposed amended pleading all occurred within the month prior to her motion. The County opposes the motion the amendment on the grounds that: (1) Ms. Hawkins failed to establish good cause for an extension of the scheduling order deadline; (2) the proposed claim is futile; and (3) the new claim does not meet the standard for permissive joinder of a party defendant under Rule 20(a)(2).

         II. ANALYSIS

         When a party moves to amend after the deadline set in the scheduling order, the moving party must (1) demonstrate good cause for modifying the scheduling order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b)(4), and (2) satisfy the standards for amendment under Rule 15(a). Gorsuch, Ltd., B.C. v. Wells Fargo Nat. Bank Ass'n, 771 F.3d 1230, 1240 (10th Cir. 2014). When a party moving to amend seeks to join additional parties, the Federal Rules governing mandatory or permissive joinder are also implicated. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 19 & 20.

         A. Good Cause Pursuant Rule 16(b)(4)

         A scheduling order “may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). To establish good cause, the moving party must show that it could not have met the motion to amend deadline despite “diligent efforts.” Husky Ventures, Inc. v. B55 Invs., Ltd., 911 F.3d 1000, 1020 (10th Cir. 2018). Because Rule 16 requires diligence, if a party knows of “the underlying conduct but simply failed to raise [its] claims, . . . the claims are barred.” Gorsuch, 771 F.3d at 1240. On the other hand, “Rule 16's good cause requirement may be satisfied . . . if a [party] learns new information through discovery or if the underlying law has changed.”

         Ms. Hawkins' proposed amendments fall into two categories: (1) substantive amendments regarding Ms. Hawkins' retaliation claim against Ms. Harris, and (2) other more minor modifications to her current amended complaint. Ms. Hawkins argues that she could not have brought her retaliation claim by the June 1 deadline because the events giving rise to the claim have all occurred within 30 days before she filed her motion to amend. The court agrees and finds that this scenario easily meets Rule 16(b)(4)'s good-cause standard because the events giving rise to the proposed amendment largely occurred after the deadline for amendments.

         The County has not addressed the good cause standard as it applies to Ms. Hawkins' proposed claim. However, the County argues that Ms. Hawkins failed to establish good cause for her other more minor proposed amendments to existing factual allegations and claims. The County points to changes to paragraphs 24 and 63 as they appear in the redline version of Ms. Hawkins' proposed Second Amended Complaint. (ECF 70.) Paragraph 24 is a factual allegation that the County knew Ms. Hawkins had challenged Ms. Maley in the election. The proposed amendment specifies that the County also knew that Ms. Hawkins was critical about how the office had been run. Paragraph 50 of the Amended Complaint states that: “Plaintiff was fired by Defendant Maley because she had unsuccessfully challenged Maley in the previous year's elections. Discharging an employee for statements made in conjunction with her political activity violates the employee's First Amendment rights to free speech.” (ECF No. 39 ¶ 50.) Ms. Hawkins' proposed Second Amended Complaint modifies this paragraph to state that: “Plaintiff was fired by Defendant Maley because of statements she made when she unsuccessfully challenged Maley in the previous year's elections.” (ECF No. 71 ¶ 63.)

         The crux of these proposed amendments is to clarify that the County allegedly fired Ms. Hawkins because of statements she made during her campaign. These types of allegations already appear throughout Ms. Hawkins' operative pleading, and the proposed amendments essentially change nothing in terms of what is at issue in the case. (ECF No. 39 ¶¶ 20-22, 39, 51, 53, 55.) Rather, Ms. Hawkins states that the changes are an attempt to modify her Second Amended Complaint to conform with issues and claims left in the case after the district judge's ruling on the County's motion to dismiss. Notably, Ms. Hawkins proposed amended pleading omits previously asserted claims that were dismissed by the district judge's order. In the same vein, the district judge dismissed portions of Ms. Hawkins First Amendment claim, finding that her announcement of her candidacy was not protected speech but that certain statements made during her campaign could constitute protected speech. (ECF No. 51, at 9-16.) The paragraphs the County cites appear to encompass modifications in conformity with that order. Because these minor and technical amendments are aimed at simplifying and clarifying Ms. Hawkins' pleading, the court finds that good cause exists to modify the scheduling order to allow them.

         B. ...


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