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Underwood v. Roswell Park Cancer Institute

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 2, 2017

WILLIE UNDERWOOD, III, Plaintiff,
v.
ROSWELL PARK CANCER INSTITUTE and JAMES MOHLER, Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR. Chief Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Willie Underwood, III, M.D. (“Plaintiff”) brings this action to remedy alleged racial discrimination and retaliation by his employer, Roswell Park Cancer Institute (“Roswell Park”), and his supervisor, James Mohler, M.D. (“Dr. Mohler”). Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2). ECF No. 39. Plaintiff also asks for partial reconsideration of this Court's previous decision, see ECF No. 26, which dismissed certain claims from Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with that decision and with the basic facts of this case. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend is granted and Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration is denied as moot.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff originally commenced this action on July 28, 2015 with a complaint drafted by attorney Catherine Creighton. ECF No. 1. Roswell Park and Dr. Mohler each filed motions to dismiss. ECF Nos. 7, 8.

         On November 18, 2015, Plaintiff-this time through attorney Paul Boylan, Esq.-filed an amended complaint as of right under Rule 15(a)(1)(B). ECF No. 10. Again, on January 8, 2016, Roswell Park and Dr. Mohler each filed motions to dismiss. ECF Nos. 15, 16. This time, Plaintiff responded to the motions to dismiss. ECF Nos. 22, 23. Roswell Park and Dr. Mohler each filed reply briefs. ECF Nos. 24, 25.

         In his responses to the motions to dismiss, Plaintiff appeared to concede that some of his claims were not viable while also hinting at a “Second Amended Complaint” that did not exist. For example, in response to Dr. Mohler's argument that individuals are not liable under Title VII, Plaintiff stated that he “does not seek to hold Mohler personally or individually liable . . . Plaintiff's proposed Second Amended Complaint resolves this issue.” ECF No. 22, at 2. With respect to the § 1983 claim against Dr. Mohler in his official capacity, Plaintiff conceded that “the official capacity claims against Defendant Mohler are unnecessary. Plaintiff, with this Court's permission, will file a Second Amended Complaint to reflect such changes.” Id. at 18. Defendants also argued that under the Supreme Court's decision in Jett v. Dallas Independent School District, 491 U.S. 701, 735 (1989), Plaintiff was barred from asserting an independent claim for relief under § 1981 because Roswell Park is a state actor. Plaintiff first responded by noting that it was unclear whether Jett had been statutorily overruled, but then stated that “out of an abundance of caution and with the permission of this Court, Plaintiff will address this issue in his proposed Second Amended Complaint by re-pleading the Section 1981 claims against Defendant Mohler, consistent with the holding in Jett, through Section 1983.” Id. at 20. Finally, with respect to Defendants' arguments that the Health Care Quality Improvement Act (“HCQIA”) does not provide a private right of action and that claims against Does 1-50 should be dismissed, Plaintiff merely stated that “Plaintiff's proposed Second Amended Complaint makes the above point moot.” Id. at 29. Plaintiff made similar statements in his response to Roswell Park's motion to dismiss. See ECF No. 23.

         On January 13, 2017, this Court issued a Decision and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motions to dismiss. ECF No. 26. Due to the fact that Plaintiff had not filed a Second Amended Complaint or moved for leave to amend his First Amended Complaint, the Court interpreted Plaintiff's statements as an indication that he had withdrawn some of his claims. For example, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's § 1981 claim because “Dr. Underwood no longer wishes to pursue an independent claim for relief under § 1981.” Id. at 29. Similarly, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages against Roswell Park because “Dr. Underwood does not contest that Roswell Park should be treated as a municipality.” Id. at 40. The Court also dismissed the breach of contract claim in Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint because that claim was based on Roswell Park's bylaws and hospital bylaws generally do not give rise to contractual obligations under New York law. Id. at 38-39.

         On February 10, 2017, attorney Jeanne Christensen of Wigdor LLP filed a notice of appearance on behalf of Plaintiff. ECF No. 34. On March 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint and for partial reconsideration of this Court's Decision and Order. ECF No. 39. Roswell Park and Dr. Mohler each filed briefs in opposition to Plaintiff's motion. See ECF Nos. 46, 47.

         II. Proposed Second Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff's proposed Second Amended Complaint is more concise and organized than his First Amended Complaint. In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff no longer includes frivolous claims against Dr. Mohler in his official capacity, claims under the HCQIA, or claims against “Does 1-50.” See ECF No. 41-1.

         The Second Amended Complaint also attempts to cure certain deficiencies in the First Amended Complaint. For example, instead of asserting a breach of contract claim premised on Roswell Park bylaws, Plaintiff asserts a breach of contract claim based on the actual employment contracts that Plaintiff signed in 2008, 2011, and 2012. See ECF No. 41-1, at 60-61. Plaintiff attached these contracts to the Second Amended Complaint. See ECF No. 41-1, Exs. A, B, C.

         In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff also re-asserts claims under § 1981 and again seeks punitive damages. See ECF No. 41-1. However, unlike in his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff now argues that Roswell Park is not a state actor. Plaintiff includes detailed factual allegations to support his position that Roswell Park should be considered a private entity for the purposes of liability under § 1981 and immunity from punitive damages. Id. at ¶¶ 27-39.

         Finally, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint includes a separate aiding and abetting claim under the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) against Dr. Mohler. Id. at 54.

         III. Motion for Leave to Amend

         Under Rule 15(a)(1), a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course under certain circumstances. In all other situations, Rule 15(a)(2) provides that “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” (emphasis added).

         “Although the decision whether to grant leave to amend is within the discretion of the district court, refusal to grant leave must be based on a valid ground.” Ronzani v. Sanofi S.A., 899 F.2d 195, 198 (2d Cir. 1990). In Foman ...


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