United States District Court, District of Columbia
December 16, 2002
JANE DOES I THROUGH III, PLAINTIFF,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND MRDDA, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Jane Doe I, Jane Doe II and Jane Doe III,*fn1 are
individuals with mental retardation who receive habilitation services
from the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs, by their next friends, bring
this action on their own behalf and on behalf of others similarly
situated, against the District of Columbia and the Mental Retardation and
Developmental Disabilities Administration ("MRDDA").*fn2 Plaintiffs
claim that, while they were in defendants' care, defendants authorized
non-emergency surgical procedures to be performed on them, without first
obtaining legal consent. Plaintiffs bring this action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and seek declaratory, injunctive relief, and
This matter comes before the court on defendants' motion for partial
judgment on the pleadings. Defendants claim that, even if relief is
warranted, plaintiffs' access to injunctive relief is foreclosed by res
judicata, as a result of prior litigation in Evans & United States
v. Williams, Civil Action No. 76-293. Defendants further contend that
MRDDA is not amenable to suit and therefore request that all claims
against MRDDA be dismissed. Upon consideration of defendants' motion,
plaintiffs' opposition thereto, and the record of this case, the court
concludes that defendants' motion must be granted in part and denied in
I. BACKGROUND INFORMATION
A. The Present Litigation
Plaintiffs are individuals with mental retardation who have been
institutionalized in District facilities since the 1960's. From the time
of their institution through 1978, plaintiffs resided in Forest Haven, a
facility which, before its closure, served the mentally retarded
population of the District of Columbia. They now reside in other
Plaintiffs bring this action because they claim that in the course of
services to plaintiffs and others similarly
situated, the District adopted a policy under which the Superintendent of
Forest Haven, and later, administrators of MRDDA, would routinely
authorize medical procedures to be performed on institutionalized
individuals. As a result of this policy, invasive, non-emergency
procedures were reportedly performed on plaintiffs, without medical
personnel ever consulting with, or receiving consent from, plaintiffs'
families, guardians, or court-appointed advocates. This District
policy, first known as Policy H-18, and presently known as Policy H-6, has
reportedly been in existence for at least thirty years and has allegedly
resulted in thousands of illegally-authorized surgical procedures,
including forced sterilizations,
hysterectomies, and abortions.*fn4
Plaintiffs contend that "defendants continue to this day to authorize
surgical procedures on individuals with developmental disabilities,
without the consent of any legally authorized representative." Compl. at
Plaintiffs claim that the District's policy violates their substantive
and procedural due process rights, secured by the Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendments. Among other remedies, plaintiffs seek "[i]injunctive relief
barring the District of Columbia from any further utilization of Policy
H-6 or any other policy that allows city officials to consent to elective
surgical procedures for plaintiffs and their fellow Class members without
due process of law." Compl. at 10.
This matter comes before the court on defendants' motion for partial
judgment on the pleadings. Defendants contend that res judicata, now
commonly known as claim preclusion, bars plaintiffs from obtaining
injunctive relief as a result of prior litigation in Evans & United
States v. Williams. Defendants contend that Jane Does I, II, and III
were class members in Evans, and that, as members of the Evans class,
plaintiffs' exclusive equitable remedy is an appropriate motion before the
B. Evans v. Washington
Before the court may parse the scope and effect of the Evans action, a
word on that litigation is warranted. Evans v. Washington was a class
action brought in 1976 by residents of Forest Haven. The gravamen of the
Evans plaintiffs' complaint was that they were not receiving a
"constitutionally minimal level of habilitation" while institutionalized
at Forest Haven. Evans class members alleged a wide range of
constitutional violations resulting from inhumane conditions at the
facility. Evans, Compl. ¶ 1. Specifically, class members claimed
that, while institutionalized at Forest Haven, they were over-medicated,
beaten, and burned by the Forest Haven staff and were reportedly deprived
of: decent nutrition, proper counseling and mental health treatment,
sufficient educational and vocational training, and adequate dental and
In 1978, the district court essentially agreed with the plaintiffs and
concluded that residents' constitutional rights had been violated.
Thereafter, the parties agreed to a detailed consent judgment that
addressed almost every aspect of life at Forest Haven and called for
closing that facility and placing its residents in "community living
arrangements." See Evans v. Washington, 459 F. Supp. 483 (D.D.C. 1978).
