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Hawkins v. Board of County Commissioners of Coffey County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 31, 2019



          Angel D. Mitchell U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Laura Hawkins' Motion for Leave to File a Third Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 95.) Ms. Hawkins seeks leave to file an amended pleading asserting additional factual allegations in support of her retaliation claim. Defendants the Board of County Commissioners of Coffey County, Christopher Phelan, Karen Maley, Brenda Cherry, and Heidi Harris (collectively, “the County”) oppose the motion on the grounds that they would be unduly prejudiced by the amendment and that the proposed amendments are futile. 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 the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Kansas Wage Payment Act, K.S.A. 44-313, et seq. On August 27, 2019, the court granted Ms. Hawkins to assert a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Heidi Harris, the Coffey County zoning and subdivision administrator, stemming from allegations that Ms. Harris undertook an investigation and found 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. Ms. Hawkins' operative Second Amended Complaint alleges that Ms. Harris's letter informing Ms. Hawkins and her husband that they were violating zoning ordinances by operating a hunting preserve was copied to the County Commission, County Attorney, and Department of Environmental Health. (ECF No. 76 ¶ 61.) Ms. Hawkins alleges that when she contacted Marilyn Eccles of the Coffey County Environmental Health Department, Ms. Eccles told Ms. Hawkins that the Environmental Health Department must have been copied on the letter because “a complaint must have been filed” about Ms. Hawkins' lagoon. (Id. ¶ 62.) At that time, however, Ms. Hawkins alleges that she had never received notice from the Department of Environmental Health about any problems with the lagoon. (Id.)

         Ms. Hawkins now seeks leave to amend again to add additional factual allegations in further support of her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 retaliation claim against the County. These allegations all concern events that occurred after Ms. Hawkins filed her Second Amended Complaint. Specifically, Ms. Hawkins alleges that on September 17, 2019, she and her husband received a letter from Ms. Eccles, with a copy to the county attorney, informing them that their “new lagoon” was out of compliance with code requirements and would need to be modified. (ECF No. 95 ¶ 63.) The letter stated that it was imperative that the couple complete work on the lagoon, adding that, “I believe you will agree that you have been given plenty of time to complete the fencing.” (Id. ¶ 63.) According to the proposed pleading, the Hawkins lagoon is fenced at the appropriate height and has an appropriate gate, unlike other lagoons within county limits that have either been “grandfathered in” under the new code requirements or which the county has not pursued. (Id. ¶¶ 66-69.) The proposed pleading also alleges that Ms. Hawkins and her husband built the lagoon in 2002 and that the Department of Environmental Health approved the design. (Id. ¶ 67.)

         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 October 4, 2019. She argues she could not have amended sooner because the new allegations all occurred within the month prior to her motion. The County opposes the amendment on the grounds that: (1) it would be unduly prejudiced if the court allows the amendments; and (2) the amendments are futile.


         When a party moves to amend after the scheduling order deadline, 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).


         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.”

         The proposed amendments all stem from events that occurred both after the deadline for amending the pleadings and after Ms. Hawkins filed her Second Amended Complaint. The County cites the good cause standard, but notably does not address how that standard applies to the current motion. The court finds that Ms. Hawkins' motion easily meets Rule 16(b)(4)'s good cause standard because she could not have moved to amend any sooner than she did.


         Once a party has filed a responsive pleading, the opposing party “may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave, ” which should be freely given when justice requires. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The purpose of the rule “is to provide litigants the maximum opportunity for each claim to be decided on its merits rather than on procedural niceties.” SCO Grp., Inc. v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp., 879 F.3d 1062, 1085 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotations omitted). The court may 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.” Wilkerson v. Shinseki, 606 F.3d 1256, 1267 (10th Cir. 2010); see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (same).

         Practically speaking, the party opposing a motion to amend generally bears the burden to demonstrate why the amendment should not be permitted. See Wilkerson, 606 F.3d at 1267 (in the absence of such a showing, amendment should be allowed); Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (stating the party opposing amendment bears the burden to show undue prejudice and that there is a presumption in favor of amendment absent such a showing “or a strong showing of the ...

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