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Stanley Summer v. Kirk andrews

July 6, 2012

STANLEY SUMMER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KIRK ANDREWS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On June 5, 2012, plaintiff Stanley Summer filed a pro se Complaint in this Court against ten defendants, alleging violation of his constitutional rights stemming from an allegedly fraudulent divorce proceeding between the plaintiff and his ex-wife. The plaintiff, however, has already asserted the claims associated with his divorce proceeding in the Eastern District of Tennessee, which granted motions to dismiss and for summary judgment in favor of the defendants in that case. Consequently, for the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss, sua sponte, the plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and the doctrine of res judicata, which bars the plaintiff from re-litigating previously adjudicated issues before this Court.

I.BACKGROUND

The plaintiff alleges numerous constitutional violations against the ten named defendants.*fn1 Specifically, the plaintiff asserts claims against Blount County, Tennessee, and six County officials, including Captain Randall Mercks, Sheriff James Lee Berrong, Officers Lisa Whitehead and James West of the Blount County Police Department, and Stephen Ogle and Thomas Hatcher from the Blount County Clerk's Office; as well as three private individuals, his ex-wife Nancy Joan Summer and her two divorce attorneys, Kirk Andrews and Chris Ralls. The factual allegations relevant to the plaintiff's claims are difficult to decipher, but are generally described below.

On February 20, 2003, the plaintiff's wife, defendant Nancy Summer, filed for divorce in the Circuit Court for Blount County in Tennessee. Compl. at 8.*fn2 Defendant Summer was represented in the divorce proceeding by defendants Kirk Andrews and Chris Ralls. The plaintiff alleges that these three defendants filed a fraudulent divorce petition in which defendant Summer represented that she had been married only once before when in fact her marriage to the plaintiff was her fourth. Id. at 8-11. It appears from the Complaint that at the time of the divorce proceedings the plaintiff was unaware that defendant Summer had been married on two other occasions.

Defendant Summer successfully divorced the plaintiff, and the state court divided their marital property, ordering the sale of some of the plaintiff's asserts. Id. at 10-12. On June 22, 2009, the plaintiff's house was sold at a Sheriff's sale, and other personal items belonging to the plaintiff were seized during the following two months. Id. at 13-14.

The plaintiff alleges in the instant Complaint that the four Blount County police offers who participated in the seizure and sale of the plaintiff's property violated his constitutional rights when they took his property. Id. at 15-18. He further asserts that defendant Summer and her two divorce attorneys engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deprive him of property when they filed a false divorce petition. Finally, the plaintiff alleges that two employees of the Blount County Clerk's Office participated in the scheme to deprive the plaintiff of his constitutional rights by failing to uncover the false statements in the divorce petition. In recompense for the alleged violation of his rights, the plaintiff seeks $120 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages per defendant. Id. at 32.

The plaintiff's Complaint before this Court, however, is not his first attempt to seek redress for the alleged violation of his rights stemming from his divorce from defendant Summer and the resulting sale of some of his assets. In 2010, the plaintiff initiated suit in the Eastern District of Tennessee against numerous individuals, including Blount County, and defendant police officers Mercks, Berrong, Whitehead, and West. That court granted summary judgment in favor of these defendants after concluding that the officers were entitled to immunity because they were acting in accordance with valid court orders. Summer v. Cunningham, No. 3:10-cv-169, 2011 WL 52554, at *4-7 (E.D. Tenn. Jan. 7, 2011).

Upon review of the ruling issued by the Eastern District of Tennessee in the plaintiff's previously filed case, this Court concludes that the plaintiff's allegations against Blount County, the defendant police officers -- Mercks, Berrong, Whitehead, and West -- as well as its claims against defendants Ogle and Hatcher from the Blount County Clerk's Office are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Moreover, the plaintiff's allegations against defendant Summer, Andrews, and Ralls fail to state cognizable claims for relief. Consequently, the Court will dismiss the plaintiff's Complaint sua sponte.

II.STANDARD OF REVIEW

To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff need only plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" and to "nudge[ ] [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). "[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Instead, the complaint must plead facts that are more than "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability; "the plaintiff [must plead] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1940, 1949; Rudder v. Williams, 666 F.3d 790, 794 (D.C. Cir. 2012). The Court must "assume all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact) . . . [and] must give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences derived from the facts alleged." Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

In this Circuit, "[c]complaints may . . . be dismissed . . . sua sponte . . . under Rule 12(b)(6) whenever the plaintiff cannot possibly win relief." Best v. Kelly, 39 F.3d 328, 331 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (internal quotations omitted); see also Klute v. Shinseki, 797 F. Supp. 2d 12, 17 (D.D.C. 2011) (citing Best in dismissing, sua sponte, the plaintiff's Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") claims against the federal government because the ADA does not consider the federal government an employer); Moore v. Motz, 437 F. Supp. 2d 88, 94 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Best in dismissing, sua sponte, the plaintiff's claim against government officials for failure to fulfill campaign promises, as such a cause of action does not exist). Complaints filed by pro se plaintiffs, however, "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Even a pro se complainant, however, must plead "factual matter" that permits the court to infer "more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Atherton v. D.C. Office of Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 682 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).

III.DISCUSSION

"The doctrine of res judicata prevents repetitious litigation involving the same causes of action or the same issues." Sheppard v. District of Columbia, 791 F. Supp. 2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2011) (citing I.A.M. Nat'l Pension Fund v. Indus. Gear Mfg. Co., 723 F.2d 944, 946 (D.C. Cir. 1983)). Under claim preclusion, a subsequent lawsuit will be barred if there has been prior litigation (1) involving the same claims or cause of action, (2) between the same parties or their privies, and (3) there has been a final, valid judgment on the merits, (4) by a court of competent jurisdiction. See Porter v. Shah, 606 F.3d 809, 813 (D.C. Cir. 2010); Smalls v. United States, 471 F.3d 186, 192 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Blonder-Tongue Labs., Inc. v. Univ. of Ill. Found., 402 U.S. 313, 323-24 (1971); Comm'r of Internal Revenue v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 597 (1948)); Herrion v. Children's Hosp. Nat'l Med. Ctr., 786 F. Supp. 2d 359, 368 (D.D.C. 2011). Moreover, 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." Drake v. FAA, 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980)) (emphasis in original). In order for issue preclusion to bar a claim, "(1), the same issue now being raised must have been contested by the parties and submitted for ...


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