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When Justice So Requires

The Federal Rules reject such technical impediments to reaching the merits the true facts of the case. The liberal amendment standard in Rule 15(a)(2) reflects the view that parties should not be barred from proving a claim or defense simply because they had not pleaded it on the first day of the lawsuit. If, in the development of the case, counsel develop a new legal theory, or become aware of new facts that might support recovery, they should be able to restate the positions in their pleadings, so that the trial can be based on this fuller understanding of their cases. The merits should rule the pleadings, rather than the pleadings constraining the merits. “The thrust of Rule 15 is . . . that cases should be tried on their merits rather than the technicalities of pleadings.” General Elec. Co. v. Sargent & Lundy, 916 F.2d 1119, 1130 (6th Cir. 1990). Otherwise, in the words of one critic of common law procedural technicality, “substance [would be] secreted in the interstices of procedure.”[1]

Here are some representative examples of cases in which courts, under Rule 15(a)(2)’s liberal standard, have held that a motion to amend should be granted, even though the amendment was offered well into the litigation.

  • In King v. Cooke, 26 F.3d 720, 723-724 (7th Cir. 1994), an amendment was allowed to change admissions to denials, where the course of the litigation indicated that the defendants had contested the allegations during the litigation and the plaintiff had not relied on the admissions or changed its conduct based on the admissions.
  • In Harrison v. Rubin, 174 F.3d 249, 252 (D.C. Cir. 1999), the Court of Appeals held that it was an abuse of discretion to deny an amendment where the claims and defenses under the amended claim required essentially the same proof as under the original pleading. Since the proof would be the same, the opposing party would suffer no prejudice from the delay in offering the amendment.
  • In Material Supply Intern. v. Sunmatch Industries, 146 F.3d 983, 991 (D.C. Cir. 1998), it was held an abuse of discretion to deny an amendment to add a statute of limitations defense. Although the amendment was offered after close of discovery and just prior to trial, the plaintiff was on notice of the defense from defendant’s argument in an earlier memo, and no discovery was needed to prepare to try the limitations issue.
  • In Rachman Bag Co., Inc. v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 230, 234 (2d Cir. 1995), it was held proper to allow an amendment to plead fraud, despite the passage of four years, where the amending party had pleaded fraud before, but the court had redirected parties to focus on other issues, and no showing was made of prejudice to the opposing party or bad faith.
  • In Security Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Kevin Tucker & Associates, Inc., 64 F.3d 1001, 1009 (6th Cir. 1995 ), it was held an abuse of discretion to deny an amendment where the case had been dormant during most of the period of delay in seeking amendment. The case remained in the early stages of discovery, and no cut-off for discovery or trial date had been set.

[1]. Sir Henry Maine, Dissertations on Early Law and Custom (Arno Press 1975), 389.

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