Commercial Division Enforces Standard for Amending Pleadings
The Commercial Division’s decision in Magnetic Parts Trading Limited v. National Air Cargo Group, Inc demonstrates the flexibility and leniency courts embody when adjudicating motions to amend pleadings. In Magnetic Parts, New York County Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Reed granted National Airlines Cargo Group’s (National Airlines) motion for leave to amend its answer to assert counterclaims against Magnetic Parts Trading Limited (Magnetic Parts) and denied Magnetic Parts’ motion to impose sanctions.
In December 2002 Magnetic Parts, as lessor, and National Airlines, as lessee, entered into a written lease (the Lease) for the lease of one Rolls-Royce aircraft engine and one shipping stand for a term ending in February 2020. National Airlines agreed to pay Magnetic Parts a $150,000 deposit and $60,000 fee each month. National Airlines agreed to pay for engine repairs and maintenance and to redeliver the engine in good operating and physical condition to Magnetic Parts. The Lease provided that if National Airlines failed to redeliver the engine, the lease term would automatically extend. In January 2020, National Airlines informed Magnetic Parts that it did not intend to re-lease the engine but failed to redeliver the engine. Magnetic Parts took the position that the lease term had been automatically extended and continued to charge National Airlines a monthly fee. A later inspection of the engine revealed several defects including corrosion on the fan case. Magnetic Parts claimed that the defects were caused by National Airlines and rendered the engine unserviceable.
As a result, Magnetic Parts filed a complaint in September 2020 pleading causes of actions of breach of the Lease, unjust enrichment, and an account stated. National Airlines interposed seven affirmative defenses in its answer and two years later moved to amend its answer to assert two counterclaims for breach of contract and for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing on the ground that Magnetic Parts had prior knowledge of pre-existing corrosion problems with Rolls-Royce engines. Magnetic Parts opposed the motion on the ground that National Airlines had waited for more than two years to assert its counterclaims.
Leave to Amend Should be Freely Granted in Absence of Prejudice to Nonmoving Party
Justice Reed first laid down the standard for granting leave to amend pleadings. He held that it is well settled that “leave to amend a pleading should be freely granted in the absence of prejudice to the nonmoving party where the amendment is not patently lacking in merit.” And that a “party opposing leave to amend ‘must overcome a heavy presumption of validity in favor of permitting amendment’”, by demonstrating prejudice or surprise or that the proposed amendment is palpably insufficient or patently devoid of merit.
The Court found Magnetic Parts’ undue delay argument unpersuasive. As Justice Reed explained, a “showing of lateness must be coupled with significant prejudice to the other side to warrant relief,” and such prejudice exists only where a party “has been hindered in the preparation of its case or has been prevented from taking some measure in support of its position.” Because Magnetic Parts had not demonstrated any such prejudice, Justice Reed ultimately concluded that the two-year delay was not so significant as to warrant denial of the motion.
This did not end the inquiry, however. Turning to the proposed counterclaims, Justice Reed explained that the “party moving for the amendment need not establish the merit of the claim, only that the proposed amendment is not palpably insufficient or clearly devoid of merit.” He held that National Airlines had met its burden on the proposed counterclaim for a breach of contract.
To support its claim National Airlines alleged that corrosion of the fan case was a known issue falling outside of “routine-scheduled, condition monitored or on-condition line maintenance” as provided by Section 4.6.3(i) of the Lease, and that it was therefore under no obligation to correct the condition, as doing so would violate section 4.6.3 of the Lease which prohibited modification, alteration, overhaul, or repair of the engine. National Airlines also alleged that Magnetic Parts refused to cover the cost of replacing the fan case despite having collected $150,000 in fees for that purpose and failed to designate a redelivery location when National Airline offered to redeliver the engine. Magnetic Parts argued that these allegations were insufficient to state a claim because National Airlines could not establish willful misconduct or gross negligence based on the fact that it had been in possession of the engine for several years, was responsible for its care and maintenance, and had superior knowledge about its condition. Justice Reed rejected these arguments, found that National Airlines assertions were sufficient to state a cause of action for breach of contract, and granted leave to amend. Because National Airlines’ breach of good faith and fair dealing counterclaim rested on the same facts as its breach of contract claim, Justice Reed held it was duplicative and denied the motion with respect to this counterclaim. .
The decision in Magnetic Parts is notable in that it underscores the flexibility that courts inhibit when adjudicating over motions to amend pleadings and the heavy burden parties must meet in opposing such motions. Generally speaking, courts will grant a motion to amend unless the nonmoving party can demonstrate prejudice or surprise or that the proposed amendment is palpably insufficient or patently devoid of merit. This case is a reminder that courts will not handicap a party’s counterclaims on the basis of delay alone.
 Magnetic Parts Trading Ltd. v. National Air Cargo Group, Inc, 77 Misc. 3d 1220(A) (Jan. 5, 2023).
 Id. at *1.
 Id. at *1.
 Id. at *2 (quoting Davis v South Nassau Communities Hosp., 26 NY3d 563, 580 (2015)).
 Id. (quoting McGhee v Odell, 96 AD3d 449, 450 (1st Dept 2012)).
 Id. (quoting MBIA Ins. Corp. v Greystone & Co., Inc., 74 AD3d 499 (1st Dept 2010)) .
 Id. (quoting Edenwald Contracting Co. v City of New York, 60 NY2d 957, 959 (1983)).
 Id. (quoting Loomis v Civetta Corinno Constr. Corp., 54 NY2d 18, 23 (1981)).
 Id. (quoting Agbo v Constantin Assoc., LLP, 204 AD3d 599 (1st Dept 2022)).
 Id. at *2-3.
 Id. at *3 (quoting from the Lease ¶¶ 101-102).
 Id.at *4.