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Gwitchyaa Zhee Corp. v. Alexander

United States District Court, D. Alaska

January 3, 2019

GWITCHYAA ZHEE CORPORATION and GWICHYAA ZHEE GWICH'IN TRIBAL GOVERNMENT, Plaintiffs,
v.
CLARENCE ALEXANDER and DACHO ALEXANDER, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
DAVID BERNHARDT, Acting Secretary of Interior, in his official capacity, Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER

          H. Russel Holland United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint

         Plaintiffs Gwitchyaa Zhee Corporation and the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich'in Tribal Government move for leave to amend their complaint.[1] This motion is opposed by defendants Clarence Alexander and Dacho Alexander.[2] Oral argument was not requested and is not deemed necessary.

         Background

         In their original complaint, plaintiffs sought to eject defendants from a parcel of land known as Tract 19A. Plaintiffs contend that Tract 19A was not part of Clarence Alexander's § 14(c)(1) claim. The Alexanders contend otherwise. Plaintiffs now seek to amend their ejectment claim against the Alexanders to include lands other than Tract 19A. Plaintiffs contend that they have learned that the Alexanders have also moved their belongings onto Tract 9 and a triangle-shaped parcel of land at the end of the Barge Landing Road. Thus, in their proposed amended complaint, plaintiffs seek to have the Alexanders “ejected from Tract 9, Tract 19A, and the triangle-shaped parcel of land at the end of the Barge Landing Road where it meets the Yukon River . . . so that [p]laintiffs may retake possession of these lands.”[3]

         Discussion

         “Leave to amend a party's pleading pursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ‘should [be] freely give[n] . . . when justice so requires,' and generally shall be denied only upon showing of bad faith, undue delay, futility, or undue prejudice to the opposing party[.]” Chudacoff v. Univ. Medical Ctr. of S. Nev., 649 F.3d 1143, 1152 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)). “Not all of the factors merit equal weight.” Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003). In the Ninth Circuit, “it is the consideration of prejudice to the opposing party that carries the greatest weight.” Id. However, “[f]utility of amendment can, by itself, justify the denial of a motion for leave to amend.” Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995).

         bad faith.

         “Bad faith exists where, inter alia, the proposed amendment ‘will not save the complaint or the plaintiff merely is seeking to prolong the litigation by adding new but baseless legal theories.'” Naranjo v. Bank of Amer. Nat'l Assoc., No. 14-CV-02748-LHK, 2015 WL 913031, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2015) (quoting Griggs v. Pace Am. Grp., Inc., 170 F.3d 877, 881 (9th Cir. 1999)). “A court may also find bad faith when the moving party has a ‘history of dilatory tactics.'” Id. (quoting Thornton v. McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., 261 F.3d 789, 799 (9th Cir. 2001)).

         Plaintiffs argue that there is no evidence that they are acting in bad faith, in particular because their proposed amendment is their first request to amend. The Alexanders disagree and argue that plaintiffs' motion to amend shows bad faith in five ways. As explained below, none of the Alexanders' arguments have any merit. Indeed, their arguments are frivolous.

         First, the Alexanders argue that plaintiffs have acted in bad faith because plaintiffs contend that no additional parties would need to be joined if their motion to amend were granted and they relied on a Pennsylvania case in support of this contention. The Alexanders argue that Alaskan law will govern any ejectment claim in this case, which is correct. But, plaintiffs' citation to a Pennsylvania case for the proposition that “the only necessary party to an ejectment action is the person in actual possession of the land[, ]” Bannard v. New York State Natural Gas Corp., 172 A.2d 306, 310 (Pa. 1961), is not evidence of bad faith. Plaintiffs' contention that no additional parties would have to be joined if they were allowed to amend is also not evidence of bad faith on plaintiffs' part.

         Second, the Alexanders argue that plaintiffs have acted in bad faith because they continue to allege that GZ Corporation had resolved all conflicts as to any 14(c)(1) claims prior to submitting the Map of Boundaries to the BLM in 2008. The Alexanders dispute that all conflicts had been resolved. But, whether GZ Corporation's certification that “all conflicts concerning property lines” on the Map of Boundaries had been resolved was true or false is a factual dispute that will need to be resolved as this case proceeds. It is not evidence that plaintiffs are acting in bad faith in seeking leave to amend.

         Third, the Alexanders argue that plaintiffs have acted in bad faith because they continue to assert that the 2008 Map of Boundaries created Tract 19 and Tract 19A, which the Alexanders contend is not true. Demetrie Alexander avers that the Alexanders have discovered that Tract 19A was not created until sometime between 2011 and 2014.[4] But, again, this is a factual dispute that will need to be resolved during the course of this litigation. It is not evidence of bad faith on the part of plaintiffs in seeking leave to amend.

         Fourth, the Alexanders argue that plaintiffs have acted in bad faith because they continue to suggest that the City of Fort Yukon is not a necessary party to this case. The Alexanders contend that plaintiffs are taking inconsistent positions as a result because plaintiffs previously asserted that only Tract 19A was involved in their ejectment claim and now they are asserting that Tracts 19, 19A, and 9 are all involved, which somehow to the Alexanders means that the City should be a party to this case. The Alexanders argue that plaintiffs should be judicially estopped from asserting this inconsistent position.

         The Alexanders are correct that plaintiffs originally only asserted that this case involved Tract 19A. But, plaintiffs have now discovered that the Alexanders may be trespassing on other parcels of land besides Tract 19A and they seek to amend their complaint to add these other parcels to their ejectment claim. This is not evidence of bad faith. To the extent that the Alexanders are suggesting that plaintiffs have taken inconsistent positions as to whether the City is a necessary party, they are incorrect. Plaintiffs have always contended that the City is not a necessary party.

         Fifth, the Alexanders argue that plaintiffs have acted in bad faith because they have alleged that the Alexanders have moved their possessions onto the three disputed areas when plaintiffs know that those areas were improperly created by GZ Corporation. This too is a factual issue that will have to be resolved as this case proceeds; it is not evidence of bad faith on the part of plaintiffs in seeking leave to amend.

         undue delay. Plaintiffs argue that there has been no undue delay here, and they point out that the deadline for motions to amend is not until February 22, 2019.[5] The Alexanders suggest that plaintiffs have known since 2014 that Tract 9 encroaches on Tract 19, but that is not the same thing as knowing that the Alexanders had moved their possessions onto Tract 9. Plaintiffs' counsel avers that it was only after a trip to Fort Yukon in late August 2018 and review of BLM records in November 2018 that plaintiffs were able to ascertain that ...


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