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Holtz v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 27, 2019

Alec Jordan Holtz, Petitioner,
Charles L Ryan, et al., Respondents.



         Pending before the Court is Petitioner's appeal (Doc. 55) of the Magistrate Judge's Order (Doc. 50) denying his renewed motion to amend his petition (Doc. 48).

         I. Legal Standard

         When a Magistrate Judge issues a pretrial order, this Court may reconsider the order “where it has been shown that the magistrate's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Barten v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. CZV-12-0399-TUC-CKJ, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133569, at *10 (D. Ariz. Sept. 23, 2014) (quoting Doe v. Kamehameha Schools/Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, 596 F.3d 1036, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010)). The Court will overturn a Magistrate Judge's decision only if it is the result of “clear error.” Maisonville v. F2 America, Inc., 902 F.2d 746, 747 (9th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Under this standard of review, the Magistrate Judge's decision is “not subject to de novo determination, ” and the Court “may not simply substitute its judgment for that of the deciding court.” Grimes v. City and Cnty. of San Francisco, 951 F.2d 236, 241 (9th Cir. 1991). In order to find clear error, the Court must have a “definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 242 (2001).

         II. Claims of Error

          Petitioner makes two procedural arguments in this appeal: one under the Local Rules of Civil Procedure and one under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. First, Petitioner argues that, under the Local Rules, the Magistrate Judge denied his motion before he had time to Reply. Petitioner argues that waiting for his Reply (which was due June 4, 2019, but not filed until June 17, 2019) would have changed the result because he would have discussed Ramirez v. Cty. of San Bernardino, 806 F.3d 1002, 1006 (9th Cir. 2015) (holding that a stipulation to amend the complaint did not “count” as the amendment as a matter of course under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 15(a)(1)(B) nor preclude the as a matter of course amendment at a later time). However, this argument is without merit because Petitioner cited to Ramirez in his motion to amend (Doc. 48) so citing to it again would not have impacted the decision. Thus, relief on this basis is denied.

         Second, Petitioner argues that he should be able to amend his habeas petition “as a matter of course” under Rule 15(a)(1)(B).[1] To reach this result, Petitioner interprets several ambiguous Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in his favor.

         One, Petitioner argues that his first amended petition (Doc. 12) should not “count” as his one “as a matter of course” amendment because he amended only because the Court required it. Two, Petitioner seems to argue that Respondents supplementing their first answer/response (Doc. 44) to the habeas petition triggered a new 21 days for his “as a matter of course” amendment because he never “used up” his “as a matter of course” amendment previously. Three, Petitioner impliedly argues that while the Court requiring him to amend his petition cannot “count” against him under Rule 15 (i.e. count as his “as a matter of course” amendment), the Court requiring Respondents to supplement their answer should count against them under Rule 15 for purposes of triggering a new 21 days for Petitioner to “use up” his “as a matter of course” amendment.

         III. “Responsive Pleading”

          Preliminarily, the Court notes that some courts have held that habeas petitions are not subject to Rule 15(a)(1)(B). See Ramos v. Poore, No. 3:15-CV-518 (VAB), 2017 WL 1362017, at *2 (D. Conn. Apr. 11, 2017) (“Those types of pleadings to which a responsive pleading is not required include an answer to a complaint and a habeas petition. See Argraves v. United States, No. 3:1 l-CV-1421, 2013 WL 1856527 at *2 (D. Conn. May 2, 2013) (applying Rule 15(a)(1)(A) to request for leave to amend habeas petition and finding ‘Rule 15(a)(1)(B) is inapplicable to habeas petitions because responsive pleadings are not required.'”); compare Rule 5(a) of the Rules Governing 2254 Proceedings (“[t]he respondent is not required to answer the petition unless a judge so orders”) with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a) (requiring a defendant to serve a responsive pleading without any order of the Court).

         To be sure, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that Rule 15 as a whole applies to habeas cases. James v. Giles, 221 F.3d 1074, 1077-78 (9th Cir. 2000); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2242. However, this Court has not located a case wherein the Court of Appeals specifically addressed whether a “responsive pleading” is filed in habeas cases such that the 21-day amendment as a matter of course portion of Rule 15(a)(1)(B) is ever triggered. Nonetheless, for purposes of this Order, this Court has assumed Rule 15 applies in its entirety. See Morrison v. Mahoney, 399 F.3d 1042, 1046 n.5 (9th Cir. 2005).

         IV. Amendment as a Matter of Course

          One, the Court disagrees that Petitioner amending his Petition by sua sponte Court Order does not “count” as his as a matter of course amendment. In the case on which Petitioner relies, Ramirez, the complaint was amended the first time by stipulation of the parties and therefore did not “count” as an amendment as a matter of course under Rule 15(a)(1)(B). 806 F.3d at 1006. Here, the Court sua sponte gave Petitioner an opportunity to amend because his Petition was unwieldy and inconsistent with Rule 8. (Doc. 9 at 2). Specifically, this Court is required to review habeas petitions forthwith after they are filed. Doc. 9 at 2, n.1.[2] Here, the Court discharged that duty and sua sponte ordered Petitioner to amend. (Doc. 9). This Court interprets “with the Court's leave” as used in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) as anticipating a request from the plaintiff; not a statutorily mandated screening function. In other words, the Court did not really give Petitioner “leave” to amend, as he correctly points out he never requested such leave, but instead ordered him to amend or his case would be dismissed. This sua sponte requirement of amendment seems to this Court to “count” as the one-time amendment as a matter of course. Therefore, this Court overrules Petitioner's objection that he should be permitted to amend because he has preserved his as a matter of course amendment opportunity by filing a deficient petition originally that the Court was forced to dismiss upon screening.

         Moreover, another distinguishing factor between Ramirez and this case is that Ramirez was a civil case subject to a Rule 16 order. Thus, for purposes of managing its docket, the district court in Ramirez could have set a deadline for amending the complaint.[3]Conversely, habeas cases are not governed by a Rule 16 scheduling order which would make Rule 15, by Petitioner's interpretation, temporally limitless. Specifically, in this case, Petitioner claims his 21 days for his as a matter of course amendment expired May 14, 2019, almost two ...

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