United States District Court, D. Maine
RECOMMENDED DECISION ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTIONS TO AMEND AND DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS
John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge
In this action, Plaintiff Arlene Edson, a ward of the State of Maine residing at the Riverview Psychiatric Center, alleges Defendants violated her rights through the unreasonable use of force. In response to Plaintiff’s complaint, certain Defendants filed motions to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 6, 9, 10, 11, 13.) Plaintiff subsequently moved to amend her complaint (ECF No. 19), and to amend the caption to remove multiple defendants from the action. (ECF No. 20.) I recommend the Court grant Plaintiff’s motions,  and dismiss as moot Defendants’ motions.
Plaintiff initially filed suit in Maine Superior Court. When Defendant Jamie Meader, citing federal question jurisdiction, removed the action to this court (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1), the remaining Defendants either explicitly consented to the removal, or did not object to the removal. In response to Plaintiff’s complaint, Defendants Jay Harper, Paul LePage, David Lovejoy, Mary Mayhew, Michelle Paradis, Colleen Cutler, Jamie Meader, Alexander Raev, Ph.D., Julia Wise, PA-C, and Jason Turner filed motions to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 6, 9, 10, 11, 13.)
After the filing of the motions to dismiss, Plaintiff moved to amend her complaint (ECF No. 19) and to amend the caption of the case. (ECF No. 20.) Through her motions and subsequent filings, Plaintiff asserts that the only movant against whom she intends to proceed is Defendant Mayhew. As to the other movants, Plaintiff concedes she has no evidentiary support for the asserted claims. Plaintiff maintains that the Court should first grant her motions, and then dismiss as moot the motions to dismiss. The moving Defendants ask the Court instead to grant their motions to dismiss with prejudice. (ECF Nos. 26, 31, 32, 33.)
Because Plaintiff did not file her motion to amend within 21 days of the motions to dismiss,  Plaintiff’s motions require Defendants’ consent or leave of the Court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B)(2). Given that Plaintiff filed her motions within days of the deadline to amend as a matter of course, ordinarily, leave to amend would be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2) (“The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.”) Plaintiff’s motions, however, must be considered in the context of Defendants’ motions to dismiss.
Plaintiff’s motions are in essence her request to dismiss her claims against the moving Defendants without prejudice. Because Defendants responded to Plaintiff’s complaint with the motions to dismiss, Plaintiff cannot voluntarily dismiss her claims against the movants without a court order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2). In an effort to preclude possible future litigation and perhaps in an attempt to secure “prevailing party” status, Defendants urge the Court to act first on the motions to dismiss, and to dismiss with prejudice the claims against Defendants. The central issue generated by the pending motions, therefore, is whether the claims against the moving Defendants should be dismissed with prejudice or without prejudice.
The First Circuit’s discussion of Rule 41 in Colon-Cabrera v. Esso Standard Oil Co. (Puerto Rico), 723 F.3d 82 (1st Cir. 2013) is instructive. First, the Court observed that under Rule 41(a)(2), “dismissal without prejudice is the norm, ‘unless the court finds that the defendant will suffer legal prejudice.’” Id. at 88 (quoting P.R. Shipping Auth. v. Leith, 668 F.2d 46, 50 (1st Cir. 1981)). In addition, the Court noted: “The mere prospect of a subsequent lawsuit does not constitute such prejudice.” Id. (citing Doe v. Urohealth Sys., Inc., 216 F.3d 157, 160 (1st Cir. 2000)).
The Court then discussed the factors a court should consider when determining whether to dismiss a case with prejudice or without prejudice under Rule 41(a)(2):
Voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2) is conditioned on court permission to protect the nonmovant from unfair treatment. Such unfairness can take numerous forms, including the defendant’s effort and expense of preparation for trial, excessive delay and lack of diligence on the part of the plaintiff in prosecuting the action, insufficient explanation of the need to take a dismissal, and the fact that a motion for summary judgment has been filed by the defendant. For example, it is appropriate to consider whether a party proposes to dismiss the case at a late stage of pretrial proceedings, or seeks to avoid an imminent adverse ruling. A plaintiff should not be permitted to force a defendant to incur substantial costs in litigating an action, and then simply dismiss his own case and compel the defendant to litigate a wholly new proceeding.
Id. (citations and internal quotations omitted).
Here, Defendants primarily cite the prospect of future litigation as the prejudice they would suffer in the event the Court dismissed the claims without prejudice. As the First Circuit recognized, however, the potential for future litigation is not a sufficient reason to dismiss a claim with prejudice.
The First Circuit’s analysis reveals that the stage of the proceedings at which a plaintiff seeks to dismiss a claim is significant. As a general rule, the closer the matter is to trial and the greater a defendant’s commitment of time and resources to the defense of the claim, the more likely the dismissal would be with prejudice. In this case, Plaintiff seeks to dismiss the moving Defendants very early in the process and before the parties have engaged in any discovery. Although the pendency of Defendants’ motions to dismiss is also a consideration, insofar as “dismissal without prejudice” is the norm, the timing of Plaintiff’s ...