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Williams v. Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 18, 2018

JUNIOR WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
KAWASAKI MOTORS CORP., U.S.A., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFFS' AMENDED MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT (DKT. NO. 114)

          KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the court on the motion on behalf of the estate of Junior Williams for leave to file a fourth complaint (“the Motion”) which would add wrongful death claims and a survival action on behalf of the estate of Junior Williams through Treslan Williams, who has been duly appointed the representative of Junior Williams's estate. The proposed amended complaint would also add loss of consortium claims on behalf of Junior Williams's daughter through her mother, Tierra Sherman, who has been appointed her conservator. Finally, the proposed complaint would substitute as plaintiff Treslan Williams as personal representative of the estate of Junior Williams (Dkt. No. 114-1). Defendants Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. (collectively, Kawasaki or Kawasaki defendants) oppose so much of the Motion as seeks to add a wrongful death claim on behalf of Junior Williams's estate and loss of consortium claims on behalf of his daughter and assert that Tierra Sherman would be an improper plaintiff in a wrongful death or survival action because Junior Williams's daughter is not an administrator or representative of his estate. Kawasaki does not oppose the addition of the survival action in Count V of the proposed complaint or the substitution of Treslan Williams as plaintiff on behalf of the estate of Junior Williams. Defendant Springfield Motor Sports LLC opposes so much of the Motion as seeks to add a wrongful death claim to the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS so much of the Motion as seeks to add Count IV for wrongful death to the extent the claim is asserted on behalf of Junior Williams's estate, DENIES so much of the Motion as seeks to add loss of consortium claims through Tierra Sherman on behalf of Junior Williams's daughter in Counts I-V, and GRANTS so much of the Motion as seeks to substitute as plaintiff Treslan Williams as personal representative of the estate of Junior Williams and to add a Survival Action on behalf of the estate of Junior Williams.

         II. Relevant Background

         Junior Williams filed his initial complaint in the Hampden County Superior Court on July 26, 2016 (Dkt. No. 10 at 1). He filed an amended complaint on September 17, 2016, and a second amended complaint on December 12, 2016 (Dkt. Nos. 17, 44). The initial and amended complaints asserted that Junior Williams was severely injured in a July 30, 2013 accident that occurred while he was riding a Kawasaki motorcycle in Springfield (e.g., Dkt. No. 44 at 2, ¶ 5). His second amended complaint stated claims against all defendants of strict products liability (Count I); negligence (Count II); and breach of warranty (Count III) (Dkt. No. 44). The Motion represents that Junior Williams “passed away on or about July 27, 2018” (Dkt. No. 114 at 1). It is alleged, in the proposed amended complaint, that the death of Junior Williams was “directly related” to the motorcycle accident that occurred five years earlier and that he “took his own life as a result of his severe burn, emotional and psychological injuries” (Dkt. No. 114-1 at 3, ¶ 6). Documents submitted to the court show that Treslan Williams has been duly appointed as personal representative of the estate of Junior Williams (Dkt. No. 114-2) and that Tierra Sherman has been duly appointed a conservator of Junior Williams's minor daughter (Dkt. No. 114-3).

         Because there is no dispute that Treslan Williams as representative of the estate of Junior Williams should be substituted as the plaintiff in this action, the court refers to Treslan Williams as Plaintiff hereinafter.

         III. Discussion

A motion to amend a complaint will be treated differently depending on its timing and the context in which it is filed. . . . The default rule mandates that leave to amend is to be “freely given when justice so requires” . . . unless the amendment “would be futile, or reward, inter alia, undue or intended delay.” As a case progresses, and the issues are joined, the burden on a plaintiff seeking to amend a complaint becomes more exacting. . . . Once a scheduling order is in place [if leave to amend is sought after the cut-off date established in the order], the liberal default rule is replaced by the more demanding “good cause” standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b).

Steir v. Girl Scouts of the USA, 383 F.3d 7, 11-12 (2004) (internal citations omitted).

         “[T]he ‘spirit of the rule' dictates a preference for decisions ‘on the merits, not because of missteps by counsel in pleading.'” J.S. McCarthy Co. v. Braus Diecutting & Converting Equip., Inc., 226 F.R.D. 14, 17 (D. Me. 2005) (quoting Allendale Mut. Ins. Co. v. Rutherford, 178 F.R.D. 1, 3 (D. Me. 1998) (quoting Sweeney v. Keystone Provident Life Ins. Co., 578 F.Supp. 31, 34 (D. Mass. 1983))); see also Torres-Alamo v. Puerto Rico, 502 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2007) (Rule 15(a) embodies a liberal standard for judging a motion for leave to file an amended complaint). “In considering a motion for leave to amend . . . the trial court must first consider whether the proposed new claims are futile[.] . . . If the claims are not futile, then the trial court must consider whether, given the timing of the motion for leave to amend, such prejudice to the defendant would arise from granting the motion that the motion should be denied on that ground.” Smith v. Mitre Corp., 949 F.Supp. 943, 945 (D. Mass. 1997) (citations omitted). “In determining whether the plaintiffs unduly delayed in filing their motion to amend, the focus . . . is on whether allowing the amendment would unfairly prejudice the defendants.” Bond Opportunity Fund II, LLC v. Heffernan, 340 F.Supp.2d 146, 155-56 (D.R.I. 2004); see Mitre Corp., 949 F.Supp. at 945. “Amendment of pleadings is largely a matter within the discretion of the district court.” Guest-Tek Interactive Entm't Inc. v. Pullen, 731 F.Supp.2d 80, 92 (D. Mass. 2010).

         A. Wrongful Death Claims

         The defendants oppose Plaintiff's quest to add wrongful death claims following Junior Williams's suicide on grounds of futility. “If leave to amend is sought before discovery is complete and neither party has moved for summary judgment, the accuracy of the ‘futility' label is gauged by reference to the liberal criteria of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Hatch v. Dept. for Children, Youth & Their Families, 274 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 2001); see Adorno v. Crowley Towing & Transp. Co., 443 F.3d 122, 126 (1st Cir. 2006) (“In assessing futility, the district court must apply the standard which applies to motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).”). Thus, in this context, “[f]utility means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Glassman v. Computervision Corp., 90 F.3d 617, 623 (1st Cir. 1996); see also Rose v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 417, 421 (6th Cir. 2000) (“a proposed amendment is futile only if it could not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss”).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a “'complaint must contain enough factual material to raise a right to relief above the speculative level … and state a facially plausible legal claim, '” Guerra-Delgado v. Popular, Inc., 774 F.3d 776, 780 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011)), “accept[ing] as true well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draw[ing] all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor. Id. (citing Tasker v. DHL Rev. Sav. Plan, 621 F.3d 34, 38 (1st Cir. 2010)). In resolving a motion to dismiss, the court employs a two-step approach. Medina-Velázquez v. Hernández-Gregorat, 767 F.3d 103, 108 (1st Cir. 2014) (citing Ocasio-Hernández, 640 F.3d at 12).

First, [the court] “must separate the complaint's factual allegations (which must be accepted as true) from its conclusory legal allegations (which need not be credited).” A.G. ex. rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). Second, [the court] “must determine whether the remaining factual content allows a reasonable inference that ...

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