United States District Court, D. New Mexico
December 13, 2016
JOSEPH R. MAESTAS, Plaintiff,
AMY SEIDEL, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S
CORRECTED MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT
MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Joseph R.
Maestas' Corrected Motion for Leave to File Amended
Complaint (Doc. 27), filed November 10, 2016. Having reviewed
the parties' briefs and the applicable law, the Court
finds that Plaintiff's Motion is not well-taken, and is,
worked as a Project Manager in the Public Works Department
for the Town of Taos, New Mexico (“the Town”).
Plaintiff alleges Defendant Amy Seidel, Human Resource
Director for the Town, violated his procedural due process
and equal protection rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
1988. Plaintiff filed a Corrected Motion for Leave to File
Amended Complaint (Doc. 27) on November 10, 2016, seeking to
add the Town of Taos as a defendant and to add an allegation
against the Town of Taos for supervisory and training
municipal liability pursuant to Monnell v. New York
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).
Defendant opposed this Motion and filed a Response (Doc. 30)
on November 22, 2016. Plaintiff filed a Reply (Doc. 31) on
December 6, 2016.
Court should freely give leave to amend when justice so
requires. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). “The
purpose of the Rule is to provide litigants the maximum
opportunity for each claim to be decided on the merits rather
than procedural niceties.” Minter v. Prime Equip.
Co., 451 F.3d 1196, 1204 (10th Cir. 2006). That said,
“[a] district court should refuse leave to amend only
upon a showing of undue delay, undue prejudice to the
opposing party, bad faith or dilatory motive, failure to cure
deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, or futility of
amendment.” Wilkerson v. Shinseki, 606 F.3d
1256, 1267 (10th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). “A
court properly may deny a motion for leave to amend as futile
when the proposed amended complaint would be subject to
dismissal for any reason . . . .” Bauchman for
Bauchman v. West High School, 132 F.3d 542, 562 (10th
Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Determining whether to grant
leave to amend a pleading is an exercise in the Court's
discretion. State Distributor's, Inc. v. Glenmore
Distilleries, Co., 738 F.2d 405, 416 (10th Cir. 1984);
see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).
seeks leave to amend his Complaint to include newly
discovered factual allegations, an additional defendant, and
an additional claim for municipal liability. Defendant makes
three principal challenges to Plaintiff's Motion. First,
Plaintiff's proposed amendment would be futile. Second,
Plaintiff's intent to amend his Complaint is made in bad
faith; and third, neither justice nor judicial economy will
be served by Plaintiff's proposed amendment. The Court
considers each argument in turn.
argues the Court should deny Plaintiff's proposed
amendment because his attempt to add the Town is futile. More
specifically, the doctrine of res judicata precludes all of
Plaintiff's claims. Defendant maintains that where it
appears granting leave to amend is unlikely to be productive,
it is not an abuse of discretion to deny leave to amend.
See, e.g., Foman, 371 U.S. at 182. Defendant points
out that Plaintiff seeks to add the Town as a defendant
despite the fact that the Town has already been a defendant
in a recent New Mexico state suit involving the same claims
by the same Plaintiff (Case No. D-820-CV-2015-00050) (the
“State Case”)). A trial on the merits has taken
place, and final judgment has been entered. Therefore,
Defendant argues, any claims by Plaintiff against the Town in
this case are barred under res judicata, rendering the
addition of the Town unproductive and futile. See
Foman, 371 U.S. at 182.
replies that res judicata does not apply here because the
State Court claim did not contain the same causes of action
and Plaintiff did not have a full and fair opportunity to
litigate the Monnell claim in the prior suit.
Plaintiff states he did not discover the meritoriousness of
the federal claim until April 29, 2016 when it was too late
to add the claim to the State Case, thus he had no
opportunity to litigate those claims earlier. In addition,
the Monnell claims would not be re-argued in this
case because the claims are different. Plaintiff cites one
case, Garcia v. Wilson, 731 F.2d 640, 649 (10th Cir.
1984), to support his contention that res judicata does not
preclude § 1983 claims raised after state-court
litigation because “the evidence necessary to support a
Sec. 1983 claim is so often significantly distinct from the
facts at issue in an arguably analogous state cause of
Court finds Garcia is inapposite and does not stand
for what Plaintiff hopes it does.Accordingly, the Court will
analyze the issue under general principles of res judicata.
In doing so, the Court concludes res judicata will preclude
Plaintiff's federal § 1983 cause of action against
the Town, and denies Plaintiff leave to file amend his
Complaint. See Jefferson Cnty. Sch. Dist. No. R-1 v.
Moody's Investor's Servs., Inc., 175 F.3d 848,
859 (10th Cir. 1999) (“A proposed amendment is futile
if the amended complaint would be subject to
judicata generally applies where there is an identity of
parties and of claims and a final judgment on the merits. It
is designed to ensure the finality of judicial decisions.
Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the
merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies
from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised
in that action.” Clark v. Haas Grp., Inc., 953
F.2d 1235, 1237-38 (10th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and
quotations omitted); see also Kremer v. Chemical Constr.
Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 467 n.6 (1982). “[A] final
judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or
their privies from relitigating issues that were or could
have been raised in that action.” Clark,
953 F.2d at 1238 (emphasis added). “‘Stated
alternatively, ' under the doctrine of res judicata, a
final judgment on the merits bars further claims by parties
or their privies based on the same cause of action.
Id. (quoting May v. Parker- Abbott Transfer and
Storage, Inc., 899 F.2d 1007, 1009 (10th Cir. 1990)).
State Case, Plaintiff alleged two counts against the Town.
First, he alleged violations of the Whistleblower Protection
Act, and second breach of the covenant of good faith and fair
dealing. See generally Doc. 30-1. Regarding the
first count in the State Case, Plaintiff alleged that during
his employ, Plaintiff would frequently alert Town officials
to practices, procedures, actions, or failures to act on the
part of Town employees that constituted gross mismanagement,
waste of funds, or unlawful acts. These improper acts
included unnecessary employees and facilities, and excessive
fees paid to consultants. See Id. Plaintiff alleged
he was fired for reporting these perceived irregularities,
which constituted a violation of the Act. See NMSA
1978, § 1-16C-3(A). Regarding the second count in the
State Case, Plaintiff alleged the Town violated a personnel
policy that governed Town employees such as himself.
Specifically, the Town failed to act in accordance with the
policy by failing to appoint a hearing officer to hear
termination appeals or to schedule his appeal in a timely
fashion. See generally Doc. 30-1.
present action, Plaintiff seeks to add the Town as a
defendant and purports to add a count for municipal liability
against the Town. Plaintiff hopes to amend the Complaint to
include allegations that the Town had immediate supervisory
responsibility over the actions of the employees of the Town
of Taos, including Defendant Seidel. The Town had a duty to
screen, train, and supervise employees and agents of the Town
of Taos to ensure that they did not act unlawfully. Thus,
Plaintiff argues, he is not attempting to raise the same
claims against the Town in the instant federal case.
misunderstands the proper meaning of “same cause of
action.” He argues the purported Section 1983 claims
against the Town are different than his State Case
allegations against the Town, but does not explain how or why
the claims are different. Plaintiff's argument further
misses the mark because the Tenth Circuit has repeatedly held
that “same cause of action” refers to the set of
operative facts that gave rise to the two sets of claims.
See Clark, 953 F.2d at 1238 (quoting Restatement
(Second) of Judgments § 24 (1982) (“[T]he
claim extinguished includes all rights of the plaintiff to
remedies against the defendant with respect to all or any
part of the transaction, or series of connected transactions,
out of which the action arose.”); Yapp v. Excel
Corp., 186 F.3d 1222, 1227 (10th Cir. 1999) (“The
transactional approach provides that a claim arising out of
the same ‘transaction, or series of connected
transactions as a previous suit, which concluded in a valid
and final judgment, will be precluded.”).
case, virtually all of Plaintiff's allegations are based
on his employment relationship with the Town and his
termination of employment. Many if not most of
Plaintiff's allegations challenge the Town's policies
and procedures. Most significantly, Plaintiff purports to
amend the Complaint to add numerous allegations very similar
to those in the State Case. For example, in the State Case
Plaintiff challenged the Town's policies and procedures
because such the Town allegedly did not adhere to such
policies when it fired him. See generally Doc. 30-1.
Plaintiff also challenged the Town for engaging in and/or
permitting its employees to engage in unlawful and improper
conduct. See Id. Similarly now, Plaintiff hopes to
amend his Complaint to add allegations that the Town failed
to employ policies and procedures to train and screen
employees, and such failures essentially condoned and
ratified employee misconduct. The fact that Plaintiff simply
alleges a new legal theory via the Monnell claim
does not defeat the “transactional” test for what
constitutes the same claim. “Inasmuch as the doctrine
of res judicata precludes parties from relitigating issues
that were or could have been raised, parties cannot defeat
its application by simply alleging new legal theories.”
Clark, 953 F.2d at 1238. The Tenth Circuit has
repeatedly held that “all claims arising from the same
employment relationship constitute the same transaction or
series of transactions for claim preclusion purposes.
Wilkes v. Wyoming Dep't of Employment Div. of Labor
Standards, 314 F.3d 501, 504 (10th Cir. 2002) (quoting
Mitchell v. City of Moore, 218 F.3d 1190, 1202 (10th
it is worth noting the Supreme Court has held that Section
1983 does not override preclusion law or guarantee a
plaintiff the right to “proceed to judgment in state
court on her state claims and then turn to federal court for
adjudication of her federal claims.” Migra v.
Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 85
(1984). The Court has rejected “the view that §
1983 prevents the judgment in petitioner's state-court
proceeding from creating a claim preclusion bar in this
case.” Id. at 84.
similar reasons, the Court is not convinced by
Plaintiff's argument that he did not have a full and fair
opportunity to litigate the 1983 claims in the State Case.
Res judicata requires that the party had a full and fair
opportunity to litigate the claim in the prior suit. See
Sil-Flo, Inc. v. SFHC, Inc., 917 F.2d 1507, 1520 (10th
Cir.1990) (citation omitted). In determining whether a party
had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claim, courts
consider “any procedural limitations, the party's
incentive to fully litigate the claim, and whether effective
litigation was limited by the nature or relationship of the
parties.” Nwosun v. Gen. Mills Restaurants,
Inc., 124 F.3d 1255, 1257-58 (10th Cir. 1997).
“Essential to the application of the doctrine of res
judicata is the principle that the previously unlitigated
claim to be precluded could and should have been brought in
the earlier litigation.” Plotner v. AT & T
Corp., 224 F.3d 1161, 1170 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal
quotations and citations omitted). Plaintiff makes only a
vague statement that he had no full and fair opportunity to
litigate the claim in the State Case because he did not
discover the outlines or meritoriousness of the 1983 claim
until April 29, 2016 when it was too late to add the claims
to the State Case Complaint. However, Plaintiff does not
point the Court to any indication there were procedural
limitations to bringing the claims earlier, or to any showing
litigation of the claims was limited by the nature or
relationship of the parties.
Plaintiff's proposed amendments regarding Section 1983
claims against the Town are based upon the same nucleus of
operative facts as the State Case, so res judicata principles
dictate that amendment to add the purported claims would be
next argues Plaintiff's proposed amendment is sought in
bad faith because, at the time of filing the Complaint in
this action, Plaintiff also had access to full discovery in
the State Case, and should have known the Town was an
appropriate defendant in this suit at the outset. Defendant
states “it appears” Plaintiff intentionally
failed to add the Town in the original Complaint to avoid
dismissal due to having the same defendant as in the State
Case. Further asserting bad faith, Defendant claims Plaintiff
previously argued in his Response to Defendant's Motion
to Dismiss or Abstain or in the Alternative to Stay
Proceedings (Doc. 9), that this Court should not abstain from
exercising jurisdiction because the Defendant, Amy Seidel,
was not the same as Defendant, Town of Taos, in the State
Case. In other words, Plaintiff previously relied on the fact
that he was not suing the Town as a basis to ask
this Court to hear this case. Defendant insists Plaintiff
cannot now be heard to add that same defendant, after relying
on the Town's exclusion previously.
Reply, Plaintiff explains that whether the Town had been a
party to the proceedings at the time Defendant filed her
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4), would not have affected the
Court's denial of the motion because the presence or
absence of the Town had no bearing on the Court's
decision. Thus, Defendant's bad faith argument is without
Court has already concluded amendment would be futile in this
case, and on that basis denies Plaintiff leave to file his
amended Complaint adding municipal liability claims against
the Town. Although the Court will not speculate as to the
explanation for Plaintiff's failure to add the Town to
his initial Complaint or to the State Case, the Court does
conclude it provides more support to why Plaintiff's
amendment would be futile. Plaintiff had ample opportunity to
litigate his municipal liability claims and chose not to.
Defendant maintains judicial economy would not be served by
permitting Plaintiffs proposed amendment. Plaintiff has
already had his day in court and has been given an
opportunity to have his claims against the Town heard and
resolved in the State Case, so it would not serve judicial
economy to now have those claims re-argued before a different
court. Allowing Plaintiff to add the Town a defendant in this
case would unfairly burden the Town with having to spend the
resources to defend the same claims it has already defended
in the State Case.
Reply, Plaintiff reiterates that judicial economy is not at
issue here because he purports to add different claims that
were not, and could not have been, litigated in the State
Case. The Court rejects this argument for the same reason it
rejected the analogous argument in the res judicata analysis.
See supra § I. Plaintiff could have brought
municipal liability claims against the Town in the State
Case. The claims arise from the same employment relationship
and from the same set of operative facts.
reasons stated above, Plaintiffs Corrected Motion for Leave
to File Amended Complaint is DENIED.
 In Garcia, the plaintiff
brought a Section 1983 action and the defendants moved to
dismiss on ground of statute of limitations. The Tenth
Circuit Court of Appeals held for purposes of statute of
limitations in § 1983 cases, civil rights claims are to
be generally characterized as actions for injury to personal
rights, so the state statute of limitations was applicable.
Id. at 651-52. Plaintiff cites no authority for his
proposition that general claim preclusion doctrines do not
apply to Section 1983 claims.