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Spencer v. Sonic Drive Inn

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

September 26, 2018

TAMATHA SPENCER PLAINTIFF
v.
SONIC DRIVE INN et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Joseph H. McKinley Jr., Chief Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion by Defendants, Nick Richter, Scott Market, James Caldwell, and Amanda Richter (collectively, the “Individual Defendants”), to dismiss the claims against them pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [DN 9]; on a motion by Plaintiff, Tamatha Spencer, to amend the complaint [DN 17]; and on a motion by Plaintiff for leave to file a late response to the Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss [DN 18]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Tamatha Spencer, began employment at the Sonic Drive-In in Owensboro, Kentucky on April 4, 2016. Spencer maintains that from May 2017 to October 30, 2017, a former store manager, James Caldwell, sexually harassed her at work through sexually explicit comments and unwanted touching. Spencer contends that she reported the conduct to Nick Richter, her area manager, who did not investigate the claim or remedy the harassment. Spencer alleges that she was retaliated against by Amanda Richter, a new store manager, for reporting Caldwell's conduct through the receipt of shorter work hours, being placed on probation, and criticism of her work. Because of this treatment, Spencer alleges that she was forced to resign on December 8, 2017.

         On November 27, 2017, Spencer filed a charge of discrimination against Defendant, Drive- In of Evansville, Inc. (originally named in the complaint as “Sonic Drive-In”) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging claims of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. On February 18, 2018, the EEOC dismissed Spencer's charge and issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights.

         On May 18, 2018, Plaintiff, pro se, filed a complaint in the Daviess Circuit Court against Defendants, Sonic Drive-In, Scott Market (incorrectly named as Scott Henderson), Nick Richter, Amanda Richter, and James Caldwell, alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination. On June 19, 2018, the Defendants removed this action to this Court.

         On June 26, 2018, the Individual Defendants moved to dismiss the claims against them arguing that Title VII does not permit individual liability. On August 30, 2018, Spencer moved to amend her complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 to correct “names incorrectly given and other small corrections.” (Motion to Amend Compl. at 1.) In her proposed amended complaint, Spencer removes as Defendants at least three individual managers and supervisors. Spencer now asserts a claim against the Sonic Drive-In Franchise including in the heading of the amended complaint in parenthesis the Drive-In of Evansville and Scott Market, the franchise owner. On that same day, Spencer filed a motion for leave to file a late response to the Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss. The Court will first address the motion to amend.

         II. MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT

         Spencer moves for leave to file an amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). Spencer argues that her proposed amended complaint will cure “errors such as names incorrectly given and other small corrections.” (Motion to Amend Compl. at 1.)

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2) states that after a responsive pleading has been served, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” A district court should freely grant a plaintiff leave to amend a pleading “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The determination of whether the circumstances of a case are such that justice would require the allowance of an amendment is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Hayden v. Ford Motor Co., 497 F.2d 1292, 1294 (6th Cir. 1974). A trial court may consider a number of factors in making this determination, including undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, undue prejudice, futility of the amendment, or the repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). In the absence of any of these factors, a plaintiff should be afforded the opportunity to amend its complaint. Id.

         The amended complaint removes at least three of the Individual Defendants, Nick Richter, James Caldwell, and Amanda Richter. With respect to Scott Market, the amended complaint appears to suggest that Spencer intends to bring only a suit against the Sonic Drive-In Franchise, which is legally known as Drive-In of Evansville, Inc. and is owned by Scott Market. However, statements in Spencer's tendered late response to the Individual Defendants' motion to dismiss calls that interpretation into question. (Plaintiff's Resp. at 1, DN 18-1).

         Accordingly, the Individual Defendants argue that the Court should not grant Plaintiff's leave to file her amended complaint because her amended complaint fails to correct the fatal defects in her original complaint. They maintain that the amendment of the complaint is futile. “A proposed amendment is futile if the amendment could not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Rose v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 417, 420 (6th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted). The Individual Defendants contend that similar to her original complaint, Plaintiff's amended complaint cannot withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss because she continues to name an Individual Defendant, Scott Market, as to her Title VII claims and Title VII does not permit individual liability.

         While the Court understands the Individual Defendants' argument, the Court finds that the entire Amended Complaint is not futile as it adds additional factual information to support Spencer's Title VII claims and removes from the lawsuit at least three of the four Individual Defendants. In an effort to maintain a clear record, the Court in its discretion will permit the amended complaint and will address the remaining Individual Defendant's argument with respect to Title VII liability within the context of his motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the motion to amend is granted.

         III. MOTION FOR LEAVE TO ...


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