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Avila-Miranda v. Reynolds

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 12, 2019

NESTOR DANIEL AVILA-MIRANDA, Plaintiff,
v.
ETHAN CALEB REYNOLDS, GREGORY DWAYNE JACKSON, and LASALLE CORRECTION TRANSPORT, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          OSTEEN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Gregory Dwayne Jackson (“Jackson”) has moved to dismiss, (Doc. 9), Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“First Am. Compl.”), (Doc. 4), pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(6). Because Jackson moves to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, (see Doc. 9), he has filed an affidavit in support of his motion, (Doc. 9-1). Defendant Ethan Caleb Reynolds (“Reynolds”) and Defendant LaSalle Correction Transport, LLC (“LaSalle”) have filed answers to the First Amended Complaint. (Def. Reynolds (Doc. 3); Def. LaSalle (Doc. 5).)[1]

         Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition to Jackson's motion to dismiss, (Doc. 15), contemporaneously filing a motion to amend his First Amended Complaint to add more detailed allegations and to set forth an additional claim for relief under Bivens. (Doc. 13; see Doc. 15 at 2.) Jackson has replied in support of his motion to dismiss. (Doc. 16.) And both Jackson and LaSalle have responded in opposition to Plaintiff's motion to amend. (Doc. 17.)

         By way of objection to Plaintiff's motion to amend, Defendants Jackson and LaSalle argue that the proposed Second Amended Complaint (“Second Am. Compl.”), (Doc. 13-1), fails to establish a plausible claim of street racing and that Jackson is entitled to absolute immunity, derivative sovereign immunity, public official immunity, and qualified immunity, (e.g., Doc. 17 at 3, 9).

         This court finds that Plaintiff's motion to amend, (Doc. 13), should be allowed. This court does not find the proposed amendments futile or any undue prejudice. The court, therefore, will deny Jackson's motion to dismiss, (Doc. 9), as moot.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his original complaint in state court against Reynolds. (See Doc. 2). He then filed the First Amended Complaint in state court, adding Jackson and LaSalle as defendants. (See First Am. Compl. (Doc. 4).) Jackson removed the matter to this court based upon diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). (Doc. 1 at 2.) Defendant Reynolds and Defendant LaSalle filed answers to the First Amended Complaint (Doc. 4). (Docs. 3, 5, respectively; see supra at 2 n.1.)

         Jackson moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(6), (Doc. 9), and filed a supporting affidavit, (Affidavit of Gregory Dwayne Jackson (“Jackson Aff.”) (Doc. 9-1)). Plaintiff responded, (Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.'s Resp.”) (Doc. 15)), and filed a supporting affidavit, in which he verified the allegations contained in the proposed Second Amended Complaint, (Affidavit of Nestor Daniel Avila-Miranda (“Miranda Aff.”) (Doc. 15-1) at 1). Contemporaneously, Plaintiff separately moved to amend the First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 13.)

         Plaintiff alleges in the First Amended Complaint that he was injured in an automobile accident on August 15, 2016, involving a prisoner transport van that was owned by LaSalle, driven by Jackson, and in which Plaintiff was a shackled passenger. (E.g., First Am. Compl. (Doc. 4) ¶¶ 10, 19.) Plaintiff alleges that he had been detained by the United States' Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and, at the time of the accident, was in the process of being transported from North Carolina to Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Plaintiff contends that Jackson and the driver of another automobile, Reynolds, became involved in a speed competition. (Id. ¶ 14.)[2] An accident between the two automobiles resulted, and Plaintiff was seriously injured. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 19.) In the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts claims of negligence, gross negligence, and punitive damages as to each of Reynolds, (id. ¶¶ 29-39, 52-57), and Jackson. (Id. ¶¶ 40-51, 58-63.) Plaintiff alleges LaSalle is vicariously liable for the actions of Jackson. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Jackson states that, “[a]t all times immediately before, during, and after the attack and accident, [Jackson] was acting under the authority, control, and supervision of [the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”)] to transport, secure, and protect the six ICE detainees being transported in the van.” (Jackson Aff. (Doc. 9-1) ¶ 19.) Jackson argues that he was “operating as an agent of ICE when the accident occurred, and he is therefore entitled to immunity from suit.” (Def. Jackson's Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Jackson's Br.”) (Doc. 10) at 6.)

         Plaintiff's proposed Second Amended Complaint contains additional allegations further describing the encounter between Jackson and Reynolds and the accident between the vehicles. (See, e.g., Second Am. Compl. (Doc. 13-1) ¶¶ 20-28.) The proposed Second Amended Complaint restates the causes of action from the First Amended Complaint, though the Second Amended Complaint does not allege punitive damages as freestanding causes of action, and adds a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 84-94.) Jackson and LaSalle filed a response in opposition to the motion to amend. (Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. to File Second Amended Complaint (“Defs.' Resp.” (Doc. 17).)[3]

         Additional facts will be addressed as necessary in the analysis.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1) allows a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course under certain circumstances not applicable here. Otherwise, “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “The court should freely give leave when justice so requires[, ]” id., denying leave “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.” Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Defendants argue that the motion to amend should be denied on grounds of futility and prejudice. (Defs.' Resp. (Doc. 17) at 2.)

         With respect to futility, leave to amend “should only be denied . . . when the proposed amendment is clearly insufficient or frivolous on its face.” Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 510 (4th Cir. 1986) (citations omitted). “An amendment would be futile if the amended claim would fail to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Syngenta Crop Prot., Inc. v. E.P.A., 222 F.R.D. 271, 278 (M.D. N.C. 2004) (citation omitted). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989).

         A. Futility

         Defendants argue that the proposed Second Amended Complaint is futile because: (i) it fails to state a plausible claim against them for a violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-141.3, (ii) it fails to state a plausible claim that Jackson was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's safety, and (iii) Jackson is entitled to immunity. (See Defs.' Resp. (Doc. 17) at 3-10.)

         1. Speed Competition, N.C. Gen. ...


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