United States District Court, D. Maryland
THEODORE D. CHUANG, United States District Judge
September 9, 2015, Plaintiff Bismark Kwaku Torkornoo
("Mr. Torkornoo") filed a Complaint based on
diversity jurisdiction against Defendants Mary Torkornoo
("Ms. Torkornoo"), his former wife; Jacqueline
Ngole, Esq., an attorney who represented Ms. Torkornoo in
divorce and child custody proceeding; Nina Helwig, Esq., the
"best interest attorney" for the Torkornoos'
children; and John Monahan, Esq., the trustee for the sale of
the Torkornoos' former marital home (collectively,
"Defendants"). Mr. Torkornooss 65-page Second
Amended Complain, filed on October 13, 2015, contains three
counts: interference with parental rights, fraudulent
misrepresentation, and unjust enrichmen. A review of the
Second Amended Complaint reveals that Mr. Torkornooss claims
generally consist of allegations of error and misconduct
relating to the proceedings in a state court family law case
in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland
("the Circuit Court") between Mr. Torkornoo and Ms.
Torkornoo. Torkornoo v. Torkornoo, No. 71419FL (Cir.
Ct. Montgomery Cty. 2008) ("the Family Case"),
not the first case filed by Mr. Torkornoo alleging claims
arising from the Family Case. On July 5, 2013, Mr. Torkornoo
filed a state court action against the same Defendants in the
Circuit Court. See Torkornoo v. Torkornoo, No.
378782V (Cir. Ct. Montgomery Cty. 2013) ("the State
Case"), available at
Torkornoo's Fourth Amended Complaint in the State Case,
filed on November 15, 2013, alleged negligence, loss of
property, misrepresentation of material facts, slander, abuse
of process, fraud, emotional abuse, and physical harassment
claims against some or all of Defendants arising out of
actions taken during the Family Case or the subsequent sale
of his marital home by the court-appointed trustee.
See Fourth Am. CompI. at 10-15, State Case (Docket
No. 68). On November 27, 203,, Judge Cynthia
Callahan of the Circuit Court granted seven different motions
to dismiss and dismissed the case. Mr. Torkornoo appealed
this decision, but the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
dismissed the appeal on June 9, 2014 after Mr. Torkornoo
failed to meet the briefing schedule. Mr. Torkornoo filed a
petition for a writ of certiorari with the Court of Appeals
of Maryland, but that petition was denied.
Torkornoo has also contested issues arising from the Family
Case in federal court. On March 23, 2015, Mr. Torkornoo filed
a Complaint in this Court against Ms. Torkornoo, Ngole,
Helwig, and Monahan-ehe same Defendants in the present
case-alleging abuse of process, conspiracy, negligence, and
fraud on the court arising from events in the Family Case,
including the award to Ms. Torkornoo of custody of their
children and Monahanss alleged misrepresentation of the
balance of a mortgage on the marital home. See Torkornoo
v. Ngole ("Torkornoo I), No. PJM-15-0839, slip op.
at 2 (D. Md. Mar. 31, 2015) (ECF No. 3). On March 31, 2015,
the Court (Messitte, J.) dismissed the case without
prejudice, finding that the Court lacked subject matter
jurisdiciion to decide what was, in effect, an appeal of a
state court decision. Id. at 4-5. On April 6, 2015,
Mr. Torkornoo filed another Complaint against the same
Defendants, as well as Judge Callahan and Master Clark Wisor,
two judicial officers connected to the Family Case, alleging
constitutional violations, battery, accounting fraud, abuse
of process, and emotional distress arising from the Family
Case. Torkornoo v. Torkornoo ("Torkornoo II),
No. PJM-15-0980, 2015 WL 1962271 at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 29,
2055), aff'd 607 Fed.Appx. 341 (4th Cir. 2015),
On April 29, 2015, the Court (Messitte, J.) dismissed the
case without prejudice, once again observing that the case
"is essentially an attempt to appeal in this federal
court various state court rulings in divorce and custody
proceedings in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County."