Since the filing of the aforementioned consent decree in1978, subsequent
consent orders have been entered, although regrettably, the District has
not always satisfied its obligations thereunder.*fn5 The Evans
litigation continues to
this day. See, e.g., Evans v. Williams,
139 F. Supp.2d 79 (D.D.C. 2001).
A. Legal Standard for Judgment on the Pleadings
The standard to be applied to defendants' motion for judgment on the
pleadings is the same as that under Rule 12(b). Dale v. Executive Office
of the President, 164 F. Supp.2d 22, 24 (D.D.C. 2001); Longwood Vill.
Rest. v. Ashcroft, 157 F. Supp.2d 61, 66-67 (D.D.C. 2001). That is, the
motion "should not be granted `unless plaintiffs can prove no set of
facts in support of their claim which would entitle them to relief.'"
Beverly Enterprises, Inc. v. Herman, 50 F. Supp.2d 7, 11 (D.D.C. 1999)
(citing Kowal v. MCI Communications, Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C.
Cir. 1994); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). To that end,
the complaint must be construed liberally in the plaintiff's favor and
the plaintiff should receive the benefit of all favorable inferences that
can be drawn from the alleged facts. EEOC. v. St. Francis Xavier
Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Tele-Comms. of Key
West, Inc. v. United States, 757 F.2d 1330, 1334-35 (D.C. Cir. 1985).
Where the pleadings present disputed questions of material fact, the
movant's motion for judgment on the pleadings must be denied. George C.
Frey Ready-Mixed Concrete, Inc. v. Pine Hill Concrete Mix Corp.,
554 F.2d 551, 553 (2d Cir. 1977).
While the standard of review under 12(c) is important for our
purposes, equally relevant is the scope of such a determination.
Rule 12(c) provides that matters outside the pleadings may not be considered
unless the court chooses to convert the motion into one for summary
As far as what constitutes a matter "outside the
pleadings," it is well established that courts "are allowed to take
judicial notice of matters in the general public record, including
records and reports of administrative bodies and records of prior
litigation" without triggering the conversion requirement. Black v.
Arthur, 18 F. Supp.2d 1127, 1131 (D. Or. 1998); accord Cinel v. Connick,
15 F.3d 1338
(5th Cir. 1994) (holding that the district court's
consideration of a consent judgment in a previous suit did not convert
the motion to
dismiss to one for summary judgment); Henson v. CSC Credit
Servs., 29 F.3d 280
(7th Cir. 1994); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons,
591 F.2d 966, 969 (D.C. Cir. 1979); Dale 164 F. Supp.2d at 25 (D.D.C.
2001); Baker v. Henderson, 150 F. Supp.2d 13, 15 (D.D.C. 2001). Thus,
this court may properly review public records of the Evans litigation.
The court may not, however, consider other information outside of the
pleadings and has properly excluded such information from its
consideration. See Dale, 164 F. Supp.2d at 24 n. 1.
B. Claim Preclusion
Generally, the doctrine of claim preclusion prevents claims between the
same parties or their privies from being relitigated after a final
judgment has been rendered in a prior suit. Semtek Int'l Inc. v. Lockheed
Martin Corp., 531 U.S. 497, 502 (2001) (citing Parklane Hosiery Co. v.
Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326 n. 5 (1979)). The preclusion encompasses not
only claims which were raised in the first action, but also claims which
should have or could have been raised during the prior litigation. See,
e.g., Nevada v. United States, 463 U.S. 110, 129 (1983); I.A.M. Nat'l
Pension Fund v. Indus. Gear Mfg., 723 F.2d 944, 947 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
Claim preclusion "ensures the finality of judgments in order to encourage
reliance on judicial decisions, to prevent vexatious litigation and to
free courts to decide other disputes." Zip Dee, Inc. v. Domestic Corp.,
886 F. Supp. 1427, 1431 (N.D.Ill. 1995).
In order for plaintiffs' claim to be barred by claim preclusion, there
must be: (1) an identity of the cause of action in both suits; (2) an
identity of parties in both suits; (3) a final judgment on the merits;
and (4) a judgment rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction. Am.
