United States District Court, D. New Mexico
FRANKLIN J. MORRIS, as Personal Representative of the Wrongful Death Estate of MARCELLINO MORRIS, JR. Deceased, Plaintiff,
GIANT FOUR COURNERS, INC. d/b/a GIANT #7251, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S
12(B)(6) MOTION TO DISMISS
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Giant Four
Corners, Inc.'s Rule 12(B)(6) Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Complaint for Wrongful Death or, in the
Alternative, to Stay the Case Pending Plaintiff's
Exhaustion of His Tribal Court Remedies [Doc.
38] (Motion to Dismiss). The Motion to Dismiss
presents the question of whether a tribal court dismissal
based on tribal statute of limitation grounds should serve as
a res judicata bar to the same suit brought under New Mexico
law in U.S. Federal District Court. After reviewing the
motions, briefs, and applicable law, the Court concludes that
the Navajo Nation District Court's dismissal on statute
of limitations grounds does not have preclusive effect on the
current proceedings, and, therefore, the motion will be
case arises out of an automobile collision that occurred on
December 30, 2011, in which Decedent, Marcellino Morris, was
killed. [Doc. 1-1] The Plaintiff,
Decedent's estate, contends that Defendant Giant Four
Corners is liable for Decedent's death under two theories
of negligence-negligent entrustment based on Defendant's
sale of gasoline to Andy Ray Denny, the driver of the other
vehicle, who was visibly intoxicated, and negligent hiring,
training, and supervision of the employees who sold the
gasoline to Denny. [Doc. 1-1, p. 1-2]
Morris, the representative of the estate Plaintiff, and Denny
are both members of the Navajo Nation, as was Decedent.
Defendant is not a member but is registered to conduct
business on the reservation, and the events giving rise to
Plaintiff's claims all occurred on the reservation.
[Doc. 38-1] Accordingly, Plaintiff
originally filed suit in the District Court of the Navajo
Nation in Crownpoint. [Doc. 38-1] Defendant
moved for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff's
suit was filed after the two-year statute of limitations for
personal injury claims under the Navajo Nation Code.
See 7 N. N.C. § 602(A)(1). [Doc. 38-2,
p. 1-2] Plaintiff argued that his complaint was
constructively filed on December 27, 2013, when it was faxed
to the Navajo Court Clerk which was within the two-year
statute of limitations. [Doc. 38-3]
Defendant argued that the effective date of filing was
January 13, 2014, based on the date the clerk stamped the
document. [Doc. 38-2, 38-4] The District
Court of the Navajo Nation ultimately agreed with Defendant
and granted the motion for summary judgment. [Doc.
38-5] Plaintiff has appealed the decision to the
Navajo Nation Supreme Court and is currently awaiting a
ruling on that appeal.
the tribal court issued a decision on the summary judgment
motion, Plaintiff filed a wrongful death complaint alleging
vicarious liability for negligent entrustment of a chattel
and direct liability for negligent hiring, training, and
supervision in New Mexico state district court. [Doc.
1-1] Defendant removed the case to Federal District
Court in the District of New Mexico. [Doc.
1] On November 5, 2015, Defendant filed the instant
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative
to stay the case pending Plaintiff's exhaustion of tribal
court remedies, arguing the case should be precluded under
the doctrine of res judicata. [Doc. 38] The
Court ordered the case stayed until November 29, 2016, when,
although the Navajo Nation Supreme Court had not yet issued a
decision on the matter, the parties requested that the Court
lift the stay and proceed to decide the motion. [Doc.
55, 58, 63] The Court now considers the parties'
arguments on Defendant's motion to dismiss under Rule
argues that Plaintiff's current lawsuit in federal court
is merely an attempt to relitigate the claims that were
decided on summary judgment in tribal court and should be
barred under comity principles and the doctrine of res
judicata. [Doc. 38] Plaintiff responds that
under New Mexico law, a dismissal of a claim as time-barred
is not a decision on the merits, and the case should be
allowed to proceed under the three-year statute of
limitations for wrongful death claims in New Mexico.
12(b)(6) allows for the dismissal of a complaint where the
plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The court's
function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential
evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to
assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally
sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be
granted.” Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1252
(10th Cir. 2006) (internal citation omitted). In considering
dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court will “assume
the truth of the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual
allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v.
Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007). A
complaint will survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion if it
“contains ‘enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.' ”
Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).
12(b)(6) motion is generally decided on the face of the
pleadings themselves, and consideration of matters outside
the pleadings generally converts a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into
a motion for summary judgment. Utah Gospel Mission v.
Salt Lake City Corp., 425 F.3d 1249, 1253 (10th Cir.
2005). However, the Tenth Circuit has recognized that
“facts subject to judicial notice may be considered in
a Rule 12(b)(6) motion without converting the motion to
dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.” Tal v.
Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1264-65 n.24 (10th Cir. 2006).
“This includes another court's publicly filed
records ‘concerning matters that bear directly upon the
disposition of the case at hand.' ” Hodgson v.
Farmington City, 675 F.App'x 838, 840- 41 (10th Cir.
2017) (quoting United States v. Ahidley, 486 F.3d
1184, 1192 n.5 (10th Cir. 2007).
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.” Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94,
101 S.Ct. 411, 414, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980). Res judicata
promotes judicial economy by reducing unnecessary,
duplicative litigation and promotes comity between separate
jurisdictions by fostering reliance on existing
adjudications. Id. at 95-96. Res judicata will
preclude a subsequent suit where the following elements are
satisfied: “(1) the prior suit must have ended with a
judgment on the merits; (2) the parties must be identical or
in privity; (3) the suit must be based on the same cause of
action; and (4) the plaintiff must have had a full and fair
opportunity to litigate the claim in the prior suit.”
Nwosun v. Gen. Mills Restaurants, Inc., 124 F.3d
1255, 1257 (10th Cir. 1997). Similarly, even where two causes
of action present different claims, “issue preclusion
bars a party from relitigating an issue once it has suffered
an adverse determination on the issue.” Stan Lee
Media, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co., 774 F.3d 1292, 1297
(10th Cir. 2014). Relitigation of an issue will be precluded
(1) the issue previously decided is identical with
the one presented in the ...