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Maestas v. Seidel

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 13, 2016

JOSEPH R. MAESTAS, Plaintiff,
v.
AMY SEIDEL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S CORRECTED MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Joseph R. Maestas' Corrected Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint (Doc. 27), filed November 10, 2016. Having reviewed the parties' briefs and the applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Motion is not well-taken, and is, therefore, DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff worked as a Project Manager in the Public Works Department for the Town of Taos, New Mexico (“the Town”). Plaintiff alleges Defendant Amy Seidel, Human Resource Director for the Town, violated his procedural due process and equal protection rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988. Plaintiff filed a Corrected Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint (Doc. 27) on November 10, 2016, seeking to add the Town of Taos as a defendant and to add an allegation against the Town of Taos for supervisory and training municipal liability pursuant to Monnell v. New York Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). Defendant opposed this Motion and filed a Response (Doc. 30) on November 22, 2016. Plaintiff filed a Reply (Doc. 31) on December 6, 2016.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court should freely give leave to amend when justice so requires. See 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 the merits rather than procedural niceties.” Minter v. Prime Equip. Co., 451 F.3d 1196, 1204 (10th Cir. 2006). That said, “[a] district court should 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) (citations omitted). “A court properly may deny a motion for leave to amend as futile when the proposed amended complaint would be subject to dismissal for any reason . . . .” Bauchman for Bauchman v. West High School, 132 F.3d 542, 562 (10th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Determining whether to grant leave to amend a pleading is an exercise in the Court's discretion. State Distributor's, Inc. v. Glenmore Distilleries, Co., 738 F.2d 405, 416 (10th Cir. 1984); see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff seeks leave to amend his Complaint to include newly discovered factual allegations, an additional defendant, and an additional claim for municipal liability. Defendant makes three principal challenges to Plaintiff's Motion. First, Plaintiff's proposed amendment would be futile. Second, Plaintiff's intent to amend his Complaint is made in bad faith; and third, neither justice nor judicial economy will be served by Plaintiff's proposed amendment. The Court considers each argument in turn.

         I. Futility

         Defendant argues the Court should deny Plaintiff's proposed amendment because his attempt to add the Town is futile. More specifically, the doctrine of res judicata precludes all of Plaintiff's claims. Defendant maintains that where it appears granting leave to amend is unlikely to be productive, it is not an abuse of discretion to deny leave to amend. See, e.g., Foman, 371 U.S. at 182. Defendant points out that Plaintiff seeks to add the Town as a defendant despite the fact that the Town has already been a defendant in a recent New Mexico state suit involving the same claims by the same Plaintiff (Case No. D-820-CV-2015-00050) (the “State Case”)). A trial on the merits has taken place, and final judgment has been entered. Therefore, Defendant argues, any claims by Plaintiff against the Town in this case are barred under res judicata, rendering the addition of the Town unproductive and futile. See Foman, 371 U.S. at 182.

         Plaintiff replies that res judicata does not apply here because the State Court claim did not contain the same causes of action and Plaintiff did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the Monnell claim in the prior suit. Plaintiff states he did not discover the meritoriousness of the federal claim until April 29, 2016 when it was too late to add the claim to the State Case, thus he had no opportunity to litigate those claims earlier. In addition, the Monnell claims would not be re-argued in this case because the claims are different. Plaintiff cites one case, Garcia v. Wilson, 731 F.2d 640, 649 (10th Cir. 1984), to support his contention that res judicata does not preclude § 1983 claims raised after state-court litigation because “the evidence necessary to support a Sec. 1983 claim is so often significantly distinct from the facts at issue in an arguably analogous state cause of action.”

         The Court finds Garcia is inapposite and does not stand for what Plaintiff hopes it does.[1]Accordingly, the Court will analyze the issue under general principles of res judicata. In doing so, the Court concludes res judicata will preclude Plaintiff's federal § 1983 cause of action against the Town, and denies Plaintiff leave to file amend his Complaint. See Jefferson Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. R-1 v. Moody's Investor's Servs., Inc., 175 F.3d 848, 859 (10th Cir. 1999) (“A proposed amendment is futile if the amended complaint would be subject to dismissal.”).

         “Res judicata generally applies where there is an identity of parties and of claims and a final judgment on the merits. It is designed to ensure the finality of judicial decisions. Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action.” Clark v. Haas Grp., Inc., 953 F.2d 1235, 1237-38 (10th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also Kremer v. Chemical Constr. Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 467 n.6 (1982). “[A] final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action.” Clark, 953 F.2d at 1238 (emphasis added). “‘Stated alternatively, ' under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits bars further claims by parties or their privies based on the same cause of action. Id. (quoting May v. Parker- Abbott Transfer and Storage, Inc., 899 F.2d 1007, 1009 (10th Cir. 1990)).

         In the State Case, Plaintiff alleged two counts against the Town. First, he alleged violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act, and second breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. See generally Doc. 30-1. Regarding the first count in the State Case, Plaintiff alleged that during his employ, Plaintiff would frequently alert Town officials to practices, procedures, actions, or failures to act on the part of Town employees that constituted gross mismanagement, waste of funds, or unlawful acts. These improper acts included unnecessary employees and facilities, and excessive fees paid to consultants. See Id. Plaintiff alleged he was fired for reporting these perceived irregularities, which constituted a violation of the Act. See NMSA 1978, § 1-16C-3(A). Regarding the second count in the State Case, Plaintiff alleged the Town violated a personnel policy that governed Town employees such as himself. Specifically, the Town failed to act in accordance with the policy by failing to appoint a hearing officer to hear termination appeals or to schedule his appeal in a timely fashion. See generally Doc. 30-1.

         In the present action, Plaintiff seeks to add the Town as a defendant and purports to add a count for municipal liability against the Town. Plaintiff hopes to amend the Complaint to include allegations that the Town had immediate supervisory responsibility over the actions of the employees of the Town of Taos, including Defendant Seidel. The Town had a duty to screen, train, and supervise employees and agents of the Town of Taos to ensure that they did not act ...


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