Forest Res. Council v. Shea, 172 F. Supp.2d 24, 29 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing
Paley v. Estate of Ogus, 20 F. Supp.2d 83, 87 (D.D.C. 1998)). Plaintiffs
claim that three of these elements are unsatisfied. That is, plaintiffs
argue that: (1) there is no identity of claims between the two
lawsuits; (2) the parties in the suits are not identical; and (3) there
has been no final judgment on the merits in the Evans action. As the
party seeking to establish claim preclusion, defendants have the burden as
to all of these matters. See General Elec. v. Deutz Ag, 270 F.3d 144,
158 (3d Cir. 2001) ("The party seeking to take advantage of claim
preclusion has the burden of establishing it.") (citation omitted);
Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of Comm'rs., 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985); Zip
Dee, Inc., 886 F. Supp. at 1431.
1. Identity of Claims
In order to find claim preclusion, the court must find that this suit
and the Evans suit concern the same "cause of action." I.A.M., 723 F.2d
at 947. While this standard is well established, the precise contours of
a `cause of action' are not as clear. "The term has been given varied
treatment depending largely on the facts of each case." Id. at 947-48.
The determination of what constitutes a single cause of action is
focused on the "nucleus of facts" surrounding a transaction, rather than
the legal theories utilized by the parties. Page v. United States,
729 F.2d 818, 820 (D.C. Cir. 1984). Following the Restatement (Second)
of Judgments, the D.C. Circuit has set forth several factors to determine
if a claim arises from a previously litigated transaction or occurrence.
These factors include, "whether the facts are related in time, space,
origin, or motivation, whether they form a convenient trial unit, and
whether their treatment as a unit conforms to the
or business understanding or usage." I.A.M. 723 F.2d at 949 n 5. A
single cause of action may include not only claims previously litigated
but also claims that arise from the same transaction or occurrence of the
previous action that could have been litigated therein. Stroman v. Blue
Cross and Blue Shield Ass'n, 966 F. Supp. 9, 11 (D.D.C. 1997).
Plaintiffs claim that litigation in Evans does not preclude equitable
relief here. They rely primarily on the fact that the entire thrust of
the Evans lawsuit is different from the instant litigation. Plaintiffs
claim that the "Evans litigation was initiated to enjoin the District of
Columbia to de-institutionalize Forest Haven, and provide habilitation to
mentally retarded persons in community based environments." Pls.' Opp.
at 7. In contrast, "this case arises out of an unconstitutional policy
whereby city officials illegally consent to elective surgical procedures
on mentally retarded citizens." Id.
Plaintiffs also contend that the claim is not barred by claim
preclusion because, they assert, plaintiffs' claims could not have been
brought in the prior action because plaintiffs' injuries were sustained
after Evans was filed. Moreover, two of the three plaintiffs sustained
injuries even after judgment was entered in the Evans litigation. That
is, Jane Doe I's injury was not sustained until 1982, and Jane Doe II's
injury was sustained in 1994, four and sixteen years, respectively, after
the initial Evans consent decree was entered.
Based on the information presently before the court, the court
concludes that defendants have failed to meet their burden of
demonstrating that plaintiffs' allegations present the same "cause of
action" as that presented in Evans.
To begin, the court agrees with plaintiffs that the "thrust" of the two
lawsuits is different. The plaintiffs in Evans sought broad and
comprehensive action — the closing of Forest Haven and general
reform of the District of Columbia's care and treatment of the mentally
retarded. Here, in contrast, plaintiffs seek monetary relief and ask the
court to enjoin one discrete District policy. These differences point to
different motivations animating the two disputes.
The court is also persuaded that the question of medical consent was
not settled — or even addressed — by the Evans court. The
final judgment in Evans, the 1978 consent decree, did discuss some
medical issues. The decree enjoined defendants from administering
"excessive or unnecessary medications to class members" and "[u]sing
medication as punishment." See Evans 459 F. Supp. at 489. The decree
further stated: "A program of medical, dental and health related
services for class members which provides accessibility, quality and
continuity of care for physical illness or injury is required. . . . All
injuries or illnesses which require the attention of a physician shall be
immediately reported to the class member's parent or guardian." Id.
(emphasis added). Importantly, then, while the decree provided for
familial notification, by its plain terms, the decree did not directly
address the question of medical consent. C.f., Dart Drug Corp. v.