Id. at *3. On August 18, 2015, Mr. Torkornoo filed
yet another case against the same judicial officers but not
the named Defendants in this case, alleging what the Court
described as "a catalogue of the reasons why the
outcome" of the Family Case was "flawed and
unjust." Torkornoo v. Callahan ("Torkornoo
III), No. PJM-15-2445, slip op. at 3, (D. Md. Sept. 16,
2015) (ECFNo.3,, aff'd 627 Fed.Appx. 183 (4th
Cir. 2015). On September 16, 2015, the Court (Messitte, J.)
dismissed that case with prejudice because the defendants had
judicial immunity. Id. at 6.
6, 2016, this Court determined that Mr. Torkornoo's
Second Amended Complaint in the present case asserts claims
that are "inextricably intertwined with the issues that
were before the state court" and ordered the case
dismissed pursuant to the Rooker-Feldmnn doctrine.
Mem. Order at 4, ECF No. 43. Mr. Torkornoo appealed the
decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit. On June 28, 2016, the Fourth Circuit decided
Thorn v. Bd. of License Commissioness for Charles County,
Maryland, 827 F.3d 314 (4th Cir. 2016), which clarified
the scope and application of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. On December 8, 2016, the Fourth Circuit vacated
this Court's dismissal of M.. Torkornoo's Second
Amended Complaint and remanded the case for reconsideraiion
in light of Thana, noting that "tensions"
between state and federal proceedings involving a similar
cause of action "should be managed through the doctrines
of preclusion, comity, and abstention." Torkornoo v.
Helwig, 671 Fed.Appx. 130, 131 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Thana, 827 F.3d at 320).
now move to dismiss all of M.. Torkornoo's claims,
arguing that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine still
applies and that Mr. Torkornoo's claims in this suit are
otherwise barred by preclusion or estoppel. Res
judicata, also known as claim preclusion, is a legal
doctrine that promotes judicial efficiency and the finality
of decisions. In re Microsoft Corp Antitrust
Litigation, 335 F.3d 322, 325 (4th Cir. 2004). Under the
doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment on the
merits in an earlier decision precludes the parties from
relitigating issues that were raised or could have been
raised during that action. Pueschel v. United
States, 369 F.3d 345, 354 (4th Cir. 2004). This doctrine
applies when there is: (1) a final judgment on the merits in
a prior lawsuit; (2) an identity of cause of action in both
the earlier and later suits; and (3) an identity of parties
or their privies in the two suits. Id. at 354-55.
federal court must give preclusive effect to a Maryland court
judgment if a Maryland court would do so if the second action
had been brought before it. See 28 U.S.C.-1738
(2012); San Remo Hotel v. Cty. of San Francisco, 545
U.S. 323, 336 (2005). Since Maryland courts utilize the same
res judicata elements as federal courts, the
analysis of Mr. Torkornoo's claim is the same as if his
earlier claims had been brought in federal court. See
Anne Arundel Cty. Bd. of Ed. v. Norville, 887 A.2d 1029,
1037-38 (Md. 2005).
respect to the third prong, identity of parties, Defendants
in the present case were all named as defendants in the State
Case, Torkornoo 1, and Torkornoo II. Of
these cases, Torkornoo 1and Torkornoo II
were dismissed without prejudice and therefore do not satisfy
the first prong, that the prior case be finally decided on
the merits. See, e.g., Mann v. Haigh, 120 F.3d 34,
36 (4th Cir. 1997). The State Case, however, was dismissed
after consideration of "the entire record" and
after Judge Callahan granted seven Motions to Dismiss. These
Motions" collectively asserted grounds including a lack
of a legal or factual basis for Mr. Torkornoo's claims
and a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. In particular, Monahanss Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiffs Fourth Amended Bill of Complaint, which was
granted, asserted failure to state a claim as its only basis
for dismissal. Dismissal on this basis operates as a final
judgment on the merits for res judicata purposes.
