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Burkeen v. A.R.E. Accessories, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky

May 7, 2019

DEANA BURKEEN, et al PLAINTIFF
v.
A.R.E. ACCESSORIES, LLC, GENERALL MOTORS, LLC DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter come before the Court upon Motion by the Plaintiffs, Deana Burkeen and Timothy Burkeen, to Dismiss First Amended Complaint Without Prejudice and to Grant Leave to File Second Amended Complaint (R. 67). Defendant, General Motors LLC (“GM”), has responded, (R. 71), and the Burkeens have replied. (R. 72). Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for adjudication and, for the following reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 12, 2015, while driving in Graves County, Kentucky, Deana Burkeen lost control of Timothy Burkeen's GMC pickup truck and collided with an oncoming car. During the collision the truck-bed-cover, which was manufactured by A.R.E Accessories, LLC (“A.R.E.”), came through the rear window of the truck and into the cab, allegedly injuring Ms. Burkeen. On January 7, 2016, the Burkeens sued A.R.E. for negligence, strict products liability, and loss of consortium for injuries sustained by Deana Burkeen. A.R.E. removed the case to federal court.

         After removal, Judge Stivers set a December 1, 2016 deadline by which the Burkeens were to have added any additional parties and filed any amended pleadings. The Burkeens amended their Complaint on October 19, 2016 to add GM as a party-defendant, alleging that Ms. Burkeen's head struck a protruding “D-Ring” inside the cab of the GMC pickup, causing her serious injury. The Burkeens brought negligence, strict liability, and loss of consortium claims against GM for the injuries caused by the protruding component. GM then filed a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss on November 15, 2016-two weeks prior to the amended pleadings deadline. GM also indicated that it would have no objection to dismissal being granted with leave to amend. (R. 26). On July 26, 2017, holding that Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint did not state sufficient facts to state a claim for relief, Judge Stivers granted GM's Motion and dismissed the Burkeens' claims against GM with prejudice. Judge Stivers gave no reason for dismissing the Brukeens' claims against GM with prejudice. On August 18, 2017, in response to Judge Stivers Opinion, the Burkeens filed a Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter Judgment, as well as a Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint. Judge Stivers denied both motions.

         On December 1, 2017, the Burkeens appealed, challenging the merits of the dismissal and arguing that Judge Stivers abused his discretion in dismissing their claims with prejudice, instead of granting them leave to amend their Complaint. Agreeing with Judge Stivers that the Complaint lacked sufficient factual allegations upon which the Burkeens could recover, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Judge Stivers's dismissal on the merits. However, when confronted with Judge Stivers's lack of reasoning in dismissing the Burkeens's claims with prejudice, the appellate pointed out:

The district court in this case did not provide any explanation for dismissing the complaint with prejudice, as opposed to without prejudice. Instead, the district court foreclosed any future possibility of amendment without indicating any reason to believe that amendment would have been futile and without providing any other justifications for granting dismissal with prejudice. When the district court granted the motion to dismiss, it did not cite any undue delay, bad faith . . . repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party . . . [or] futility of amendment.

(R. 62) (citations omitted). Consequently, the Sixth Circuit vacated Judge Stiver's ruling dismissing the Burkeens' Complaint with prejudice and remanded the case to this Court to “reconsider whether dismissal should have been without prejudice and whether Plaintiff's should be permitted to amend their Complaint.” In so doing the appellate court noted that “dismissal with prejudice in this case goes against the well-established preference for allowing claims to be decided on their merits where possible.”

         In light of the Sixth Circuit's ruling, the Burkeens now move the Court for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint and declare the dismissal to be without prejudice. GM opposes the Burkeens' motion, arguing that Judge Stivers properly dismissed the Burkeens' Complaint with prejudice, and that their current proposed amendment is futile.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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 rule directs that the “court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). This rule gives effect to the principle that, as far as possible, cases should be determined on their merits and not on technicalities. Cooper v. Am. Employers' Ins. Co., 296 F.2d 303, 306 (6th Cir. 1961). Denial of leave to amend may be appropriate “where there is undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of the amendment, etc.” Miller v. Champion Enters., Inc., 346 F.3d 660, 690 (6th Cir. 2003) (citations and quotation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         The Burkeens' Motion presents the Court with only one issue: Should Judge Stivers's dismissal with prejudice stand, or should the Burkeens be permitted to amend their Complaint? For a host of reasons, GM argues that Judge Stivers's dismissal with prejudice should stand and the Burkeens should not be granted leave to amend. First, relying on Ash v. Anderson Merchandisers, LLC, 799 F.3d 957 (8th Cir. 2015) and Begala v. PNC Bank, Ohio, Nat. Ass'n, 214 F.3d 776 (6th Cir. 2000), GM argues that Judge Stivers's “July 26, 2017 Order should remain in full force” because the Burkeens delayed seeking leave to amend their Complaint, and GM would be prejudiced if they were permitted to do so now. (R. 71). Next, GM argues that the Burkeens' proposed Second Amended Complaint adds new substantive claims, which would prejudice GM. GM also argues that the Burkeens' Motion should be denied because the Burkeens have “not offered a good cause explanation for their failure to seek amendment prior to the entry of judgment.” (R. 71). Finally, GM argues that the Burkeens' proposed Second Amended Complaint should be denied as futile. None of GM's arguments persuade the Court.

         First, any delay pending the Sixth Circuit's ruling cannot be accurately attributed to the Burkeens. Such delay is a natural and inevitable part of litigation. To hold it against the Burkeens would be improper. Sixth Circuit precedent is clear that “[o]rdinarily, delay alone, does not justify denial of leave to amend.” Morse v. McWhorter, 290 F.3d 795, 800 (6th Cir. 2002). Therefore, any such delay, while potentially relevant to the prejudice suffered by GM, cannot be included in any calculation of undue delay attributable to the Burkeens. The only time relevant to deciding whether the Burkeens caused undue delay is the roughly nine months ...


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