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Rogers v. Rivera

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 28, 2017

PAUL ROGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
MARTIN RIVERA, ERWIN YOUNG, and RON SAAVEDRA, in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment Based on the Doctrine of Res Judicata [Doc. 43]. The Court has considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, and is otherwise fully informed. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion.

         I. Background

         The details of the underlying action and procedural history leading to this matter are described more fully in this Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order filed on January 25, 2016. [Doc. 15] In short, Plaintiff Paul Rogers (Plaintiff) filed a complaint against Defendants Martin Rivera, Erwin Young, and Ron Saavedra (collectively, Defendants) in January 2014 alleging, among other things, violations of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. [Doc. 15] An Amended Complaint was later filed in state court (State Amended Complaint). [Doc. 15] Approximately a year later, in January 2015, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Violations of Constitutional and Civil Rights in this Court (the Complaint). [Doc. 1; Doc. 15] After alleging facts which, for all relevant purposes, are the same as those alleged in his State Amended Complaint in state court, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants used excessive and unreasonable force against him, thereby depriving him of his constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. [Doc. 1, ¶¶ 35, 39, 40] U.S. Const. amend. IV. He further alleges that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable and illegal seizure and arrest because they lacked probable cause to arrest him. [Doc. 1; Doc. 15]

         Five months after Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court, Defendants moved for dismissal based on the Colorado River doctrine and the Younger Abstention doctrine. [Doc. 6] In the Motion to Dismiss in Lieu of Answer, Defendants argued that “the complaints are virtually identical with the exception of the detailed [F]ourth [A]mendment claims which follow the fact allegation section in the federal complaint, ” and that this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over the matter under either the Colorado River or Younger doctrine in order to preserve judicial resources. [Doc. 6, pg. 3] See Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 818 (1976); Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 41 (1971). Defendants also explicitly stated that they “bring this Motion pursuant to Rule 12 and therefore reserve this right to state available affirmative defenses in an Answer, should one become necessary.” [Doc. 6, pg. 1, n.1] Defendants went on, “However, Defendants without limitation state the following affirmative defenses: Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under which relief may be granted; Plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata, priority jurisdiction, and collateral estoppel; . . . .” [Doc. 6, pg. 1, n.1] In January, 2016, this Court held that the two suits were not “parallel proceedings, ” declined to apply either the Colorado River or Younger doctrines, and denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in Lieu of Answer. [Doc. 15]

         Defendants then filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. [Doc. 18] In the Answer, Defendants asserted that “plaintiff has filed this second duplicative complaint in an effort to unnecessarily increase the cost of litigating this claim which is currently be[ing] litigated in state court; therefore, the claim is filed for an inappropriate purpose” [Doc. 18, pg. 9] and that “plaintiff's state[1] claims are barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata.” [Doc. 18, pg. 10]

         In May, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Voluntary Dismissal of Case in state court for dismissal of the State Amended Complaint with prejudice. [Doc. 43, ¶ 6; Doc. 52, pg. 5; Doc. 43-2] In the Motion for Voluntary Dismissal, Plaintiff stated that “[w]hile Plaintiff . . . and Defendants have engaged in and completed discovery in this matter, that discovery is directly applicable in the parallel federal proceeding involving the individual defendants here and Plaintiff . . . concerning the incident in question.” [Doc. 43-2, pg. 1] Plaintiff went on, “Plaintiff[] (and even the Defendants) understand[s] that the costs concerning discovery in this matter are directly applicable to the federal matter, and therefore Defendants will suffer no harm by the dismissal of the state case with prejudice.” [Doc. 43-2, pg. 1-2] Plaintiff also stated that “[d]ismissal would actually work an advantage to Defendants since by pursuing only the federal matter, Plaintiff . . . will forgo his municipal liability claim [and other claims].” [Doc. 43-2, pg. 2]

         In an email to Plaintiff's counsel, Defendants' counsel wrote that “[w]hile my clients disagree with some of the assertions made in the motion [to dismiss], they are going to consent in the motion and have the case dismissed with prejudice.” [Doc. 52-5 (sent June 3, 10:13 a.m.] Shortly after this email, Defendants filed their response to Plaintiff's motion to dismiss, in which they stated that “Defendants disagree with most of the basis and argument contained in [P]laintiff's motion. However, [D]efendants do not oppose full dismissal with prejudice.” [Doc. 43-3, pg. 2 (filed June 3, 12:18 p.m.)] Plaintiff's motion to dismiss with prejudice was granted by the state court the same day. [Doc. 43-7]

         In June, 2016, Defendants filed in this Court several pleadings related to a motion to compel disclosures. [Doc. 32, 33, 34] In July, 2016, forty-eight days after the state action was dismissed and roughly eighteen months after Plaintiff filed suit in this Court, Defendants filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment Based on the Doctrine of Res Judicata [Doc. 43].

