LOUISIANA – The plaintiff, Victor Michel, filed suit in Louisiana State Civil Court against 29 defendants on July 28, 2017. Specifically, the plaintiff sought damages from the defendant, Ford Motor Company, as an asbestos miner, manufacturer, seller, supplier, or distributor. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that between 1968 and 1969, he worked as a mechanic at Crescent Ford in New Orleans, Louisiana where he conducted routine maintenance on vehicles, including changing brakes and clutches and overhauling engines. The plaintiff also alleged employer and premises liability claims against another defendant, United Auto Supply of Syracuse, Inc. On May 8, 2018, the case was removed to the United States district court invoking the court’s diversity jurisdiction. The plaintiff filed a motion to remand, but the court denied the motion. The plaintiff died on June 12, 2018 and his children were substituted as the plaintiffs. Trial was scheduled for February 19, 2019. Ford Motor Company remained the sole defendant.
On January 21, 2019, the plaintiffs sought leave to file a first supplemental and amended complaint. That motion was granted. The plaintiffs clarified their assertion of strict product liability claims against the defendants and amended their complaint to assert allegations of strict liability and negligence against Ford Motor Company as the employer of Victor Michel. Further, the court found that because Ford Motor Company’s corporate representative testified that Crescent Ford was not an independently owned dealership but was wholly owned by Ford Motor Company, Ford Motor Company was potentially liable under the theory of negligence and strict liability for exposing Victor Michel to asbestos while on its premises. On April 11, 2019, the district court stipulated in its scheduling order that pleadings have been completed and no further amendments to pleadings, cross claims, or counter claims are permitted.
However, based on newly acquired discovery, the plaintiffs proposed to file a second supplemental and amended complaint that sought to add an additional defendant, Ford Leasing Development Company, LLC, as the employer or premise owner of Crescent Ford Truck. The defendant Ford Motor Company opposed the motion.
The court noted that the pleading deadline imposed by the scheduling order lapsed without extension. Therefore, Rule 16(b) governs amendment of pleadings in this matter, and good cause must be established for their untimely amendment before the liberal Rule 15(a) standard applies.
The court noted in order to determine whether good cause exists to allow amended pleadings, the court must first consider the movants’ explanation for its failure to move for leave to amend. The court was not convinced by the plaintiffs’ explanation regarding the newly discovered evidence as the plaintiffs failed to apprise the court of when exactly they received the newly discovered evidence. As such, the court only slightly weighted this factor in favor of allowing the amendment. Next, the court considered the importance of the amendment and weighed this factor heavily in favor of allowing the amendment. The court noted that Ford Motor Company barely addressed any sort of prejudice that allowing the amended complaint would cause them, instead focusing on the potential prejudice caused to Ford Leasing Development Company, LLC, which Ford Motor Company already conceded is a separate legal entity. Accordingly, considering the totality of Rule 16(b) factors, the court found good cause existed for the plaintiffs’ untimely amendment. The court then turned to review Rule 15(a).
The court noted that there was no evidence of undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive from the plaintiffs. However, the defendant, Ford Motor Company, contended that the amendment is futile, as plaintiffs’ key liability evidence, the decedent’s deposition, will be inadmissible against Ford Leasing Development Company, LLC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 32(a) and Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(1). Ford Motor Company contended that because Ford Leasing Development Company, LLC was not a party to the case, it was not present or represented at Victor Michel’s deposition, and did not even have notice that the deposition occurred. Therefore, the rules bar admission of the deposition testimony against Ford Leasing Development Company. The court noted that the admissibility of the of the decedent’s deposition against Ford Leasing Development Company, LLC is an issue for the district judge and not the undersigned United States magistrate judge. Accordingly, the court did not find the addition of Ford Leasing Development Company, LLC as a new party futile on these grounds.
The court then considered the futility pursuant to the standard for garde under Louisiana law. Courts in the Eastern District of Louisiana have held that ownership of the land or building is insufficient to state a plausible strict liability or custodial liability claim when plaintiff fails to allege the owner of the land or building had custody over and operated the objects allegedly causing harm. Here, however, the plaintiffs have specifically alleged “Victor Michel’s exposure to the asbestos-containing products in garde of Ford Leasing Development Company, LLC was a substantial factor and contributed in causing damages to Plaintiffs.” Therefore, the court found that the plaintiffs have met the low bar needed to amend under Rule 15(a).
Consequently, the plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file second supplemental and amended complaint was granted.
Read the case decision here.