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David and Kay Sieverding v. United States Department of

March 12, 2012

DAVID AND KAY SIEVERDING, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Kay and David Sieverding, proceeding pro se, have sued the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ" or "Department") alleging violations of the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a et seq., as well as a number of other claims. Currently before the Court is the Department's motion to dismiss the Sieverdings' amended complaint in part or in the alternative for partial summary judgment.*fn1 Also pending are the Sieverdings' motion for partial summary judgment and an array of miscellaneous motions. For the reasons detailed below, the Court will grant the Department's motion to dismiss in part or in the alternative for partial summary judgment and will deny the Sieverdings' motion for partial summary judgment and their miscellaneous motions.

BACKGROUND

Given the Sieverdings' extensive litigation history, the factual background can be stated briefly. The Sieverdings originally sued dozens of individuals and entities in 2002 for damages arising out of a property dispute with their neighbors. See Sieverding v. Colo. Bar Ass'n, 02-M-1950, 2003 WL 22400218, at *1 (D. Colo. Oct. 14, 2003) ("Sieverding I"). The district court, adopting a magistrate judge's recommendation, dismissed the Sieverdings' complaint in full and the Tenth Circuit affirmed. See Sieverding v. Colo. Bar Ass'n, 469 F.3d 1340, 1342-43 (10th Cir. 2006) ("Sieverding II"). In light of what it described as the Sieverdings' "abusive litigation practices," the district court also imposed filing restrictions on the Sieverdings. Id. at 1344-45 (affirming filing restrictions in part). Kay Sieverding apparently failed to comply with these filing restrictions, and was arrested and jailed for civil contempt several times between 2005 and 2007. See id. at 1343; Sieverding v. Colo. Bar Ass'n, 244 Fed. Appx. 200, 205 (10th Cir. 2007). In this case, as well as in other cases, the Sieverdings once again allege dozens of Privacy Act and other violations stemming from these arrests and incarcerations.*fn2 See Sieverding v. Am. Bar Ass'n, 439 F. Supp. 2d 111 (D.D.C. 2006) ("Sieverding III"); Sieverding v. Dep't of Justice, 693 F. Supp. 2d 93 (D.D.C. 2010) ("Sieverding V"). On March 25, 2011, the Sieverdings filed a suit raising the same issues as addressed here, but they later voluntarily withdrew their claims. See Sieverding v. Dep't of Justice, Civ. Act. No. 11-90 (D.D.C.). Subsequently, this action was filed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A claim to relief is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach," under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. See Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bur. of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Moreover, "[c]courts must construe pro se filings liberally." Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 548 (D.C. Cir. 1999). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (the D.C. Circuit has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations" (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Along with its motion to dismiss in part the Sieverdings' amended complaint, the Department has moved in the alternative for partial summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The Department has offered affidavits in support of its motion, and the Sieverdings have filed voluminous documentation to support their position. When, on a motion to dismiss, "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56," and "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); see also Yates v. District of Columbia, 324 F.3d 724, 725, (D.C. Cir. 2003). To the extent the Sieverdings' allegations may be resolved on the evidentiary record before it, then, the Court will treat the government's motion to dismiss in part as one for partial summary judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits" that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the non-moving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-movant fails to offer "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Id. at 252.

ANALYSIS

As this Court previously observed, the Sieverdings' pleadings are "verbose, prolix and virtually impossible to understand." Sieverding V, 693 F. Supp. at 101 (citing and quoting Sieverding I, 2003 WL 22400218, at *1). And at the outset, the Court again notes that David Sieverding lacks standing to sue on behalf of his wife because "ordinarily, a plaintiff 'must assert his own legal interests, rather than those of third parties.'" See Sieverding V, 693 F. Supp. 2d at 101 (citing Fair Emp't Council v. BMC Mktg. Corp., 28 F.3d 1268, 1277 (D.C. Cir. 1994), and quoting Gladstone, Realtors v. Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 100 (1979)). Accordingly, any reference to "Sieverding" or defendant is to Kay Sieverding.

I. Res judicata

The DOJ argues that many of Sieverding's claims are barred by res judicata because they were either raised or could have been raised in Sieverding V. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 7. The Court agrees that at least some of the claims appear to be barred.

"The doctrine of res judicata prevents repetitious litigation involving the same course of action or the same issues." I.A.M. Nat'l Pension Fund v. Indus. Gear Mfg. Co., 723 F. 2d 944, 946 (D.C. Cir. 1983). While generally pleaded as an affirmative defense in an answer, a res judicata argument can be raised in a motion to dismiss when the "relevant facts are shown by the court's own records, of which the court takes notice." Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 590 F. Supp. 2d 164, 169 (D.D.C. 2008). Here, the arguments are made with ...


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