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Abunaw v. Pedro Campos

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

January 17, 2018

ALFRED ABUNAW, Plaintiff,
v.
PEDRO CAMPOS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Alfred Abunaw visited a branch of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (the “Bank”) on business on September 12, 2013.[1] Compl. ¶¶ 5, 12, ECF No. 1. According to Abunaw, Defendant Pedro Campos, the branch manager, called the police and falsely reported that Abunaw had refused to leave when asked. Id. ¶ 15. As a result, he claims, police officers asked him to step outside of the bank, and he was “unlawfully and brutally” arrested, briefly imprisoned, and falsely charged with disorderly conduct. Id. at 4, ¶¶ 17-27. He also claims that the police unlawfully searched his car while he was in jail. Id. ¶ 24. At trial on the ensuing charge, Abunaw agreed to community service, and his case was placed on the stet docket. Id. ¶¶ 36-43. He later requested that his case be reopened. Id. ¶ 50. When he went to court for trial, he saw Campos and the prosecutors leave the courtroom, and then he learned that the case against him had been dismissed. Id. ¶¶ 51-54.

         He filed Abunaw v. Prince George's Corrections Dep't, Civil Action No. DKC-13-2746 (“Abunaw I”), in this Court in 2013, bringing claims against the Prince George's Police Department and Department of Corrections (construed as claims against Prince George's County (the “County”)), as well as claims against Officers Perret and Rustin. ECF Nos. 1 & 3 in Abunaw I. His claims against the officers were dismissed for failure to comply with an order to serve them properly. ECF No. 30 in Abunaw I. Abunaw's claims against the County were dismissed for failure to state a Monell[2] claim. ECF No. 35 in Abunaw I. He sought leave to amend to add Commissioner Brian Lofton (the “Commissioner”) as a defendant, but his request was denied as frivolous because he tried to claim that the Commissioner was part of a conspiracy, without providing sufficient factual support. ECF Nos. 29 & 35 in Abunaw I. Abunaw also sought leave to amend his pleadings to include claims against the Bank and Campos, but the Court denied his motion to amend as futile because, while Abunaw did not identify his cause of action, “the only apparent candidate [was] 42 U.S.C. § 1981, ” and he could not state a claim pursuant to § 1981. ECF Nos. 9 & 10 in Abunaw I.

         Then, on September 6, 2016, he filed this action (pro se) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, unambiguously labeling it as a “Refiling” of Abunaw I. ECF No. 1. He named Campos; Officers Perret and Rustin; “Other Unknown P.G. County Officers”; “Other Unknown P.G. County Corrections Officers”; the Commissioner; the Prince George's County Police Department; the Prince George's Corrections Department;[3] the County; and the Bank as Defendants. Id. He alleges false arrest, use of excessive force, unauthorized search, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution, all in violation of § 1983. Id.

         The Commissioner, the Bank, the County, and Campos each filed a Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum in Support. ECF Nos. 22, 22-1 (Commissioner's Mot. & Mem.); ECF Nos. 24, 24-1 (the Bank's Mot. & Mem.); ECF Nos. 25, 25-1 (Campos's Mot. & Mem.); ECF Nos. 27, 27-1 (the County's Mot. & Mem.). Abunaw filed a Response to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Complaint and Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint. ECF No. 33. The County, the Bank, and Campos filed replies. ECF No. 35 (the County's Reply), ECF No. 36 (the Bank and Campos's Reply). A hearing is not necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. Because res judicata bars the claims Abunaw asserts in this case, I will grant Defendants' motions and dismiss this case.[4] His Motion to Amend is denied as futile.

         Motion to Dismiss

         Standard of Review

         The County, the Bank, and Campos move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), under which Abunaw's pleadings are subject to dismissal if they “fail[ ] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state “a plausible claim for relief, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [claimant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [opposing party] is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rule 12(b)(6)'s purpose “is to test the sufficiency of a [claim] and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012) (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). If an affirmative defense “clearly appears on the face of the [pleading], ” however, the Court may rule on that defense when considering a motion to dismiss. Kalos v. Centennial Sur. Assocs., No. CCB-12-1532, 2012 WL 6210117, at *2 (D. Md. Dec. 12, 2012) (quoting Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 n.1 (4th Cir. 2000) (citation and quotation marks omitted)).

