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Michel v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 20, 2019


         SECTION “R” (4)



         Before the Court is plaintiffs' motion to amend their complaint to add premise and employer liability claims, as well as survival and wrongful death claims.[1] Because plaintiffs have shown good cause and any prejudice to defendants is cured by a continuance, the Court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Victor Michel's asbestos exposure during his work as a mechanic and generator service technician.[2] Michel contracted peritoneal mesothelioma after a career that included performing work as a mechanic on engines and brakes.[3] He filed this action in state court on July 28, 2017 against Ford Motor Company and many other asbestos suppliers, claiming negligence and that defendants' products were unreasonably dangerous.[4] Defendants removed the case to federal court on May 8, 2018.[5]On June 12, 2018, Michel died.[6] The Court substituted his survivors as plaintiffs on July 10, 2018.[7] As of January 25, 2019, the only defendant remaining in the case is Ford. Plaintiffs have filed a motion seeking to amend their complaint.[8] Ford opposes the motion except as to plaintiffs' survival claims.[9]


         A party seeking to amend its complaint after the deadline for amendments to pleadings in the Court's scheduling order must show “good cause” for the amendment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b). S&W Enters., LLC. v. SouthTrust Bank of Ala., NA, 315 F.3d 533, 53-36 (5th Cir. 2003). “The good cause standard requires the ‘party seeking relief to show that the deadlines cannot reasonably be met despite the diligence of the party needing the extension.'” Id. at 535 (quoting 6A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1522.1 (2d ed. 1990)). Whether to grant or deny a continuance is within the sound discretion of the trial court. United States v. Alix, 86 F.3d 429, 434 (5th Cir. 1996). The Court's “judgment range is exceedingly wide” when making scheduling decisions, for it “must consider not only the facts of the particular case but also all of the demands on counsel's time and the court's.” Streber v. Hunter, 221 F.3d 701, 736 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting HC Gun & Knife Shows, Inc. v. City of Houston, 201 F.3d 544, 549-50 (5th Cir. 2000)). Courts specifically consider “(1) the explanation for the failure to [timely move for leave to amend]; (2) the importance of the [amendment]; (3) potential prejudice in allowing the [amendment]; and (4) the availability of a continuance to cure such prejudice.” S&W Enters., 315 F.3d at 536 (quoting Reliance Ins. Co. v. La. Land & Exploration Co., 110 F.3d 253, 257 (5th Cir. 1997)) (alternations in original).

         If the Court finds that plaintiff has demonstrated good cause to modify the scheduling order, it then applies the more liberal standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) to determine whether to grant the motion. Id. Under Rule 15(a), the Court “freely give[s] leave [to amend] when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). The Supreme Court has held that “[i]f the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Leave to amend, however, “is by no means automatic.” Halbert v. City of Sherman, 33 F.3d 526, 529 (5th Cir. 1994). The Court considers multiple factors, including “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, [and] futility of amendment.” Foman, 371 U.S. at 182.


         A. Survival and Wrongful Death Claims

         Plaintiffs seek to amend their complaint to add survival and wrongful death claims that arose when Victor Michel died on June 12, 2018.[10] Ford has been on notice of these claims from the time that the Court substituted Michel's survivors as plaintiffs on July 10, 2018.[11] In addition, Ford does not contest plaintiffs' request to amend its complaint to add these claims on the basis of Rule 16(b).[12] The claims are essential to plaintiffs' case. The Court therefore finds good cause to amend the Court's scheduling order under Rule 16(b), and it finds that allowing plaintiffs to add these claims is in the interest of justice under Rule 15(a).

         Ford argues that plaintiffs' wrongful death claims are barred by the Louisiana Worker's Compensation Act (LWCA).[13] A “wrongful death action does not arise until the victim dies, ” Taylor v. Giddens, 618 So.2d 834, 840 (La. 1993), and mesothelioma is a covered disease under the current LWCA. See Austin v. Abney Mills, Inc., 824 So.2d 1137, 1140 (La. 2002). But whether Michel was covered by the LWCA depends on whether he was Ford's statutory employee. Ford contests whether Michel was indeed its employee.[14] The Court therefore cannot definitively say whether the wrongful death claims are barred by the LWCA. Accordingly, the Court grants plaintiffs leave to add wrongful death claims.

         B. Employer Liability and Premises Liability Claims

         Plaintiffs argue that they should be allowed to amend the petition to add employer liability and premises liability claims because plaintiffs only learned of Ford's ownership of the business where Michel was employed partway through discovery.[15] Ford argues that allowing plaintiffs to add strict liability premise and employer liability claims at this stage of the case would be prejudicial because Ford has not prepared its case to defend these claims.[16]

         The Court recognizes that premises claims may require discovery on issues beyond the scope of product liability claims. But these claims are important to plaintiffs' case, and prejudice to Ford can be cured by a continuance to allow an opportunity for additional discovery. The Court therefore finds good cause to modify the scheduling order under Rule 16(b). In addition, the Court finds no evidence of bad faith or dilatory motive, and it finds that plaintiffs have shown a ...

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