213 F.3d 113 (3rd Cir. 2000), 98-6205, Shane v. Fauver

Docket Nº:98-6205
Citation:213 F.3d 113
Party Name:STANFORD SHANE; OTIS TERRELL; ROBERT STEWART, Appellants v. WILLIAM FAUVER, Commissioner; JAMES BARBO, Administrator; ROGERS, Chief; DIRECTOR OF CUSTODY
Case Date:May 19, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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213 F.3d 113 (3rd Cir. 2000)

STANFORD SHANE; OTIS TERRELL; ROBERT STEWART, Appellants

v.

WILLIAM FAUVER, Commissioner; JAMES BARBO, Administrator; ROGERS, Chief; DIRECTOR OF CUSTODY

No. 98-6205

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

May 19, 2000

Argued: November 16, 1999

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (Dist. Court No. 97-cv-03401) District Court Judge: Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr.

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Attorneys for Appellants: Jon Hogue (argued) Hogue & Lannis 3400 Gulf Tower Pittsburgh, PA 151219

Attorneys for Appellees: John J. Farmer, Jr., Attorney General of New Jersey Mary C. Jacobson, Assistant Attorney General of Counsel Larry R. Etzweiler, Senior Deputy Attorney General (argued) R.J. Hughes Justice Complex P.O. Box 112 Trenton, New Jersey 08625

Before: ALITO and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges, and FEIKENS,[*] Senior District Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

ALITO, Circuit Judge:

Stanford Shane, Otis Terrell, and Robert Stewart, prisoners at New Jersey's Northern State Prison, appeal the dismissal of their complaint under 42 U.S.C. S 1983 without leave to amend. We hold that, under the circumstances present here, Section 803(d) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C.S 1997e(c)(1), did not change the procedures that our court previously adopted regarding the dismissal of a complaint without granting leave to amend. We

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therefore vacate the order of dismissal and remand for further proceedings.

I.

The plaintiffs' complaint in this case asserted claims against three state correctional officials under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as well as under the New Jersey Constitution. Although proceeding pro se, the plaintiffs paid the full filing fee. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The plaintiffs responded, and the District Court entered an order granting the motion and dismissing the complaint. Because the order did not specify that the dismissal was without prejudice, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b) the dismissal "operates as an adjudication upon the merits." The plaintiffs appealed.

When the appeal was first considered by a panel of this court, that panel entered an order directing that counsel be appointed to represent the plaintiffs on appeal and instructing counsel to brief the issue whether the PLRA mandated the dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims without leave to amend. New briefs were then filed by both sides, and the appeal was argued before this panel.

Plaintiffs' counsel contends that the District Court should not have dismissed without giving leave to amend and, in any event, should not have dismissed with prejudice. The defendants respond that the manner in which the District Court disposed of the case was required by the PLRA. According to the defendants, if a complaint falling within the PLRA fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the District Court must dismiss without leave to amend and with prejudice.

II.

Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to amend a pleading "once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served." A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim must be made "before pleading if a further pleading is permitted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). Thus, in the typical case in which a defendant asserts the defense of failure to state a claim by motion, the plaintiff may amend the complaint once "as a matter of course" without leave of court. See 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice S 12.34[5], at 12-76 (3d ed. 1999) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)). After amending once or after an answer has been filed, the plaintiff may amend only with leave of court or the written consent of the opposing party, but "leave shall be freely given when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). The Supreme Court has instructed that although "the grant or denial of an opportunity to amend is within the discretion of the District Court, . . . outright refusal to grant the leave without any justifying reason appearing for the denial is not an exercise of discretion; it is merely an abuse of that discretion and inconsistent with the spirit of the Federal Rules." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

"Among the grounds that could justify a denial of leave to amend are undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, and futility." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997) ("Burlington"); Lorenz v. CSX Corp., 1 F.3d 1406, 1413-14 (3d Cir. 1993). "Futility" means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Burlington, 114 F.3d at 1434. In assessing "futility," the District Court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6). Id.; 3 Moore's Federal Practice, supra S 15.15[3], at 15-47 to -48 (3d ed. 2000). Accordingly, if a claim is vulnerable to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), but the plaintiff moves to amend, leave to amend generally must be granted unless the amendment would not cure the deficiency.

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The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not address the situation in which a deficiency in a complaint could be cured by amendment but leave to amend is not sought. Circuit case...

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