Walton v. Greensville Corr. Ctr., Civil Action No. 3:14CV628 (RCY)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtRoderick C. Young United States Magistrate Judge
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:14CV628 (RCY)
PartiesJOHN T. WALTON, Plaintiff, v. GREENSVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date21 May 2015

JOHN T. WALTON, Plaintiff,

Civil Action No. 3:14CV628 (RCY)


May 21, 2015


Plaintiff John T. Walton ("Walton"), proceeding pro se, brings this action against Defendants, the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), Greensville Correctional Center ("GCC"), Harold W. Clarke, and Eddie L. Pearson (collectively "Defendants").1

Walton filed his First Amended Complaint (First Am. Compl., ECF No. 5) on October 1, 2014.2 The First Amended Complaint does not refer to a specific statute, but it arguably alleges a failure by his employer, GCC, to accommodate Walton's religious beliefs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. On October 24, 2014, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss (Defendant's [sic] Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss"), ECF No. 11) and supporting memorandum (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss ("Defs.' Mem. Supp."), ECF No. 12), arguing that the First Amended Complaint

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should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "8(a), 10(b), 12(b)(1) and/or 12(b)(6)." (Defs.' Mem. Supp. at 1.) Walton responded (ECF No. 13), and Defendants filed a reply (ECF No. 14).

On December 4, 2014, Walton filed Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint (Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File Second Am. Compl. ("Mot. to Amend"), ECF No. 15). Filed as an exhibit to the Motion to Amend is Walton's proposed Second Amended Complaint (Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 15-1). The proposed Second Amended Complaint seeks to cure alleged deficiencies noted by Defendants in their memoranda in support of their Motion to Dismiss, includes a specific reference to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with regard to Count One, sets forth the allegations and claims in separately numbered paragraphs, adds two additional defendants (Benjamin Wright and Joyce Johnson), and adds two counts related to alleged violations of VDOC policies and procedures, in particular VDOC "Operating Procedure 101.2 VIIIB" and VDOC "Policy on Posting of Specialized Post." (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20.) Defendants oppose Walton's Motion to Amend. (Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to File Second Am. Compl. ("Defs.' Opp'n"), ECF No. 16.)

For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint will be GRANTED, and Defendant's [sic] Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


Finding it appropriate to do so, the Court will grant Walton's Motion to Amend. Moreover, for the reasons set forth below, the Court will apply Defendants' Motion to Dismiss to the applicable portions of Walton's Second Amended Complaint.

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A. Walton's Motion to Amend

A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within twenty-one days after serving it or "if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). Walton amended his original Complaint once in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1). (First Am. Compl., ECF No. 5.) For additional amendments, a party is permitted to amend its pleading "only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). A "court should freely give leave when justice so requires." Id. "This liberal rule gives effect to the federal policy in favor of resolving cases on their merits instead of disposing of them on technicalities." Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48 (1957)). The Fourth Circuit has interpreted Rule 15(a) to provide that "'leave to amend a pleading should be denied only when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would have been futile.'" Id. (quoting Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 509 (4th Cir. 1986) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962))).

Defendants assert that Walton's motion should be denied because it was not accompanied by a written brief, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7(F)(1). However, given the policy in favor of resolving cases on their merits, the Court declines this invitation. "The federal rule policy of deciding cases on the basis of the substantive rights involved rather than on technicalities requires that plaintiff be given every opportunity to cure a formal defect in his pleading." Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 252-53 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting 5A Charles Allen Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357 (2d ed. 1990)). Furthermore, the

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Court notes that Walton is proceeding pro se and that "[a] document filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). "[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

1. Bad Faith and Prejudice

There is no indication of bad faith on the part of Walton or prejudice to the Defendants. Walton, who is pro se, moved to file the proposed Second Amended Complaint within several weeks after Defendants' Motion to Dismiss was briefed, and he properly attached the proposed Second Amended Complaint. Walton explains that he consulted the United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia Richmond Division Pro Se Litigant Handbook to help write his complaint and subsequent pleadings. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Opp'n at 5.)

Furthermore, the substantive differences between the First Amended Complaint and the proposed Second Amended Complaint are few. The differences include alleged facts that would come into the record through discovery, two additional defendants, and two additional claims. As discussed below, the Court dismisses the additional two defendants and new claims.3 As such, the proposed Second Amended Complaint does little more than add and clarify alleged facts relevant to the Title VII claim and correct formatting errors found in the First Amended Complaint. Granting the Motion to Amend, therefore, is not prejudicial to the Defendants.

2. Futility of Amendment

Defendants argue that Walton's Motion to Amend should be denied under the doctrine of futility. "Leave to amend . . . should only be denied on the ground of futility when the proposed

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amendment is clearly insufficient or frivolous on its face." Johnson, 785 F.2d at 510 (citing Davis v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 615 F.2d 606, 613 (4th Cir. 1980), cert. dismissed, 448 U.S. 911 (1980)). "[A] district court may deny leave if amending the complaint would be futile—that is, 'if the proposed amended complaint fails to satisfy the requirements of the federal rules,'" including Rule 12(b)(6). United States ex rel Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting United States ex rel. Fowler v. Caremark RX, LLC, 496 F.3d 730, 740 (7th Cir. 2007)).

Arguably, amendment is futile with regard to the Second Amended Complaint's newly alleged claims and newly added defendants. However, the Court finds that amendment is not futile with regard to Walton's Title VII claim against VDOC and GCC. Indeed, as explained in detail below, the Court finds that Walton has sufficiently alleged a cognizable Title VII claim against VDOC and GCC. Therefore, with regards to that claim, the Second Amended Complaint is not "insufficient or frivolous on its face." Johnson, 785 F.2d at 510 (citation omitted).

While some of the amended claims are arguably futile, rather than granting Walton's Motion to Amend and "cherry-picking" out the futile claims, the Court finds it more appropriate to grant Walton's Motion in full. However, as Walton is proceeding in forma pauperis ("IFP"), following the granting of Walton's Motion, the Court will use its statutory authority to evaluate the Second Amended Complaint and sua sponte dismiss the portions that "fail[] to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

Accordingly, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 15).

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B. Effect of an Amended Pleading

"As a general rule, 'an amended pleading ordinarily supersedes the original and renders it of no legal effect.'" Young v. City of Mount Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 572 (4th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Thus, motions, such as motions to dismiss, directed at superseded pleadings may be denied as moot. See Colin v. Marconi Commerce Sys. Emps.' Ret. Plan, 335 F. Supp. 2d 590, 614 (M.D.N.C. Sept. 1, 2004) (earlier motion to dismiss was rendered moot by the filing of second amended complaint); Turner v. Kight, 192 F. Supp. 2d 391, 397 (D. Md. Mar. 25, 2002) (citing 6 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1476 (2d ed. 1990)) ("A pleading that has been amended . . . supersedes the pleading it modifies . . . . Once an amended pleading is interposed, the original pleading no longer performs any function in the case.").

Notwithstanding that general rule,

defendants should not be required to file a new motion to dismiss simply because an amended pleading was introduced while their motion was pending. If some of the defects raised in the original motion remain in the new pleading, the court simply may consider the motion as being addressed to the amended pleading. To hold otherwise would be to exalt form over substance.

6 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1476 (3d ed. 2014); see, e.g., Garrett v. Aegis Cmty. Group, LLC, No. 1:13-CV-131, 2014 WL 3572046, at *2 & n.4 (N.D.W. Va....

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