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Lopez v. Huff

September 14, 2007

RAMON LOPEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD L. HUFF, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

In this action brought under the Privacy Act ("PA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552a (2004), plaintiff, a federal prisoner, seeks the removal of alleged "inaccurate and . . . untimely information" from his Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") file. Complaint ("Compl.") at 1.*fn1 Particularly, plaintiff challenges the accuracy of information contained in his presentence investigation report ("PSI") that allegedly was relied upon by the BOP in making its custody determinations.*fn2 Compl. ¶¶ 8-9, 22-23, 25, 27. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages. Defendants now move to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (b)(6) or for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.*fn3 Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court will grant defendant's summary judgment motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is currently at the United States Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida, serving aggregate sentences amounting to life imprisonment. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Issue ("Def.'s Facts") ¶ 1. Plaintiff's sentence resulted from a two-count federal grand jury indictment issued on April 24, 1991, charging conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine (Count I) and possession with intent to distribute cocaine (Count II). Compl. ¶ 6. Plaintiff was found guilty of both counts following a jury trial in the Southern District of Florida. Id. ¶¶ 7, 10. The district court ordered a PSI, which was prepared by United States Probation Officer ("USPO") Janice S. Smith. Id. ¶ 8.

During the sentencing proceedings in 1993, plaintiff objected to a statement in the PSI that named him as a suspect in the murder of Tony Menzo. Def.'s Facts ¶ 3; see Compl., Ex. 5 (USPO Letter of October 1, 2003). The sentencing court ordered that the PSI be amended to reflect plaintiff's claim that he was not involved in the homicide. Id. Nonetheless, on direct appeal of the criminal case, plaintiff claimed that the sentencing court had erroneously relied on the challenged statement. Def.'s Facts ¶ 4 (citing Brief of the United States at *2, United States v. Lopez, No. 03-16351, 2004 WL 2019390 ); Compl. ¶ 10. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that plaintiff's challenges to his conviction and sentence "were without merit." Def.'s Facts ¶ 4.

In 1999, plaintiff "initiated a series of administrative attempts to correct, remove, and/or update [the damaging information in the PSI] by contacting "the different agencies maintaining such information in their files." Compl. ¶ 10. He unsuccessfully sought a written stipulation from Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") Barry Sabin exonerating him as a suspect in the homicide, id. ¶ 11, and wrote letters to the USPO and the BOP requesting that they amend their records, id.; see Compl., Ex. 2.

In December 2000, plaintiff filed a lawsuit in this Court under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") based on his request made to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida for records pertaining to his alleged connection to Menzo's murder. Compl. ¶ 13; Def.'s Facts ¶ 5. In describing documents reviewed in camera, the presiding judge acknowledged the existence of a note stating, "nothing to do w/Manzo [sic]." Lopez v. United States Dep't of Justice, Civ. Action No. 00-3080, at 2 (D.D.C., Aug. 22, 2003) (Bates, J.) (granting defendant's summary judgment motion).

After the FOIA case was resolved, plaintiff "[i]mmediately" contacted his Prison Unit Team and his assigned USPO, seeking their correction of the PSI. Compl. ¶ 15. His request was denied. Id. Plaintiff also petitioned the sentencing court for correction of the PSI, but the court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and thus denied the requested relief. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff next "resumed his administrative remedy procedure" with the BOP and the OIP pursuant to the PA, but "these procedures were either improper[ly] answered, ignored, and or denied." Id. ¶ 17. On August 16, 2004, plaintiff sent a Statement of Disagreement pursuant to 28 C.F.R § 16.46(d) to the BOP and the OIP. Compl. ¶ 18 and Exs. 7-8.Plaintiff then initiated this PA lawsuit in June 2006.

II. DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issues of material fact are in dispute and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Defendant asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies, the claims are barred by the statute of limitations and precluded by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, and plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The exhibits attached to plaintiff's complaint and his opposition raise questions about defendant's exhaustion and statute of limitations arguments making them unresolvable on the current record. However, because neither of these defenses precludes the Court from having subject matter jurisdiction,*fn4 they need not be addressed before reaching the defendant's other arguments. Therefore, the Court will resolve the res judicata and collateral estoppel defenses and then address the merits of the PA claim.

A. Res Judicata

Generally, a plaintiff is expected to "present in one suit all the claims for relief that he may have arising out of the same transaction or occurrence." U.S. Indus., Inc. v. Blake Const. Co., Inc., 765 F.2d 195, 205 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (quoting 1B J. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice, ¶ 0.410[1] (1983)). The doctrine of res judicata provides that a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving the same parties bars subsequent suits based on the same cause of action. Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326 n.5 (1979). Two cases implicate the same cause of action if they share the same nucleus of facts. Drake v. Fed. Aviation Admin., 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002). Res judicata bars not only claims that actually were litigated, but also claims that could have been litigated in the previous action. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980); I.A.M. Nat'l Pension Fund v. Indus. Gear Mfg. Co., 723 F.2d 944, 949 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (noting that res judicata "forecloses all that which might have been litigated previously"); Hardison v. Alexander, 655 F.2d 1281, 1288 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

In order for res judicata to apply, a defendant must show: (1) the identity of parties in both suits, (2) a judgment rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) a final judgment on the merits, and (4) an identity of the cause of action in both suits. Paley v. Estate of Ogus, 20 F. Supp. 2d 83, 87 (D.D.C.1998) (citing Brannock Assocs., Inc. v. Capitol 801 Corp., 807 F. Supp. 127, 134 (D.D.C. 1992) (citing U.S. Indus. Inc., 765 F.2d at 205 n. 21)). Here, defendant asserts that the case is barred by res judicata because plaintiff failed to assert his PA claim in the 2000 FOIA action. See Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem. of P.& A.") at 14-15. But, the FOIA and the PA create distinct causes of action. See Blazy v. Tenet, 194 F.3d 90, 92 (D.C. Cir. 1999) ("Not only do FOIA and the Privacy Act serve very different purposes, but there is nothing in either statute or in the relevant legislative history that requires courts to resolve claims arising under the Privacy Act pursuant to standards developed to assess claims arising under FOIA."); Greentree v. U.S. Customs Serv., 674 F.2d 74, ...


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