Your Honor, May I Try Again?

Childress v. Walker | 14-1204
Runnion v. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago
and Northwest Indiana | 14-1729

June 2015

In Childress v. Walker, 14-1204 and Runnion v. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, No. 14-1729, the Court considered the standards under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 for leave to amend a complaint.

In Childress, the district court dismissed a pro se litigant’s complaint sua sponte, and failed to give the plaintiff leave to amend.  The Seventh Circuit found a series of procedural and substantive issues that necessitated remand, including the district court’s failure to give the plaintiff a chance to amend the complaint. The Court explained that Rule 15 contemplates at least one attempt at amending a complaint in which the defendant (or the district court) has identified deficiencies. The Court went on to suggest that if at least one attempt at amending the complaint is not granted, there is a presumption of abuse of discretion (unless extraordinary circumstances exist such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, and futility of amendment).

Runnion, considers the same issue in a different context. Below, the district court had granted a motion to dismiss the complaint without leave to amend and immediately entered a final judgement in favor of the defendants. On appeal, the Court emphasized, as in Childress, that “[o]rdinarily . . . a plaintiff whose original complaint has been dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) should be given at least one opportunity to try to amend her complaint before the entire action is dismissed. . . . When a district court denies a plaintiff such an opportunity, its decision will be reviewed rigorously on appeal.” The Court recognized that futile amendments need not be allowed, but further observed that “[s]uch cases of clear futility at the outset of a case are rare, though, and this is not one of them.” From a strictly procedural standpoint, the defendant-appellee had also argued that because the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint was technically a post-judgment motion, the higher standard for such motions should apply. The Court rejected the argument, concluding that whether a motion for leave to amend is filed before or after entry of a final judgment, “the district court must still provide some reasons – futility, undue delay, undue prejudice, or bad faith – for denying leave to amend, and we will review that decision under the same standard we would otherwise review decisions on Rule 15(a)(2) motions for leave to amend.”