Burns v. Town of Lamoine

2000 | Cited 0 times | D. Maine | September 21, 2000

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, John and Anita Burns, who bring their claims pro se, have filed this action against twenty-two defendants, including a site evaluator named Theresa L. Davis ("Defendant"). Plaintiffs allege that defendants conspired against them to prevent them from obtaining a permit for a septic system on their property. Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant are based on 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1983, 1985 and 1986.

Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and 56(b). Ms. Davis, as well as other defendants, have submitted affidavits and other testimony to the Court regarding this case. The Court, however, excludes these affidavits and other forms of testimony while considering the Motion to Dismiss. 1 The Court considers Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, but chooses not to address the alternate request for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED. Plaintiff's Complaint is

DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A court may dismiss a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) only if it clearly appears that, on the facts alleged, the plaintiff cannot recover on any viable legal theory. Wagner v. Devine, 122 F.3d 53, 55 (1st Cir. 1997). If under any theory the allegations stated in the complaint are sufficient to state a cause of action, a motion to dismiss must be denied. Knight v. Mills, 836 F.2d 659, 664 (1st Cir. 1987). When considering a motion to dismiss, courts must accept as true all of a plaintiff's well-pleaded factual averments and indulge all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Aulson v. Blanchard, 83 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1996). Pursuant to this standard, the Court accepts as true the facts alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint, and lays them out below.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs John and Anita Burns are residents of North Reading, Massachusetts, who own property in the Town of Lamoine, Maine. Seeking to develop their land, the couple applied to the town government for a subsurface wastewater permit, and subsequently obtained subsurface wastewater permit #519.

On or about August 5th , 1991, however, several defendants, including Theresa L. Davis, the Town of Lamoine, John Fink and Sally Bell, conspired against the Burns's to cause their permit to be revoked.

Claiming that permit #519 was revoked in violation of their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Burns's filed a complaint on July 23rd , 1998 against three defendants: the Town of Lamoine, John Fink and Sally Bell. See Burns v. Town of Lamoine, 43 F.Supp.2d 63 (D.Me. 1999). Construing Plaintiffs' complaint as a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, the Court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on March 11th , 1999 on the basis that the Burns's claim was barred by the statute of limitations. See id.

The Burns's again filed suit with the Court over the revocation of the permit. 2 On May 3rd , 2000, the Burns's filed their Complaint against the three defendants of the prior lawsuit, Town of Lamoine, John Fink and Sally Bell, as well as eighteen other parties, including Theresa Davis. Claiming to have suffered civil rights violations, Plaintiffs makes claims against Theresa Davis pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1983, 1985 and 1986.

DISCUSSION

Last year, the Court rendered a very similar judgment regarding the same controversy over the revoked subsurface wastewater permit. Burns, 43 F.Supp.2d 63. At that time, the Court found that Plaintiffs' claims - construed as section 1983 claims -against the Town of Lamoine, John Fink and Sally Bell were barred by the statute of limitations. See id.

Pro Se Plaintiffs

The Court recognizes that Plaintiffs are pro se litigants. In an effort to safeguard the attempts of pro se litigants to bring successful lawsuits, the Court construes pro se complaints liberally. Ahmed v. Rosenblatt, 118 F.3d 886, 890 (1st Cir. 1997). "However, pro se status does not insulate a party from complying with procedural and substantive law." Id. Even though Plaintiffs come before the Court pro se, they are still bound by relevant statutes of limitations. See, e.g., Amann v. Town of Stow, 991 F.2d 929, 933-34 (1st Cir. 1993) (dismissing pro se complaint because time-barred).

Claim Preclusion

Plaintiffs' case is barred pursuant to the principle of claim preclusion, often better known as res judicata. Claim preclusion is the doctrine that once a court has rendered judgment on a the merits of a claim parties cannot attempt to relitigate issues that were raised or could have been raised in the first action. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980). Claim preclusion, and the similar doctrine of issue preclusion, "relieve parties of the cost and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, and, by preventing inconsistent decisions, encourage reliance on adjudication." Id.

