The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott
Before the Court is defendants Mary Ann Wehlage and Allegany County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("Allegany County SPCA")'s joint motion for leave to amend Answer (Docket No. 145*fn1 ; cf. Docket No. 42, Wehlage and Allegany County SPCA Ans. to Am. Compl., Docket No. 144, SPCA Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 8, Ex. C (proposed amended pleading)).
This civil rights case arises from the seizure of plaintiffs' dairy cattle from their family farm upon the alleged direction of defendants Wehlage and the Allegany County SPCA (collectively the "SPCA defendants" or "movants"). Familiarity with the facts from prior Reports & Recommendations (Docket Nos. 38 ("VEB R&R"), 72, 117, 137) and Orders (Docket Nos. 79, 95, 123, 130, 140) is presumed. Note, the Court has yet to enter a Scheduling Order in this case that would determine when the parties could amend their respective pleadings or complete discovery.
Pertinent for this motion, plaintiffs Robert and Sandra Sheehy and their children, are owners of a dairy farm and cattle in Scio, New York. They used a method of "intensive rotational grazing" to feed their cattle. (Docket No. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 1-5, 18-29, 31-32, "Compl."; VEB R&R at 4). They allege that defendants made false assertions that plaintiffs' cattle were malnourished, and, based on those assertions, obtained a warrant to enter and search plaintiffs' farm and seize approximately 115 head of cattle (Docket No. 95, Order at 1-2).
Sometime in August 2002, defendant Mary Ann Wehlage, an animal control officer for Olean, asked defendants Thomas Becker and Gordon Wuethrich (agents of the United States Department of Agriculture) to visit plaintiffs' farm, which Becker and Wuethrich did on August 15. Wehlage allegedly asked them to provide false and misleading statements concerning the condition of plaintiffs' cattle so that a search warrant could be obtained (Compl. ¶¶ 36-39). Knowing she needed a supporting statement from a veterinarian or an animal control officer with personal knowledge of the existence of cruelty to animals, Wehlage allegedly induced Becker and Wuethrich (who lacked training in cattle feeding and conditioning) to provide false and misleading statements concerning the condition of plaintiffs' cattle (Compl. ¶¶ 40-42). Wehlage falsely represented that she could see the cattle from the street and falsely reported that the cattle were underfed and suffered from a condition of feeding the cattle too much grain called "rumen acidosis." (Compl. ¶ 42.)
Wehlage, with approximately fifty police personnel and a search warrant, entered the farm on August 22, 2001, to execute the warrant. Defendant Robert McNeill, a veterinarian employed by defendant Lakewood Veterinary Service ("Lakewood"), arrived and (allegedly ignoring the actual condition of the cattle) determined that the cattle should be seized due to a claim "of future potential problems." (VEB R&R at 5; Compl. ¶¶ 50-55.) McNeill ordered the seizure of dozens of healthy cows that manifested no physical distress. Defendants seized the cattle, plaintiffs' entire herd. (VEB R&R at 5; Compl. ¶¶ 56-59.).
On August 16, 2002, plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint (Docket No. 1) alleging, among other things, that defendants negligently, wilfully, and fraudulently procured the search warrant which authorized the search of their farm on August 21, 2001, in violation of plaintiffs' civil rights. The Complaint alleged twelve state common law claims and a thirteenth claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, all arising from the search of plaintiffs' farm, the seizure and subsequent sale of the cattle (including calves born and milk produced after the seizure). (Docket No. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 81-135.)
The SPCA defendants served an Answer to this initial Complaint on October 29, 2002 (Docket No. 16).*fn2 Following the first round of dismissal motions (see Docket Nos. 10, 19, 22; see also Docket No. 38), plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on June 20, 2003 (Docket No. 40; see Docket No. 144, SPCA Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. B), again alleging the same thirteen causes of action as in the initial Complaint. The only notable change in the Amended Complaint from the original was adding to the thirteenth cause of action, specifying liability for private actors Wehlage, McNeill, and Lakewood under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Docket No. 40, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 134-36), consistent with Magistrate Judge Bianchini's direction (see VEB R&R at 21) and one of the Sheehy children was added as a plaintiff. All other allegations are verbatim the same from the initial Complaint.
Wehlage and the Allegany County SPCA answered the Amended Complaint on July 1, 2003 (Docket No. 42). Several co-defendants in this action moved to dismiss claims against them (see note 2, supra). Thus, the remaining defendants are Wehlage, the Allegany County SPCA, and McNeill and Lakewood (see Docket No. 123, Order of Mar. 7, 2005, at 9). The SPCA defendants moved to amend Chief Judge Arcara's March 7, 2005, Decision & Order (Docket No. 125) deleting a reference to Wehlage's statement being included with the warrant application (Docket No. 126, SPCA Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 5-6; cf. Docket No. 123, Order at 3). Chief Judge Arcara granted their motion (Docket No. 130).
Motion for Leave to Amend the Answer
After setting aside the default against defendants McNeill and Lakewood (see Docket No. 124) and allowing them to file and Answer (Docket Nos. 137 (R&R), 140 (Order adopting R&R); see Docket No. 141, Ans. with Cross-Claim of McNeill, et al., Docket No. 144, SPCA Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. D (same); see also Docket No. 142, Wehlage and Allegany County SPCA Reply to McNeill, et al., Cross-Claims), the SPCA defendants now move to amend their Answer. They seek to add immunity and good-faith defenses previously asserted by other defendants, and assert cross-claims against the remaining co-defendants McNeill and Lakewood (Docket No. 143, SPCA Defs. Memo. of Law at 2). Co-defendants' counsel consented to the amendment adding the new cross-claims against her clients, but movants were unable to obtain consent of plaintiffs' counsel (Docket No. 144, SCPA Defs. Atty. Decl. ¶ 3). They contend that there ...