United States District Court, District of Columbia
April 28, 2015
Valentine B. Andela, Plaintiff,
USA/U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Defendant.
AMIT P. MEHTA, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on its initial review of plaintiff's pro se complaint and application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant plaintiff's application and will dismiss the case as precluded by his prior litigation against the same defendants.
Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits in one action "bars any further claim based on the same nucleus of facts'...." Page v. United States, 729 F.2d 818, 820 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (quoting Expert Elec., Inc. v. Levine, 554 F.2d 1227, 1234 (D.C. Cir. 1977)). Res judicata bars the relitigation "of issues that were or could have been raised in [the prior] action." Drake v. FAA, 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (emphasis in original) (citing Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980)). Consequently, "a party cannot escape application of the doctrine by raising a different legal theory or seeking a different remedy in the new action that was available to [him] in the prior action." Duma v. JP Morgan Chase, 828 F.Supp.2d 83, 86-87 (D.D.C. 2011), aff'd sub nom. Duma v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., No. 11-7147, 2012 WL 1450548 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 20, 2012) (citing Apotex, Inc. v. Food & Drug Admin., 393 F.3d 210, 217 (D.C. Cir. 2004)).
Although res judicata is an affirmative defense that typically must be pled, courts "may raise the res judicata preclusion defense sua sponte, " Rosendahl v. Nixon, 360 Fed.App'x. 167, 168 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citing Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392, 412-13 (2000); Brown v. D.C., 514 F.3d 1279, 1285-86 (D.C. Cir. 2008)), and a "district court may apply res judicata upon taking judicial notice of [a] [party's] previous case, " Tinsley v. Equifax Credit Info. Serv's, Inc., No. 99-7031, 1999 WL 506720 (D.C. Cir. June 2, 1999) (per curiam) (citing Gullo v. Veterans Cooperative Housing Ass'n, 269 F.2d 517 (D.C. Cir. 1959) (per curiam)).
Plaintiff lives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. He sues the United States and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") under the Sunshine Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552b, the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-06, and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-02. See Verified Compl. for Injunctive Relief, Declaratory Relief and Legal Damages ("Compl.") ¶ 1. As in his prior litigation in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, plaintiff essentially challenges "the EEOC's failure to provide him with an unredacted copy of the substantial weight review, " Andela v. Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, 569 Fed.App'x 80, 82 (3d Cir. 2014) (per curiam) - but here under the Sunshine Act instead of the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). See Compl. at 12-13. In addition, plaintiff challenges the EEOC's "handling of his Title VI and Title VII claims" of employment discrimination, Andela, 569 Fed.App'x at 82 - but here directly under the APA. See Compl. at 14-19. Finally, plaintiff seeks a declaration with regard to the EEOC's handling of his case. See Compl. at 21 (Prayer for Relief); cf. Andela, 569 Fed.App'x at 83 ("Andela's complaint demanded a declaration that he was continuingly prevented from properly litigating his Title VI and Title VII claims' because the defendants actively misled [him] respecting his cause of action' and prevented [him] from asserting his rights[.]'") (alterations in original).
As applicable to the claims presented here, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim for declaratory relief and ruled that the district court had "correctly determined that the federal agencies sued by Andela [including the EEOC] are immune from suit." Andela, 569 Fed.App'x at 83-84, quoting Smith v. Casellas, 119 F.3d 33, 34 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ("Congress has not authorized, either expressly or impliedly, a cause of action against the EEOC for the EEOC's alleged negligence or other malfeasance.") In addition, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the EEOC on plaintiff's FOIA claim challenging the agency's redaction of information from the Substantial Weight Review. See id. at 84-85. Plaintiff cannot relitigate those adjudicated claims simply by invoking different statutes. Moreover, relief is not available to him under either the APA or the Sunshine Act because the FOIA and Title VII each "provides a comprehensive system to administer [the] public rights'" asserted in the complaint. Johnson v. Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, 310 F.3d 771, 777 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting Spagnola v. Mathis, 859 F.2d 223, 228 (D.C. Cir. 1988)) (en banc). And "[i]t is clear that courts are precluded from granting [other] relief" under such circumstances. Id. Hence, this case will be dismissed with prejudice. A separate order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.