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Amendment of Pleadings – A Few Points to Ponder

2 min

Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for making amendments to the pleadings. Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course, within 21 days after serving it or within 21 days of service of a responsive pleading. If however, the party misses these deadlines, the party may either obtain written consent of the opposing party to amend the pleading or file a motion for leave of court to amend. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.

The courts have liberally interpreted this language as amendments should be allowed freely to avoid delay of a determination of the case on it's merits. Courts permit amendments of pleadings for virtually any purpose, including adding claims, altering legal theories, or requesting different or additional relief. However this judicial liberalism is not infinite. Courts are given wide discretion to deny a motion to amend. Factors that can weigh against granting leave to amend a pleading include:

  • prejudice to defendant;
  • abad-faith motive on part of plaintiff, e.g., use of motion to postpone trial date, impose additional expense on  opposing party, or gain additional leverage in settlement negotiations;
  • undue delay or dilatory conduct by plaintiff;
  • futility of proposed amendment; and
  • impact on judicial economy, judicial resources and the court's ability to manage cases and control its docket.

Likewise, factors weighing in favor of allowing an amendment to a pleading include:

  • preference for applications of procedural rules that permit courts to render decisions on merits;
  • avoiding piecemeal litigation and conserving the court's and parties' resources by resolving related matters in one proceeding; and
  • avoiding harm to the plaintiff that would be caused by denying leave to amend.

Although leave to re-plead is within the discretion of the court, refusal to grant it without any justifying reason is an abuse of discretion.

An amended pleading ordinarily supersedes the prior pleading.  The prior pleading is in effect treated as withdrawn as to all matters not restated in the amended pleading, and becomes functus officio. This approach ensures that a particular claim will be decided on the merits rather than on technicalities.

Interpreting and applying Rule 15 of the Federal Civil Procedure Code involve common sense and fairness more than legal analysis or intellectual insight.  Complaints are living documents, and may need to be amended as discovery brings out new facts.  However, this right should be used judiciously, keeping in mind that original assertions can make for interesting trial and summary judgment material and may serve as a basis for sanctions.

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