Schering Corp., 320 F.2d 745, 749 (D.C. Cir. 1963) (noting that consent
decrees "are to be read within their four corners" and "are binding only
to the extent to which they go").*fn7
Moreover, even assuming that medical consent was litigated in Evans, a
fact in much dispute, the conduct here is temporally distinct from any
matter addressed by the Evans judgment. Jane Doe I and II's claims arose
years after the initial consent judgment was entered. This is important
for two reasons.
First, the D.C. Circuit has noted that courts, in determining whether
acts fall within the same "cause of action," should look to the "timing"
of these occurrences. The more distant in time, the more likely it is
that the claims constitute two causes of action.
Second, and far more important, courts have held that claim preclusion
does not extend to claims that did not arise until after the original
pleading was filed in the earlier litigation. That is, while a previous
judgment "precludes recovery on claims arising prior to its entry, it
cannot be given the effect of extinguishing claims which did not even
then exist and which could not possibly have been sued upon in the
previous case." Lawlor v. Nat'l Screen Serv. Corp., 349 U.S. 322, 328
(1955); accord Commissioner v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 598 (1948); Manning
v. City of Auburn, 953 F.2d 1355, 1359-60 (11th Cir. 1992) (finding that
claim preclusion extends to claims in existence at the time of filing of
the original complaint and any additional claims actually asserted by
supplemental pleading); Spiegel v. Cont'l Ill. Nat'l Bank, 790 F.2d 638,
644-46 (7th Cir. 1986) (finding that a second action was barred by claim
preclusion except as to matters that occurred after the filing of the
first action). This rule is equally applicable in the consent judgment
context, unless the specific consent decree clearly provides otherwise.
See, e.g., Joshi v. Prof'l Health Services, Inc., 817 F.2d 877, 880-81
(D.C. Cir. 1987) (although a "consent order bars claims . . . arising
prior to its entry, it cannot preclude litigation of claims based on
[conduct] effected subsequent to that date"). Finally, the rule applies
even if the defendant is engaged in a "continuing course of conduct" that
is "related to conduct complained of in an earlier suit." Green v.
Illinois Dept. of Transp., 609 F. Supp. 1021, 1024 (N.D.Ill. 1985).
Crowe v. Leeke, 550 F.2d 184 (4th Cir. 1977), is particularly
instructive. In Crowe, prison inmates brought an action against prison
officials challenging the constitutionality of prison mail procedures
which allowed correspondence from attorneys to be opened and inspected
outside the presence of the inmate-addressee. Crowe, 550 F.2d at 185.
The district court initially dismissed the action, ruling that a prior
class action on behalf of all prisoners, which challenged the
constitutionality of mail regulations generally, precluded this more
specific, subsequent lawsuit. The Fourth Circuit disagreed. Id. The
Crowe court found that a prior class action did not bar an inmate from
bringing a subsequent challenge, so long as the inmate was challenging
acts which occurred after the judgment in the first suit was entered.
This was true, moreover, even when the inmate bringing the second action
was a member of the previous class. The court found:
the [prior] judgment does not bar the present action
under principles of res judicata. Although that
judgment precludes plaintiffs from relitigating the
constitutionality of defendants' acts occurring before
[the day the first judgment was issued], res judicata
does not prevent them from challenging acts occurring
after [that date].
Id. at 187. The court therefore concluded that claim preclusion "has
very little applicability to a fact situation involving a continuing
series of acts, for generally each act gives rise to a new cause of
Although this question is a very difficult one, after giving plaintiffs
the benefit of all favorable inferences, as the court must under
Rule 12(c), the court finds that defendants have not demonstrated that this
case and Evans arise from the same "cause of action."*fn8
have not shown that plaintiffs' claim was, or could have been, brought
before the Evans court.
2. Identity of Parties
Application of claim preclusion requires an identity of parties.
