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Halcomb v. Black Mountain Resources, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

November 21, 2014

BILLY J. HALCOMB, Plaintiff,
v.
BLACK MOUNTAIN RESOURCES, LLC and ALPHA NATURAL RESOURCES, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Billy Halcomb's Motion to Amend Judgment (Doc. # 19) and Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (Doc. #21). The motions have been fully briefed (Docs. # 22, 25, 26) and are ripe for the Court's review.

On July 18, 2013, Plaintiff, a coal miner, filed a complaint against the mine's "operator, " Defendant Black Mountain Resources, L.L.C. (Black Mountain), and its parent company, Defendant Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (Alpha). (Doc. # 1). In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that his supervisors and co-workers engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment that included grabbing his genitals and using vulgar language. (Doc. # 1, ¶¶ 7, 8). Based on this conduct, he alleges that Defendants are liable for maintaining a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1); and vicariously liable under state law for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

On August 21, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. # 5). In support of their motion, Defendants argued that the Title VII claim should be dismissed because, among other reasons, the Plaintiff failed to plead that he had an employment relationship with the Defendants. Id. They also suggested that the state law claims were deficient because, among other reasons, the Plaintiff failed to plead facts that would impose vicarious liability on the Defendants. Id.

The Court found merit with both arguments. With respect to the Title VII claim, the Court recognized that Title VII requires an employer-employee relationship between a plaintiff and defendant. (Doc. # 18 at 4). However, the Court found the Plaintiff's Complaint "wholly devoid of any factual allegations" that the Defendants were his employer. Id. at 5. Instead, the Complaint simply alleged that Black Mountain "operated" the mine and that Black Mountain was a "subsidiary" of Alpha. (Doc. # 1, ¶¶ 4, 6).

Regarding the state law claims, the Court pointed out that the Plaintiff failed to identify the tortfeasors. (Doc. # 18 at 7). While the Complaint seemed to suggest that the culprits were Justin Adams and Ben Adams, it did not identify who employed these individuals. Id. Rather, it merely stated that they were "supervisors at the Panther Mine." (Doc. # 1, ¶ 7). Because Kentucky law requires an employment relationship for vicarious liability to attach, Papa John's Intern. Inc., v. McCoy, 244 S.W.3d 44, 51-52 (Ky. 2008), the Court dismissed the state law claims, (Doc. # 18 at 8). On September 24, 2014, the Plaintiff filed contemporaneous Motions to Amend Judgment and for Leave to Amend Complaint. (Doc. # 19, 21).

II. APPLICABLE STANDARD

Rule 15 motions to amend filed prior to an entry of judgment are "freely" granted "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a); see Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). However, Rule 15 motions filed after an entry of judgment must meet Rule 59's "heavier burden." Leisure Caviar v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 616 F.3d 612, 616 (6th Cir. 2010). This higher threshold is necessary to "protect the finality of judgments and the expeditious termination of litigation." Id. at 615-16 (quoting Morse v. McWhorter, 290 F.3d 795, 800 (6th Cir. 2002)). When a party files simultaneous Rule 15 and 59 motions, it is "seeking one theory of relief, " and thus the inquiry into both motions "turns on the same factors." Leisure, 616 F.3d at 615-16.

The Court recognizes that, after granting Defendants' 12(b)(6) motion, it did not set out a judgment in a separate document as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 58(a). Accordingly, judgment is not deemed entered in this case until "150 days have run from the entry [of the Court's order] in the civil docket." Fed.R.Civ.P. 58(c)(2); Bonner v. Perry, 564 F.3d 424, 427 (6th Cir. 2009). Because 150 days have not lapsed, there has not been a final judgment in this case. See Bonner, 564 F.3d at 428. Either party could have requested that the Court set out the judgment in a separate document, Fed.R.Civ.P. 58(d), but neither did.

Although there has not been a final judgment in this case, there are two reasons the Court will evaluate Plaintiff's Motions under Rule 59(e)'s more stringent standard. First, the Court's August 8, 2014 Order (Doc. # 18) dismissed all claims against all parties, and therefore applying Rule 59's standard will serve to "protect the [Order's] finality." Leisure, 616 F.3d at 615-16. Second, because Rule 59 imposes a heavier burden on the Plaintiff than Rule 15, evaluating Plaintiff's Motion under Rule 59 subsumes and covers Rule 15's standard. The Court now turns to the merits.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 59, a court may alter the judgment based on: "(1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a need to prevent manifest injustice." Id. at 615 (quoting Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir.2005)). And while it is true that a party seeking to amend a complaint after an adverse judgment faces a "heavier burden, " a district court still has "considerable discretion in deciding whether to grant" the motion. Leisure, 616 F.3d at 615; see U.S. ex rel. SNAPP, Inc., v. Ford Motor Co., 532 F.3d 496, 507 (6th Cir. 2008) ("Although Relator filed his motion to file a Second Amended Complaint subsequent to the district ...


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