         In September, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal in state court, in which he requested that the state court “substitute an Order of Dismissal Without Prejudice on the basis of mistake under Rule 1-060(b) NMRA.” [Doc. 63-1] In his Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal, Plaintiff argued that “while it was his intent to dismiss the state claims in order to pursue the federal case, he did not realize that dismissal ‘with prejudice' would have a detrimental effect on the claims now pending in federal court.” [Doc. 63-1] The federal case was stayed pending resolution of the motion in state court and the present motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 60]

         In February, 2017, the state court denied Plaintiff's Motion to Substitute Order Granting Dismissal. [Doc. 63-1] The state court held that “courts will not grant relief when the mistake of which the movant complains is the result of an attorney's deliberate litigation tactics” and that “Rule 60(b)(1) relief is not available for a party who simply misunderstands the legal consequences of his deliberate acts.” [Doc. 63-1] It concluded, “It is clear to the [c]ourt that the decision to pursue the case only in federal court was a strategic decision made by counsel with the consent of the Plaintiff.” [Doc. 63-1]

         II. Discussion

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Under this Rule, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Rather, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Shapolia v. Los Alamos Nat'l Lab., 992 F.2d 1033, 1036 (10th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). The moving party need not negate the nonmovant's claim, but rather must show “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmoving party must show that genuine issues remain for trial “as to those dispositive matters for which it carries the burden of proof.” Applied Genetics Int'l Inc. v. First Affiliated Secs., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). The nonmoving party cannot rely upon conclusory allegations or contentions of counsel to defeat summary judgment, see Pueblo Neighborhood Health Ctrs., Inc. v. Losavio, 847 F.2d 642, 649 (10th Cir. 1988), but rather must “go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, '” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. If the responding party fails to properly address the movant's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), a district court may “grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(3). Upon a motion for summary judgment, a district court “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and allow the nonmovant the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence.” Kaus v. Standard Ins. Co., 985 F.Supp. 1277, 1281 (D. Kan. 1997).

         Defendants argue that this case is barred by virtue of Plaintiff's voluntary dismissal with prejudice of the state action, which was based on the same underlying incident. [Doc. 43, pg. 2] Plaintiff maintains that “Defendants' conduct in this case evinces the implied consent for Plaintiff . . . to proceed in the federal action, and therefore [Defendants have] waived the application of the doctrine of [claim preclusion].” [Doc. 52, pg. 1] The Court will begin by determining whether the elements of claim preclusion are met, then turn to Plaintiff's acquiescence argument. Plaintiff makes no arguments as to whether the elements of claim preclusion are satisfied. [Doc. 52]

         A. Whether Claim Preclusion[2] Applies Here

         Claim preclusion is a common-law principle that bars a party from raising a claim that was actually decided or could have been decided in a previous action that has resulted in a final and valid judgment on the merits. Claim preclusion is sometimes described as a tool used to prevent a party from having “two bites at the apple.” Kenmen Engineering v. City of Union, 314 F.3d 468, 479 (10th Cir. 2002); see also Ford v. New Mexico Dept. of Public Safety, 1994-NMCA-154, ¶ 1, 891 P.2d 546 (1994) (“One theme permeating the law of judgments is that a litigant is ordinarily not entitled to more than one fair bite at the apple.”). At its core, the doctrine of claim preclusion is designed to ensure finality of judicial decisions. Brown v. Felsen, 442 U.S. 127, 131 (1979) (“Res judicata . . . encourages reliance on judicial decisions, bars vexatious litigation, and frees the courts to resolve other disputes.”). The interest in finality is reflected in the sometimes harsh effects of claim preclusion, for the principle “bars not only claims that were raised in the prior proceeding, but also claims that could have been raised.” Kirby v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 2010-NMSC-014, ¶ 61, 148 N.M. 106, 231 P.3d 87. “[F]ederal courts generally must give the same preclusive effect to a state court judgment that the judgment would have received in the courts of that state.” Carter v. City of Emporia, Kan., 815 F.2d 617, 619, 622 (10th Cir. 1987) (holding that the plaintiffs' ยง 1983 claims were barred by claim preclusion by a state court judgment on state ...


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