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Sommerfield v. City of Chicago

April 29, 2008

DETLEF SOMMERFIELD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The Executive Committee transferred this case from Judge Filip to this court on March 6, 2008. Before the court is an objection to Magistrate Judge Cole's order issued on March 4, 2008 (the "Order"), in which Judge Cole denied the plaintiff's "motion to allow [a] second amended complaint." The plaintiff, Detlef Sommerfield ("Sommerfield"), timely filed objections to the Order.*fn1 See Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(a); id. at 72. For the reasons stated below, Sommerfield's objections are sustained in part and overruled in part.

ANALYSIS

With the proposed amendment, Sommerfield sought to add several new counts against the defendant, the City of Chicago (the "City"), and against a previously-dismissed defendant, Sergeant Lawrence Knasiak ("Knasiak"). Sommerfield asks the court to review Judge Cole's denial order, but he mixes the tests for de novo and clear error review, ultimately setting forth arguments in a way that anticipates that this court "may freely reject the magistrate's recommendation." Pl.'s Mot. at 4. The City, on the other hand, advocates for a clear error standard. Def.'s Resp. at 2-3. Therefore, as an initial matter, the court must determine the correct standard of review.

Although courts differ in their treatment of a motion to amend, in the Seventh Circuit a motion to amend is a nondispositive motion for purposes of Rule 72. See Hall v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 469 F.3d 590, 595 (7th Cir. 2006) (finding a magistrate judge's denial of a motion to amend on grounds of futility to be nondispositive and subject to review for clear error by the district court); Wingerter v. Chester Quarry Co., 185 F.3d 657, 660 (7th Cir. 1999) (concluding a magistrate judge ruled on a motion for leave to amend "pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), which provides that the district court may designate a magistrate judge to hear and determine, with certain exceptions not relevant here, any nondispositive pretrial matter."); Hart v. Dow Chem., 95 C 1811, 1997 WL 627645, *4 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 1997) ("A motion to amend is a nondispositive motion, including a motion to amend to join new parties."). Where a magistrate judge has decided a nondispositive pretrial matter, "[t]he district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); accord 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Thus, the correct standard of review is for clear error, which "means that the district court can overturn the magistrate judge's ruling only if the district court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997).

Judge Cole, following a referral from the district court, exercised his discretion to deny leave to amend pursuant to Rule 15, which requires a court to "freely give leave when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2); Guise v. BMW Mortgage, LLC, 377 F.2d 795, 801 (7th Cir. 2004) ("The . . . court's decision to grant or deny a motion for leave to file an amended pleading is a matter purely within the sound discretion of the . . . court."). Indeed, "[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason -- such as 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 amendment, etc. -- the leave sought should, as the rules require, be 'freely given.'" Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); accord Guise, 377 F.2d at 801 ("[A] district court may deny leave to amend on the grounds or undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, or futility."). With this in mind, the court now turns to Sommerfield's arguments.

Sommerfield contends that Judge Cole erred in concluding that: (1) Sommerfield could have asserted the causes of action relating to training and investigation earlier; (2) the amendment would considerably expand discovery, which is scheduled to close on May 16, 2008; (3) the City would suffer undue prejudice from the amendment, even if it was delayed. This court's task on a Rule 72 motion is to determine whether " any part of the order . . . is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law," and not to decide de novo disputed issues relating to the merits of the motion. Judge Cole reviewed the requests to add Knasiak and to add claims against the City separately, and this court will do the same.

A. Claims Against Knasiak

Judge Cole refused to allow Sommerfield to add Knasiak as a defendant reasoning that:

(1) Judge Filip has dismissed Knasiak from the case and that he, as a magistrate judge, had no authority to overrule a dismissal order of an Article III judge; and (2) bringing Knasiak back in would expand discovery considerably because he would have a right to take discovery independently of that already taken by the City. Tr. at 36:13-37:5. Sommerfield asserts there would be no prejudice as all necessary discovery has already been taken and that Judge Cole had authority to add Knasiak by virtue of Judge Filip's referral of the motion to amend.

The proposed § 1981 and § 1983 counts against Knasiak, Sommerfield's former supervisor, are based on Knasiak's alleged discriminatory treatment of Sommerfield. Originally, Sommerfield brought a single count, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, against Knasiak. Judge Filip dismissed the count as time-barred on February 14, 2007 and consequently dismissed Knasiak as a defendant. Based on the same facts, Sommerfield now seeks to add Knasiak back into the case by asserting federal claims. Sommerfield admits that Judge Filip, in August 2007, denied a motion to amend to add § 1981 and § 1983 counts against Knasiak because discovery was about to close. He now asks the court to reach a different conclusion because Judge Cole has extended the close of discovery, arguing that, because Knasiak is represented by City of Chicago attorneys, all the discovery needed has been taken.

Sommerfield's argument that adding Knasiak would not expand discovery is unpersuasive. Knasiak was dismissed from the case in February 2007 on a motion filed before discovery got underway. As Judge Cole noted, Knasiak has a right to take his own discovery and does not have to rely on that taken by the City on its own behalf.*fn2 A review of the docket shows that discovery has been dragging on in this case for some eighteen months with multiple extensions. The current cut off for fact discovery is May 16, 2008. Adding Knasiak at this time would delay discovery and subject the City to additional discovery from a new defendant. Additionally, Sommerfield did not file to add Knasiak until February 21, 2008, many months after the initial discovery extensions were granted and over a year after Knasiak was dismissed from the case. In light of these facts, Judge Cole's discretionary decision to disallow the addition of Knasiak because of prejudice as a result of the expansion of discovery was reasonable. Therefore, Sommerfield's objection with respect to the addition of Knasiak as a defendant is overruled and the court does not reach the issues of whether the prior dismissal from the case bars bringing Knasiak back in or whether the claims relate back to the original filing.

B. Claims Against The City

The new counts against the City are Monell claims*fn3 that relate to an alleged policy of inadequate training and investigation. Judge Cole denied the motion to amend following argument, but without full briefing by the parties.*fn4 The transcript discloses vigorous discussion between the parties and the court regarding the merits of the motion. Sommerfield contends he first gained sufficient facts to support these claims in depositions, originally noticed for September 13, 2007, but taken in January and February 2008 after the City failed to identify and produce witnesses in a timely manner. Counsel for Sommerfield argued that he ...


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