Judge chamber with gavel

Plaintiff’s Failure to Timely Amend Complaint Results in Court Dismissing Second Filed Complaint

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

In 2016, plaintiff Richard Nybeck sued various product manufacturers in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, alleging he developed lung cancer after his occupational exposure to asbestos. Thereafter, the defendants removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1442(a)(1) and 1446.

The plaintiff initially filed a “short form” complaint which incorporated a master long form complaint by reference, instead of laying out defendant-specific facts and allegations. After the case was removed to federal court, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing the plaintiff’s short form complaint did not comply with federal pleading standards. The district court granted the defendants’ motion, but also granted the plaintiff leave to amend the complaint.

Plaintiff failed to file an amended complaint before the district court’s deadline. Five months later, the plaintiff’s counsel filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint out of time. The court denied plaintiff’s motion and dismissed the complaint.

Instead of appealing the dismissal order, the plaintiff’s counsel filed a new second complaint. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the new complaint was precluded by the district court’s dismissal order from the first complaint. The court granted the defendants’ motion and the plaintiff filed this appeal arguing that the court erred in dismissing the first complaint. The court found that since the defendants’ motion and the plaintiff’s appeal related to the dismissal of the second filed complaint, the sole issue was whether claim preclusion applied.

Claim preclusion is proper where (1) there is a final judgment on the merits; (2) the same parties are involved in both suits; and (3) the same cause of action is involved in both suits. In re Mullarkey, 536 F.3d 215, 225 (3d Cir. 2008); see also Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008). The “essential similarity of the underlying events giving rise to the various legal claims” determines whether two causes of action are the same for claim preclusion purposes. Blunt v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 767 F.3d 247, 277 (3d Cir. 2014)(emphasis omitted).

The court ultimately rejected the plaintiff’s appeal, finding that claim preclusion applied, as all three prongs of the claim preclusion test were met. The plaintiff’s failure to timely file a motion to amend meant that the initial complaint was dismissed on the merits. The other two prongs of claim preclusion (same parties, same suit) were also present. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s second complaint on claim preclusion grounds, and the plaintiff’s appeal was denied.

Read the full decision here.