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Schiller v. City of New York

February 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Sullivan, District Judge


Defendants have filed objections, pursuant to Rule 72(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to a January 23, 2008 Memorandum and Order (the "January 23 Order") issued by the Honorable James C. Francis IV, Magistrate Judge, granting Plaintiffs partial leave to amend their complaints. For the reasons stated below, the Court affirms the January 23 Order in its entirety.

I. Background

The instant action involves thirty-seven cases that are part of a larger group of cases relating to protests surrounding the 2004 Republican National Convention (the "RNC Cases"), which have been consolidated before this Court and referred to Magistrate Judge Francis for general pretrial purposes.*fn2 Plaintiffs in this action were arrested by the New York Police Department (the "NYPD") during the RNC. The Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the facts and procedural history of this action, including those facts specifically related to the instant application. Below, the Court briefly recites only those facts necessary to resolution of the instant objections.

The original complaints in these thirty-seven RNC cases were filed in 2004 and 2005. Many of the Plaintiffs in these actions had amended their complaints previously and some of the proposed amended complaints are being amended for the third or fourth time. In August 2007, Plaintiffs filed the pending motions just as the three-year statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims approached. Pursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the various Plaintiffs sought, inter alia, to: (1) add numerous Defendants and assert claims for individual supervisory liability; (2) challenge on both constitutional and state law grounds the alleged policy of the City of New York (the "City") of detaining and fingerprinting all persons arrested in connection with the RNC; (3) raise constitutional challenges to the City's alleged policy of fabricating false sworn statements supporting the arrests; (4) assert constitutional challenges to the City's parade ordinance*fn3 and to New York State's disorderly conduct statute;*fn4 and (5) make additional changes that are set forth in the proposed amended complaints.

Defendants filed a single opposition memorandum to Plaintiffs' motions to amend their complaints on October 23, 2007. (See No. 04 Civ. 7922, Docket Entry ("D.E.") 295.) In the January 23 Order, Magistrate Judge Francis granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' motions to amend their complaints. On February 25, 2008, Defendants filed objections pursuant to Rule 72(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking to set aside portions of the January 23 Order (the "Objections").*fn5 (See Defs.' Mem., No. 04 Civ. 7922, D.E. 267.)

II. Standard of Review

A. Leave to Amend a Complaint "A party may amend its pleadings once as a matter of course," and in all other cases it may do so "only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1), (2). While the decision whether to grant leave "is within the sound discretion of the court," the law is clear that leave to amend the pleadings "should be granted '[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason - such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, [or] undue prejudice to the opposing party . . . .'" Abbatiello v. Monsanto, 571 F. Supp. 2d 548, 552 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (quoting John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Amerford Int'l Corp., 22 F.3d 458, 462 (2d Cir. 1994) and Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). Therefore, while such leave shall generally be "freely given," "the trial court [is] required to take into account any prejudice that might result to the party opposing the amendment." Ansam Assoc., Inc., v. Cola Petroleum, Ltd., 760 F.2d 442, 446 (2d Cir. 1985) (quoting Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 401 U.S. 321, 330-31 (1971) (internal quotation marks omitted)). A district court's denial of a party's request for leave to amend a complaint is reviewed for abuse of discretion. See McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 200 (2d Cir. 2000).

B. Review of a Magistrate's Non-Dispositive Order

Rule 72(a) and the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), provide that a district court may designate a magistrate judge to hear and decide non-dispositive pretrial matters. The district court shall reverse a magistrate judge's order only where the ruling is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); see Fielding v. Tollaksen, 510 F.3d 175, 178 (2d Cir. 2007). An order is "clearly erroneous" if the reviewing court is "left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 242 (2001) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). An order is contrary to law "when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure." Thompson v. Keane, No. 95 Civ. 2442 (SHS), 1996 WL 229887, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 6, 1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). A party may file objections to the magistrate's order within ten days of having been served with a copy of that order, and the district judge "must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a).

The Second Circuit has indicated that a motion granting leave to amend a complaint is considered "non-dispositive" and, thus, subject to the highly deferential clear error standard of review. See Fielding, 510 F.3d at 178 (noting that "[A] district judge may refer nondispositive motions, such as a motion to amend the complaint, to a magistrate judge for decision without the parties' consent."); Kilcullen v. New York State Dep't of Transp., 55 Fed. App'x. 583, 584-85 (2d Cir. 2003) (characterizing plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint and add a claim as "nondispositive," and noting that the plaintiff's objection to the magistrate judge's denial of "his nondispositive motion" was reviewed pursuant to Rule 72(a)). However, some courts in this Circuit have held that a magistrate judge's denial of a motion to amend a complaint is dispositive because it "foreclose[s] potential claims." See Wilson v. City of New York, No. 06 Civ 219 (ARR) (VVP), 2008 WL 1909212, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 30, 2008) (collecting cases and noting that "[c]ourts in this Circuit are divided on the issue of whether, and under what circumstances, motions to amend a pleading are dispositive or nondispositive," and that "[t]he Second Circuit has not yet ruled on the issue").

Notwithstanding the possibility that a magistrate judge's denial of a motion to amend a complaint may be dispositive, the Court concludes that Judge Francis's January 23 Order granting Plaintiffs' motion to amend their complaints is non-dispositive, and as such, subject to clear error review only.*fn6 See Bridgeport Music Inc., v. Universal Music Group, 248 F.R.D. 408, 410 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (noting that while "the weight of opinion appears to favor treating such rulings [by a magistrate denying a motion to amend pleadings] as nondispositive[,] . . . the prevailing view should apply with greater force to a Magistrate Judge's granting a motion to amend a complaint" (emphasis added)).

III. Discussion

Defendants assert two principal grounds for challenging the January 23 Order in their Objections.*fn7 First, Defendants "generally object[] to the proposed amendments that include new constitutional and statutory claims on grounds of undue delay, futility and prejudice . . . ." (See Defs.' Mem. at 3.) Second, Defendants object to proposed amendments that seek to add claims against Commissioner David Cohen, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence for the New York City Police Department, "chiefly on grounds of futility." (See id.) Defendants also argue that even if such claims against Commissioner ...

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