         One such affirmative defense is res judicata, or claim preclusion, and the County asserts this defense. Additionally, this Court may dismiss an action sua sponte under the doctrine of res judicata if it “is on notice that the issues presented in a suit have been previously decided.” Roberts v. Thrasher, No. ELH-15-1906, 2015 WL 4485477, at *2 (D. Md. July 20, 2015) (quoting Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392, 413 (2000) (citation and citation marks omitted)). I am aware of Judge Chasanow's rulings dismissing Abunaw's claims and denying his motions to amend in Abunaw I, an action based on the same incident and in which Abunaw named the County and Officers Perret and Rustin as defendants and sought leave to amend to add the Commissioner, the Bank, and Campos as defendants. Compl. 1, ECF No. 1 in Abunaw I; Am. Compl. 1, ECF No. 3 in Abunaw I; Mots. to Am., ECF Nos. 9 & 29 in Abunaw I. Therefore, it is appropriate to consider this doctrine with regard to all claims. See Roberts, 2015 WL 4485477, at *2; Innocent v. Bank of New York Mellon, No. PWG-16-1132, 2016 WL 8273956, at *1 (D. Md. Apr. 25, 2016) (citing Roberts), aff'd sub nom. Innocent v. The Bank of New York Mellon, 668 Fed. App'x 467 (4th Cir. 2016).

         When, as here, a party raises the defense of res judicata in federal court with regard to a prior judgment issued by a federal court exercising federal question jurisdiction, federal common law governs the preclusive effect of the prior federal court judgment. Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 891 (2008). Under federal law, res judicata “bars a party from suing on a claim that has already been litigated to a final judgment by that party or such party's privies and precludes the assertion by such parties of any legal theory, cause of action, or defense which could have been asserted in that action.” Reid v. New Century Mortg. Corp., No. AW-12-2083, 2012 WL 6562887, at *3 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012) (quoting Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal. v. Aracoma Coal Co., 556 F.3d 177, 210 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). Through this authority, the Court can protect “the important judicial interest in avoiding resolution of an issue that the court has already decided.” Roberts, 2015 WL 4485477, at *2 (quoting Eriline Co. S.A. v. Johnson, 440 F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir. 2006)).

         Res judicata provides grounds for dismissal if there was “(1) a judgment on the merits in a prior suit resolving (2) claims by the same parties or their privies, and (3) a subsequent suit based on the same cause of action.” Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal., 556 F.3d at 210 (quoting Aliff v. Joy Mfg. Co., 914 F.2d 39, 42 (4th Cir. 1990)). Even if the plaintiff's legal theory differed in the earlier dispute, res judicata still may bar the current action, provided that “the second suit ‘arises out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the claim resolved by the prior judgment.'” Id. (quoting Aliff, 914 F.2d at 42). Significantly, “a plaintiff cannot avoid the bar of res judicata by bringing in additional [defendants].” Rout v. First Sav. Mortg. Corp., No. RWT-11-505, 2011 WL 3820523, at *2 (D. Md. Aug. 26, 2011) (quoting Csabai v. Martek Biosciences Corp., No. CCB-11-316, 2011 WL 1831777, at *3 (D. Md. May 12, 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emendation in Csabai); Hodge v. Calvert Cnty., No. PJM-09-2252, 2009 WL 2884928, at *3 n.4 (D. Md. Sept. 4, 2009) (“Plaintiffs cannot avoid the bar of res judicata simply by adding new defendants to the second suit.”), aff'd, 379 Fed. App'x 298 (4th Cir. 2010); Bond v. Blum, No. JFM-07-1385, 2007 WL 5921363, at *2 (D. Md. June 25, 2007), aff'd, 294 Fed. App'x 70 (4th Cir. 2008).

         Discussion

         Abunaw does not dispute that he is the same party who made claims in Abunaw I. Further, the County and Officers Perret and Rustin were defendants in Abunaw I, and Abunaw sought to add the Commissioner, the Bank and Campos as defendants in that litigation. Neither the inclusion of the Commissioner, the Bank and Campos as Defendants in this case, nor the addition of unnamed officers as defendants bars the application of res judicata. See Rout, 2011 WL 3820523, at *2; Csabai, 2011 WL 1831777, at *3; Hodge, 2009 WL 2884928, at *3 n.4. Thus, the element “claims by the same parties or their privies” is present. See Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal., 556 F.3d at 210; Aliff, 914 F.2d at 42.

         Abunaw also does not dispute that this suit is based on the same cause of action as the first suit: § 1983. And, insofar as the Court construed his proposed claims against the Bank and Campos in Abunaw I as § 1981 claims, the claims here against the Bank and Campos still “arise[] out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the claim[s] resolved by the prior judgment” in Abunaw I. See Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal., 556 F.3d at 210; Aliff, 914 F.2d at 42; Pl.'s Opp'n & Mot. to Am. 10 (acknowledging that “[t]he facts ...


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