The opinion of the court was delivered by: HAROLD BAER, JR.
HAROLD BAER, JR., U.S.D.J., Southern District of New York
Chief Judge Thomas J. McAvoy of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York transferred this case for the disposition of pending motions to the Southern District of New York, by order dated November 5, 1994, due to the backlog in his district caused by a number of judicial vacancies.
Plaintiff pro se, Robert D. Walton, Sr., currently a prisoner at the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York, brought this suit in 1991 in the Northern District of New York for declaratory and injunctive relief, and damages arising from the alleged deprivation of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983 while incarcerated at the Schenectady County Jail. Plaintiff alleges violations of the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Defendants were employed by the Schenectady County Sheriff's Office at the times relevant to the events alleged in plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff was held at the jail from April 10, 1990 to February 28, 1991. Currently at issue in the case are plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint and both sides' cross-motions for summary judgment.
Plaintiff's initial complaint, filed January 16, 1991, was submitted on the Northern District of New York's standard "Form to be Used by a Prisoner in Filing a Complaint Under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983." The form instructs plaintiffs to "state . . . as briefly as possible" the relevant facts, and provides only ten lines of an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet for the plaintiff to provide such facts. The form also indicates that if more space is needed, an "additional sheet" may be attached. On the form, plaintiff indicated that his "legal" mail had been opened, apparently by jail authorities. After complaining that his mail had been opened, plaintiff stated that he was "denied access to legal library, type-writer [sic], and etc." Plaintiff further states that several defendants later "instituted policies to deny plaintiff access to the courts, typewriter and legal materials." Plaintiff's Complaint, Jan. 16, 1991, P II.
Defendants moved for summary judgment on March 29, 1993, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b). Plaintiff then moved for leave to file an amended complaint on April 12, 1993, approximately two weeks after the defendants had moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff also cross-moved for summary judgment on that day. In his motion papers, plaintiff states that the substance of his complaint was and is "the interference with mail, the denial of access to legal materials and the denial of access to the law library." Plaintiff's Affidavit in Support of Rule 15 Motion, Apr. 7, 1993, at 1. In addition, plaintiff again stated that defendants had "instituted policies to deny [plaintiff] access to the courts, typewriter, and legal materials." Id. at 2. Plaintiff asserts that his proposed amended complaint therefore merely reflects "a clear and concise interpretation" of those claims. Plaintiff, however, seeks to add several defendants, which include the County of Schenectady and several corrections officers, as well as unidentified corrections officers indicated as "John Doe" and "Jane Doe," all of whom were allegedly involved in the activity plaintiff complains of. In the "Legal Claims" section of his proposed amended complaint, plaintiff again appears to consistently state his claims as "having been deprived his right to access to the courts [sic], the right to prepare legal documents, law library, and legal materials . . . ." Plaintiff's Proposed Amended Complaint, Apr. 7, 1993, P 24. However, in the "Facts" section of the revised complaint, plaintiff alleges conditions not explicitly raised in his initial complaint. Plaintiff writes
On or about the 20th day of April, 1990, plaintiff requested access to the law library located on the third floor of the Schenectady County jail, upon entering and reviewing the content of the legal library plaintiff discovered that the library contained inadequate and outdated law books, no legal materials, and missing volumes of McKinney's Criminal and Civil Procedure. When plaintiff confronted the staff at Schenectady County jail and defendant RAYMOND YOUNG he was given evasive answers and his complaints were completely ignored.
Id. at 3. Plaintiff thus complains about the inadequacy of the jail's law library, something that was not evident in his initial complaint and something that defendants accordingly did not address in their Motion for Summary Judgment.
II. Standard for Allowing Amended Complaints
Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that leave to amend "shall be freely given when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). As a matter of law, justice requires leave to amend when the moving party has demonstrated "at least colorable grounds" for the proposed amendment. S.S. Silberblatt, Inc. v. East Harlem Pilot Block - Building 1 Hous. Dev. Fund Co., 608 F.2d 28, 42 (2d Cir. 1979); Litton Indus., Inc. v. Lehman Bros. Kuhn Loeb Inc., 734 F. Supp. 1071, 1078 (S.D.N.Y. 1990). Amendments are favored as a general matter, in order to facilitate "judgment on the merits." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957); McAllister Bros., Inc. v. Ocean Marine Indem. Co., 742 F. Supp. 70, 80 (S.D.N.Y. 1989). Absent a showing of undue prejudice or bad faith, amendments are generally allowed. Litton Indus., 734 F. Supp. at 1078. Indeed, unless there is a good reason to deny a motion to amend, failure to grant it is an abuse of discretion. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 9 L. Ed. 2d 222, 83 S. Ct. 227 (1962); McAllister Bros., 742 F. Supp. at 80.
A) Application to the Instant Case
In opposing plaintiff's Rule 15 motion, defendants state, in part, that "rule 15 is not about fabricating new claims to avoid summary judgment" and that the defendants' summary judgment motion "gave plaintiff cause to rethink the weakness of his Complaint." Defendants' Aff. in Opp. to Rule 15 Motion, Apr. 15, 1993, at 2. It is true that the Second Circuit looks disfavorably upon Rule 15 motions made after all discovery has been completed and a summary judgment motion has been submitted. Ansam Assocs., Inc. v. Cola Petroleum, Ltd., 760 F.2d 442, 446 (2d Cir. 1985). In such situations, prejudice to the adversary is likely. However, in this case, very little discovery has taken place. Indeed, the record reveals discovery disputes between the parties, some of which have been addressed by Magistrate Judge Gustave J. Bianco, which have resulted in insignificant discovery. In one order, Magistrate Judge Bianco described a chain of events that seemed to buttress plaintiff's assertion that the defendants' "summary judgment motion . . . is premature and an attempt to delay or avoid responding to his discovery demands." Walton v. Waldron, 91-CV-0066 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 20, 1992).
However, the mere fact that a summary judgment motion has been filed can cause the opponent sufficient prejudice so as to warrant denying the motion to amend, regardless of the amount of discovery completed. New York State Ass'n of Career Sch., Inc. v. State Educ. Dep't, 142 F.R.D. 403, 405 (S.D.N.Y. 1992).
If the Rule 15 motion were granted, defendants would appear to be prejudiced in that they would have to respond to a seemingly new claim; whereas their summary judgment motion primarily addressed claims of opening mail and denying access to the law library, the proposed amended complaint would now require them to respond to the allegation that the law library was constitutionally inadequate. See Griffin v. Coughlin, 743 F. Supp. 1006, 1022 (N.D.N.Y. 1990) (explaining that where allegation of inadequate jail law library facilities is made, plaintiff need not allege any injury, and "the burden shifts to the defendants to prove that they either provide plaintiffs with an adequate law library or with adequate assistance from persons trained in the law"); see also Howard v. Leonardo, 845 F. Supp. 943, 946 (N.D.N.Y. 1994). In the instant case, however, it appears that the defendants had some notice that the plaintiff's action involved the inadequacy of the law library long before his Rule 15 motion and submission of the proposed amended complaint. Plaintiff's initial complaint did allege the denial of "access to the courts," which right, as explained by the United States Supreme Court in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491 (1977) (footnote omitted), requires the provision of "adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." However, the context in which ...