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Jessup v. Progressive Funding

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 13, 2016

BENNIE JESSUP, Plaintiff
v.
PROGRESSIVE FUNDING, et al., Defendants

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This is the third lawsuit that Plaintiff Bennie Jessup has filed against Defendants Progressive Funding and U.S. Bank National Association as Trustee for Holder of Bank of America Funding Corporation Mortgage Pass-Through Certificate, Series 2006-G (“U.S. Bank”), pertaining to the mortgage Plaintiff obtained for the property at 1855 Channing Street NE in Washington, D.C. Plaintiff initially filed a Complaint to Quiet Title against Progressive Funding and U.S. Bank in the District of Columbia Superior Court, which was subsequently removed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Through a thorough and comprehensive opinion, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson dismissed all claims against both defendants with prejudice on March 28, 2014. See Jessup v. Progressive Funding (“Jessup I”), 35 F.Supp.3d 25, 37 (D.D.C. 2014). Less than one month later, on April 16, 2014, Plaintiff filed another lawsuit in this district against Progressive Funding, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. See Jessup v. Progressive Funding (“Jessup II”), No. 14-cv-626-KBJ (D.D.C.), ECF No. 1. After duly warning Plaintiff of the consequence of failing to serve the defendants by a date specified by the court and after Plaintiff’s failure to effect proper service, Judge Jackson dismissed Jessup II without prejudice for failure to prosecute on February 20, 2015. See Jessup II, Order, ECF No. 6. Finally, five months later, Plaintiff filed the action now before this Court on July 27, 2015. See Compl., ECF No. 1. However, as explained below, the doctrine of res judicata serves to bar precisely this sort of repeated litigation.

Before the Court is the Defendant U.S. Bank’s [4] Motion to Dismiss. Defendant presents four arguments in favor of dismissing this action: that this case is barred by res judicata; that the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; that the Court should abstain under the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971); and that the Court should dismiss the claims against U.S. Bank because of improper service. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1]the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the Court GRANTS Defendant U.S. Bank’s [4] Motion to Dismiss. As explained further below, the Court concludes that this action is barred by res judicata in its entirety. Accordingly, there is no need to reach Defendant U.S. Bank’s other arguments in favor of dismissal. This case is dismissed in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

In light of the Court’s resolution of the pending motion on the grounds of res judicata, the Court reserves presentation of the relevant background for the discussion below.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint on the grounds that it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’ ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility 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, 556 U.S. at 678.

“Res judicata may be raised in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim when the defense appears on the face of the complaint and any materials of which the court may take judicial notice.” Sheppard v. District of Columbia, 791 F.Supp.2d 1, 5 n.3 (D.D.C. 2011). “The court may take judicial notice of public records from other court proceedings.” Lewis v. Drug Enforcement Admin., 777 F.Supp.2d 151, 159 (D.D.C. 2011) (citing Covad Commc’ns Co. v. Bell Atl. Corp., 407 F.3d 1220, 1222 (D.C. Cir. 2005)).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant presents several arguments in favor of dismissing this action, including that it is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Because the Court concludes that this case is squarely foreclosed by res judicata, the Court does not reach Defendant’s alternative arguments in favor of dismissal. See Williams v. Perez, No. 15-5228, 2016 WL 520265, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 1, 2016) (holding claims to be barred by res judicata without addressing the merits of jurisdictional arguments for dismissal).

Under the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, “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.” Sheppard, 791 F.Supp.2d at 4 (quoting Drake v. FAA, 291 F.3d 59, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). “A judgment on the merits is one that ‘reaches and determines the real or substantial grounds of action or defense as distinguished from matters of practice, procedure, jurisdiction or form.’ ” Id. at 7 (quoting Saylor v. Lindsley, 391 F.2d 965, 968 (2d Cir. 1968) (internal citations omitted)); see also Nwachukwu v. Karl, 222 F.R.D. 208, 212 (D.D.C. 2004) (noting the judicial goal of “deciding cases on their merits, as opposed to procedural mishaps dictating the outcome”). A decision on a motion to dismiss under Rule “12(b)(6) presents a ruling on the merits with res judicata effect.” Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987). “Whether two cases implicate the same cause of action turns on whether they share the same ‘nucleus of facts.’ ” Drake, 291 F.3d at 66 (quoting Page v. United States, 729 F.2d 818, 820 (D.C. Cir. 1984)). To determine whether two cases share the same nucleus of facts, courts consider “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 parties’ expectations or business understanding or usage.” Stanton v. D.C. Court of Appeals, 127 F.3d 72, 78 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (quotation omitted). In short, in deciding whether res judicata applies, the Court must consider “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.” NRDC v. EPA, 513 F.3d 257, 260 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Smalls v. United States, 471 F.3d 186, 192 (D.C. Cir. 2006)).

The present case satisfies all four of the criteria for res judicata.

First, in Jessup I, Plaintiff brought a case involving the same claims as those in the case presently before this Court. Specifically, in that case, Plaintiff claimed that Defendant U.S. Bank did not have standing to foreclose on the Channing Street property because it had not lawfully obtained the Note and Deed of Trust pertaining to the property. Jessup I, 35 F.Supp.3d at 31. As a result, Plaintiff sought a declaration that the Deed was null and void and a declaration quieting title to the Channing Street property in Plaintiff (as against the Defendants). Id. Plaintiff brings substantially the same claims in this case, arguing that Defendant U.S. Bank does not have standing to foreclose on the Channing Street property and that Defendant U.S. Bank is not the real party in interest. See Compl. ¶¶ 11-17. As in Jessup I, Plaintiff seeks an order in this case canceling the Trustee’s Deed and to quiet title in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendants. See Compl., Prayer for Relief.

Moreover, it is abundantly clear that the two cases arise from the same nucleus of facts. See Drake, 291 F.3d at 66 (“Whether two cases implicate the same cause of action turns on whether they share the same ‘nucleus of facts.’ ”). Both cases pertain to the mortgage Plaintiff obtained from Progressive Funding and pertain to Plaintiff’s claims about deficiencies in the subsequent putative assignment to Wells Fargo Bank and, ...


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