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Aus v. Salt Lake County

United States District Court, D. Utah

April 17, 2017

JASON AUS, JANIS AUS, and the ESTATE of JEREMY AUS, Plaintiffs,
v.
SALT LAKE COUNTY, JAMES WINDER, WELLCON, INC., and John and Jane Does 1-10, Defendants.

          Brooke C. Wells Magistrate Judge

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM DECISION OVERRULING PLAINTIFFS' OBJECTION AND AFFIRMING MAGISTRATE'S ORDER

          Jill N. Parrish United States District Court Judge

         Before the court is an Objection filed by Plaintiffs Jason Aus, Janis Aus, and the Estate of Jeremy Aus (“Plaintiffs”) pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). (Docket No. 30). Plaintiffs specifically object to Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells' February 1, 2017 denial of their request to add a medical malpractice claim against Defendant Wellcon, Inc. After reviewing the Objection and County Defendants'[1] Response, the court concludes that oral argument would not materially advance the resolution of this matter. See DUCivR 7-1(f). The court also concludes that the Objection must be overruled and the Magistrate's Order must be affirmed. Nevertheless, the court alters the Scheduling Order as explained below.

         BACKGROUND

         This Objection arises in the context of a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs filed their original complaint on April 4, 2016, alleging that County Defendants' failure to provide adequate medical care to Jeremy Aus while he was incarcerated led to his death. (Docket No. 2). A scheduling order was entered on August 2, 2016 and amended on November 17, 2016. (Docket Nos. 16, 20). The amended scheduling order listed the close of fact discovery as February 14, 2017 and the last day to amend pleadings and add parties as December 12, 2016. (Docket No. 20, at 2).

         On December 12, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to amend their complaint. (Docket No. 21). Plaintiffs' proposed amended complaint added Wellcon, Inc. as a defendant in the existing § 1983 action and added a new medical malpractice claim under state law against Wellcon, Inc. County Defendants stipulated to the addition of Wellcon, Inc. to the §1983 action, but opposed the addition of a medical malpractice claim against Wellcon, Inc. (Docket No. 22). County Defendants argued that the proposed medical malpractice claim was time-barred under Utah Code § 78B-3-404(1) and that addition of the malpractice claim would unduly delay proceedings. Specifically, County Defendants asserted that the addition of the medical malpractice claim would delay proceedings in at least two ways. First, Plaintiffs had not yet completed the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act's (“UHCMA”) mandatory pre-litigation procedures, which are a prerequisite to any malpractice suit against a healthcare provider. See § 78B-3-416(1)(c). County Defendants urged that this pre-litigation process could take up to six months to reach a conclusion. Second, County Defendants asserted that the close of fact discovery on February 14, 2017 was fast approaching and suggested that the addition of the malpractice claim would necessarily prolong pretrial discovery. County Defendants contended that these potential delays would be prejudicial to their interest in resolving the existing claims against them promptly.

         In response, Plaintiffs acknowledged that they had not yet obtained the required “certificate of compliance” issued by a state medical review board, which would confirm that they had “complied with all conditions precedent” to suit under the Act. See § 78B-3-418(1). Nevertheless, Plaintiffs insisted that they could obtain the required certificate in relatively short order. In fact, they predicted no more than “a few months” were required to complete the pre-litigation process. (Docket No. 23, at 6). As to any delay in pretrial discovery, Plaintiffs argued that County Defendants had already stipulated to the addition of a new party, which would necessarily prolong pretrial discovery even without the addition of the medical malpractice claim.

         Oral argument on the motion to amend was held before the Magistrate on January 27, 2017. (Docket No. 26). There, Plaintiffs insisted that they would be unable to refile the medical malpractice claim in state court because the statutory limitations period had expired. (See Docket No. 33-1, at 9). Shortly thereafter, the Magistrate issued an order permitting the addition of Defendant Wellcon, Inc. to the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, but denying leave to amend the complaint to add a medical malpractice claim against Defendant Wellcon, Inc.[2] (Docket No. 27). The Magistrate premised the denial of leave to amend on the prejudice that could befall Defendants should the malpractice claim be added:

It is uncertain how long the pre-litigation procedures will take. And even more concerning, it is unknown whether Plaintiffs will even be successful in the pre-litigation phase persuading the review board that they may bring an action. By allowing the state medical malpractices claim, these uncertainties would be introduced into this case creating prejudice for [County] Defendants. Such prejudice is magnified by the stage of the proceedings in this case. In short, based on the specific facts of this case, the court finds undue prejudice to [County] Defendants and thus it is proper to deny [Plaintiffs'] motion [to amend].

(Docket No. 27, at 4). In reaching this conclusion, the Magistrate noted that “[m]uch discovery has already taken place in this action” and that “[f]act discovery is set to close on February 14, 2017 with expert reports due the next month in March.”[3] (Id.). Based on this analysis, the Magistrate denied Plaintiffs' motion to amend in part, refusing to allow the addition of the medical malpractice claim against Defendant Wellcon, Inc.

         On February 15, 2017, Plaintiffs objected to the Magistrate's decision pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). (Docket No. 30). Pursuant to DUCivR 72-3(b), this court ordered Defendants Salt Lake County and James Winder (“County Defendants”) to respond to Plaintiffs' Objection. (Docket No. 32). County Defendants timely complied. (Docket No. 33). The court now reviews the Magistrate's decision under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs object to the Magistrate's decision and argue that she applied the wrong legal standard to find undue prejudice in this instance. (Docket No. 30, at 1, 4-6). County Defendants, of course, disagree. (Docket No. 33, at 4). In reexamining whether to allow Plaintiffs to add the medical malpractice claim, this court must “defer to the magistrate judge's ruling unless it [was] clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” See Allen v. Sybase, Inc., 468 F.3d 642, 658 (10th Cir. 2006) (alteration in original) (quoting Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 105 F.3d 562, 566 (10th Cir. 1997)); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). The “clearly erroneous” standard requires affirmance unless the reviewing court “on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Ocelot Oil Corp. v. Sparrow Indus., 847 F.2d 1458, 1464 (10th Cir. 1988) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). A magistrate's decision is “contrary to law” if the magistrate applies the wrong legal standard or misapplies the proper standard. Meacham v. Church, No. 2:08-cv-535, 2010 WL 1576711, at *1 (D. Utah Apr. 19, 2010) (unpublished) (quoting Kounelis v. Sherrer, 529 F.Supp.2d 503, 518 (D.N.J. 2008)).

         Here, Plaintiffs argue that the Magistrate's decision was contrary to law because she applied the incorrect legal standard in finding undue prejudice. Specifically, Plaintiffs argue that courts in the Tenth Circuit “typically find prejudice only when the amendment unfairly affects the defendants in terms of preparing their defense to the amendment.” (Docket No. 30, at 7 (quoting Minter v. Prime Equip. Co., 451 F.3d 1196, 1208 (10th Cir. 2006) (internal quotations omitted))). While this may be true as a general rule, the authorities cited by Plaintiffs do not definitively hold that a court may only find prejudice when the amendment might affect the defendant's case. See Minter, 451 F.3d at 1208 (“Courts typically find prejudice only when the amendment unfairly affects the defendants in terms of preparing their defense to the amendment.” (emphasis added and internal quotations omitted)). Plaintiffs have not pointed ...


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