"For a claim to be precluded, the following elements must be established: (1) a final judgment on the merits in an earlier action, (2) sufficient identity between the causes of action asserted in the earlier and later suits, and (3) sufficient identity between the parties in the two suits." Porn v. National Grange Mut. Ins. Co., 93 F.3d 31, 34 (1st Cir. 1996). Guiding this three-part analysis is the premise that each party "must have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate his claim." Gonzalez v. Banco Central Corp., 27 F.3d 751, 758 (1st Cir. 1994).

Regarding the first requirement, the dismissal of a claim as time-barred constitutes a final judgment on the merits. Kale v. Combined Ins. Co. of America, 924 F.2d 1161, 1164 (1st Cir. 1991) ("It is beyond peradventure that the dismissal of a claim as time-barred constitutes a judgment on the merits, entitled to preclusive effect.").

Because the first Burns v. Town of Lamoine was dismissed as time-barred, that decision amounted to a final judgment on the merits. See 43 F.Supp. at 70.

When considering whether sufficient identity exists between the causes of action, the First Circuit has adopted the "transactional approach." Under this approach, a final judgment "will extinguish subsequent claims with respect to all or any part of the transaction, or series of connected transactions, out of which the action arose." Porn, 93 F.3d at 34. Even if a plaintiff offers different legal theories for a subsequent cause of action, if the former and latter causes of action are based on the same transaction, there will be sufficient identity between the causes of action.

In the present case, the transaction upon which the first cause of action was based - revocation of the permit - is the exact same transaction upon which the instant case is predicated. See Burns, 43 F.Supp. at 66. Against this Defendant, Plaintiffs employ the same legal theory that this Court found was applicable in Plaintiff's previous case, section 1983. Now, Plaintiffs also argue that sections 1985 and 1986 apply. Even though Plaintiffs offer two new theories of law, that does not alter the fact that their claims stem from the same transaction as before. Consequently, there is sufficient identity between the causes of action brought by Plaintiffs in 1998 and again in 1999.

Addressing the third criterion for claim preclusion, it historically was the rule that only parties involved in the original lawsuit could raise the argument of claim preclusion in a later proceeding. Today, however, parties that share sufficient identity with the original parties also may invoke claim preclusion. Gonzalez , 27 F.3d at 757.

Even though Defendant was not a defendant in Plaintiffs' first lawsuit, Plaintiffs named her as one of those involved in the controversy. See Burns, 43 F.Supp. at 65. In the present case, Plaintiffs claim that Defendant and the original defendants - the Town of Lamoine, John Fink and Sally Bell - acted as co-conspirators. As an alleged co-conspirator, Defendant shares sufficient identity with the original defendants. See El San Juan Hotel Corp. v. Kagan, 841 F.2d 6, 10 (1st Cir. 1988) (finding persuasive several holdings by other Circuit Courts of Appeal that claim preclusion is appropriate if "the new defendants have a close and significant relationship with the original defendants, such as when the new defendants were named as conspirators in the first proceeding but were not joined in the action."). Thus, the three criteria are met for the application of claim preclusion.

Furthermore, Plaintiffs have had a full and fair opportunity for judicial resolution. Plaintiffs had six years to bring their claim, but they failed to do so. A six-year window of opportunity certainly qualifies as a full and fair opportunity for judicial resolution. Therefore, claim preclusion prevents Plaintiffs from pursuing this lawsuit against Defendant.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons discussed above, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED. The Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE Plaintiffs' Complaint.

SO ORDERED.

GEORGE Z. SINGAL United States District Judge

Dated this 21st day of September, 2000.

1. It is within the discretion of the Court whether to rely only on the pleadings to render a decision regarding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or to incorporate affidavits and other materials and make an order as to summary judgment. See Whiting v. Maiolini, 921 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1990).

2. Plaintiffs allege that later they managed to obtain another subsurface wastewater permit, #904, which also was revoked illegally and unconstitutionally. Plaintiffs, however, do not allege that Theresa Davis had anything to do with permit #904.

Back to top