Mullin v. Balicki, No. 16-2896 (3d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Mullin, age 29, had been in and out of prison and struggled with substance abuse. Serving a sentence at a halfway house, Mullin was found in possession of contraband and was transferred to New Jersey’s Central Reception & Assignment Facility, where he was assessed and assigned to an area that did not feature extensive or individualized supervision. In his Assignment Facility cell, he fashioned a noose from a bedsheet and took his own life. Mullin’s mother, Joan, was given information that was incomplete and inaccurate; she was told that her son had died at a different facility, an error repeated on his death certificate. More than two years into Joan’s civil-rights suit, her attorney received a previously-undisclosed investigative report that contained statements by fellow inmates about a guard who allegedly refused Mullin’s requests for psychiatric assistance and urged Mullin to kill himself. Due to a clerical error, the disc containing those disclosures was misfiled, and not accessed until 10 months later. By that time, Joan’s complaint, premised on a knew-or-should-have-known theory of vulnerability to suicide, had been partially dismissed. The district court denied a request for leave to amend and granted the remaining defendant summary judgment. The Third Circuit vacated. Denying leave to amend was an impermissible exercise of discretion. Some factors relied upon to deny leave are not supported by the record or are at odds with precedent. Counsel’s mistake does not, alone, support the denial.