See Boland v. Boland, 31 A.3d 529, 570 (Md. 2011)
(noting that resolution of a case based on a failure to state
a claim is on the merits); see also 46 Am. Jur. 2d
Judgments SS 542-43, Westlaw (database updated Oct.
2017) (noting that dismissals based on a failure to state a
claim or lack of a factual foundation have preclusive
effects). Moreover, Mr. Torkornoo appealed the Circuit
Court's dismissal order to the Maryland Court of Special
of Appeals and the Maryland Court of Appeals. Under Maryland
law, a trial court's ruling is only appealable if it is a
final judgment on the merits, absent narrow exceptions not
applicable here. See Monarch Acad. Bait. Campus, Inc. v.
Bait. City Bd. of Sch. Comm'rs, 153 A.3d 859, 870-71
(Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2017); see also Deer Auto. Grp., LLC
v. Brown, 163 A.3d 176, 183-84 (Md. 2017) (stating that
only a final judgment may be appealed); Cook v.
State, 381 A.2d 671, 674 (Md. 1978) (noting that the
standard of finality for res judicata purposes is
similar to the standard of finality for purposes of appeal).
Therefore, the State Case satisfies the first and third
prongs of the res judicata analysis.
second prong, whether the present case and the State Case
arise out of the same cause of action, is also satisfied.
Cases involve the same "cause of action" if they
"arise out of the same transaction or series of
transactions or the same core of operative facts."
Puesche,, 369 F.3d at 355 (quoting In re Varat
Enters., Inc., 81 F.3d 1310, 1316 (4th Cir. 1996)). Even
if a plaintiff is proceeding under a different legal theory,
"[a]s long as the second suit arises out of the same
transaction or series of transactions as the claim resolved
by the prior judgment, the first suit will have preclusive
effect." Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal. v. Aracoma Coal
Co., 556 F.3d 177, 210 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal
citation omitted). Notably, res judicata bars not
only claims actually litigated in the first case, but also
claims that could have been litigated in that proceeding.
Puesche,, 369 F.3d at 355-56.
not easily construed, Mr. Torkornooss claims of interference
with parental rights, fraudulent misrepresentation, and
unjust enrichment are all based on Defendants' actions
throughout the Family Case. For example, here, Mr. Torkornoo
claims that Ms. Torkornoo, Ngole, and Helwig all conspired to
use false testimony against him during a July 30, 2012
hearing in the Family Case. Similarly, the Fourth Amended
Complaint in the State Case alleges that these same
defendants "willfully misled the court" during the
same July 30, 2012 hearing. Mr. Torkornooss Second Amended
Complaint does not cite any factual basis for his claims
aside from the Family Case proceedings and the sale of his
marital home, the same facts that form the basis of the State
Case. None of Defendants' allegedly wrongful acts
referenced in the Second Amended Complaint took place after
November 15, 2013, the date the Fourth Amended Complaint in
the State Case was filed. Accordingly, Mr. Torkornooss claims
in the present case arise out of the same core of operative
facts as the State Case and are thus precluded by res
judicata. The precluded claims include not only the
misrepresentatinn claim actually litigated in the State Case,
but also the intentional interference with parental rights
and unjust enrichment claims because they could have been
brought in the State Case as well. See Puesche,, 369
F.3d at 355-56. The Court will therefore dismiss with
prejudice Mr. Torkornoo's Second Amended Complaint.
the Court notes that Mr. Torkornoo has filed four federal
actions and at least one state action arising out of the same
set of facts, all of which have been dismissed. These
dismissals should signal to Mr. Torkornoo that future
attempts to litigate issues surrounding his divorce
proceedings will not succeed. The Court reiterates its
recommendation that Mr. Torkornoo review Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure ll(b)-(c), which provides that the Court may
impose monetary sanctions against a party for filing
frivolous or baseless claims.
it is hereby ORDERED that:
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, ...