Defendants state that "700 members of the putative class in this case are
members of the Evans class." Defs.' Mem. at 1. Plaintiffs claim that
there "is no basis for this allegation in the pleadings, or in any facts
before this court." Pls.' Opp. 5. Defendants also assert that
plaintiffs Jane Does I, II, and III are Evans class members. Defs.' Mem.
at 1 n. 2. In regard to this claim, plaintiffs, once again, provide that
"this is an unsupported hearsay assertion, not properly
before this court." Pls.' Opp. at 5. Plaintiffs concede that "there may
indeed be some overlap between the putative class here and the Evans class"
but plaintiffs nevertheless insist that "the two classes are not
Though plaintiffs never specifically state that Jane Does I, II, and
III are not Evans class members, this matter appears unsettled. It is
also unclear, assuming arguendo that a class will be certified here, to
what extent there will be overlap between the class members in Evans and
class members in the instant action. The court expects that these
easy-to-answer questions will be resolved in the near term. At this
time, however, the burden of showing an identity of the parties is on
defendants, and, with factual issues unresolved, the court cannot find
this burden has been met. See generally Bennett v. State Farm Fire
& Cas. Ins. Co., 890 F. Supp. 440, 441-42 (E.D. Pa. 1995) (denying
the defendant's motion to dismiss because the defendant had not
demonstrated that the plaintiff was a member of the
previously-adjudicated class action).
3. Final Judgment
While it does not alter the court's ultimate resolution of defendants'
motion, the court does find that defendants have demonstrated that there
was a final judgment in the Evans litigation. Plaintiffs claim that
there has been no final judgment on the Evans litigation because the case
is ongoing and the "final judgment" that was issued in 1978 has been
highly contested and subject to great revision. The contested nature of
that "final judgment," according to plaintiffs, is best evidenced by a
statement by Judge Harris, in which he stated: "On June 14, 1978, Judge
Pratt issued a Final Judgment and Order, which unfortunately proved to be
about as final as peace in the Balkans." Evans v. Williams,
139 F. Supp. 79, 84 (D.D.C. 2001). See Pls.' Reply at 6.
Plaintiffs' argument is without merit. "Consent decrees generally are
treated as final judgments on the merits and accorded res judicata
effect." I.A.M., 723 F.2d at 947; accord United States v. Swift &
Co., 286 U.S. 106, 112 (1931) ("a decree entered upon consent . . . [is]
a definitive adjudication setting [the] controversy at rest"); O'Cedar
Corp. v. F.W. Woolworth Co., 66 F.2d 363, 366 (7th Cir. 1933) ("a decree
of a court . . . rendered by consent of the parties . . . is as binding
and conclusive between the parties and their privies as if the suit had
been an adversary one"). Thus, defendants have adequately satisfied this
In sum, at the present time, many questions remain. "The burden of
establishing preclusion is placed on the party claiming it, and
reasonable doubts will be resolved against an asserted preclusion."
Schneider v. Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, 546 F. Supp. 1251, 1271
(D.P.R. 1982) (citations omitted). Without more guidance, the court
cannot find that defendants have carried their burden. The court
therefore denies defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings
concerning plaintiffs' request for equitable relief, pursuant to
C. Dismissal of Claims Against MRDDA
Defendants also ask the court to dismiss all claims against MRDDA
because, as a District of Columbia entity, the MRDDA is not amenable to
suit. In this regard, defendants are quite right. The law is clear that
"agencies and departments within the District of Columbia government are
not suable as separate entities." Gales v. Dist. of Columbia,
47 F. Supp.2d 43, 48 (D.D.C. 1999) (citing Fields v. Dist. of Columbia
Dept. of Corrections, 789 F. Supp. 20, 22 (D.D.C. 1992)); see also Arnold
v. Moore, 980 F. Supp. 28, 33 (D.D.C. 1997) ("[g]overnmental agencies of
the District of Columbia are not suable entities") (citing Roberson v.
Dist. of Columbia Bd. of Higher Ed., 359 A.2d 28, 31 n. 4 (D.C. App.
1976); Miller v. Spencer, 330 A.2d 250, 251 n. 1 (D.C. App. 1974));
Jenkins v. Dist. of Columbia, 1996 WL 440551, *1 n. 2 (D.D.C. 1996).
Accordingly, the MRDDA is non sui juris, and the court therefore lacks
jurisdiction over it.
Accepting as true all factual allegations and drawing all reasonable
inferences in plaintiffs' favor, this court concludes that defendants'
motion for partial judgment on the pleadings on the ground of claim
preclusion is DENIED and defendants' motion to dismiss claims against
MRDDA because that entity is not amenable to suit is GRANTED.
Accordingly, it is this 16th day of December, 2002, hereby:
ORDERED, that defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.