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Decided: May 5, 2014

In this appeal, the Court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment for the plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and gross negligence claims because the plaintiff did not meet the burden of proof required for a § 1983 claim, and the plaintiff did not present facts evidencing the requisite level of negligence required for a gross negligence claim.  The Court also held that the exclusion of the plaintiff’s expert witness was proper because the plaintiff did not disclose the expert’s written report by the agreed-upon deadline, and thus was in violation of the Pre-Trial Order and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (F.R.C.P.) 26(a)(2).  Furthermore, the Court held that the district court’s denial of a motion to amend the complaint was proper because plaintiff filed for motion to amend after the statute of limitations had expired and the requested amendment, to join additional defendants, did not relate back to the claim.

Appellant brought this action against the defendant, Montgomery, after another patient at Central State Hospital murdered her son.  She filed three claims: grossly negligent supervision, gross negligence under the Virginia Wrongful Death Act, and a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for supervisory liability.  The district court struck Appellant’s expert witness because he was disclosed in an untimely fashion; denied Appellant’s second motion to amend her complaint to add two defendants because such amendment would be futile; and, finally, concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the claims against Montgomery, who was an assistant director in charge of administrative matters at the time of her son’s death.

In affirming summary judgment of the negligence claims, the Court reviewed the record and found the appellant failed to provide sufficient evidence to meet the elements outlined in 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and as provided by Virginia state law for the common law gross negligence claims.  The Court reviewed the district court’s ruling for abuse of discretion regarding the exclusion of the expert witness and, according to F.R.C.P. Rule 37(c)(1) and Fourth Circuit case law, found that excluding the expert witness was an appropriate sanction for the plaintiff’s failure to disclose the expert’s report.  In determining whether an amended complaint related back, the Court looked to F.R.C.P. Rule 15(c)(1).  The Court found that the proposed added defendants did not know or could not have known about the action within the time period set forth in F.R.C.P. Rule 4(m).

Full Opinion

Grace Faulkenberry