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ALBA v. U.S.

United States District Court, S.D. California


November 22, 2005.

DENNIS LOUIS ALBA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARILYN HUFF, District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE COMPLAINT

On April 28, 2005, Plaintiff Dennis Louis Alba, a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a complaint for compensatory damages, loss of property and loss of revenue. Plaintiff was a party to a previous civil case before this Court, Case No. 03-CV-1210-JAH(POR). The case was dismissed with prejudice based on the parties' stipulation. On May 12, 2005, the Court ordered the parties to brief whether Plaintiff's previous civil action bars his claims in this case. On June 13, 2005, the government filed a response and requested that the complaint be dismissed. On August 23, 2005, Plaintiff filed a traverse. Based on the reasoning below, the Court concludes that the claims are barred by res judicata and the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to DISMISSES the complaint.

Background

  On July 18, 2003, Plaintiff was convicted of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise by violating various provisions of the Controlled Substance Act, conspiracy to manufacture and distribute ecstasy, conspiracy to transfer monetary instruments to promote an unlawful activity and conspiracy to conduct financial transactions to promote an unlawful activity. As a result of the convictions, Plaintiff was also subject to criminal forfeiture of properties constituting and derived from proceeds Plaintiff obtained directly or indirectly as a result of the commission of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute ecstasy. (Case No. 01cr3177-W, Doc. No. 815.) On May 26, 2005, Plaintiff was sentenced to 360 months for continuing criminal enterprises and conspiracy to manufacture and distribute ecstasy and 240 months for conspiracy to transfer monetary instruments to promote an unlawful activity and conspiracy to conduct financial transactions to promote an unlawful activity to run concurrently. (Case No. 01cr3177-W, Doc. No. 1041.) Plaintiff was also sentenced to supervised release of 5 years for continuing criminal enterprise, 6 years for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute ecstasy, 3 years for conspiracy to transfer monetary instruments to promote and unlawful activity and 3 years for conspiracy to conduct financial transactions to promote an unlawful activity to run concurrently. (Id.)

  On June 20, 2003, Plaintiff filed an action against the Government seeking compensatory damages arising from the alleged loss of twelve telemarketing workstations in case no. 03-CV-1210-JAH(POR). (Case No. 03-CV-1210-JAH(POR), Doc. No. 1, Compl ¶ 1.) On October 18, 2001,*fn1 the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") conducted a search of Plaintiff's industrial facility in Escondido. (Id. ¶ 2.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff asked his brother and girlfriend to go to the Escondido office and retrieve what property was left. (Id.) Plaintiff's brother and girlfriend noticed that the alarm system was not activated. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that the agents negligently left the alarm system to the warehouse disarmed and as a result, the workstations were stolen. (Id.) Plaintiff sought either the return of the workstations or, if they were no longer available, compensation for their value. (Id. at 3.) On November 6, 2003, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint to correct certain deficiencies in the original complaint concerning statute of limitations and service of the complaint. (Id., Doc. No. 12.) In a letter dated December 19, 2003, the Government sent Plaintiff photographs of the workstations that were disassembled behind Plaintiff's warehouse. Since the workstations were never seized or lost, Plaintiff signed a stipulation for dismissal with prejudice on January 7, 2004. (Id., Doc. No. 14.)

  On April 28, 2005, Plaintiff filed the instant complaint seeking compensatory damages for the value of lost property and lost venue associated with that property. (Compl. ¶ 1.) The underlying facts are the same as the original complaint, including the fact that shortly after the search, Plaintiff' brother went to the Escondido facility to retrieve property that was not seized and noticed property missing. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 22.) However, this time, the items at issue are commercial software, proprietary software and Internet adult entertainment entities allegedly seized during the search of Plaintiff's warehouse. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 8.) Plaintiff contends that the property was stolen, lost or misappropriated while under the government's control. (Id. ¶¶ 16-27.) Plaintiff alternatively alleges that if the property was not stolen or misappropriated, the government agents acted negligently by breach their duty to use due care in executing the search warrant by seizing Plaintiff's property. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff states that many of the items he now seeks to recover were not subject to the search warrant and the agents did not have probable cause to seize those items. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff also alleges that the seizure constitutes a violation of the Privacy Protection Act because the property was protected work product with no evidentiary value in the criminal case. (Id. ¶ 38.)

  Discussion

  "Under res judicata, 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." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980). Res judicata prevents inconsistent rulings, promotes judicial economy by preventing repetitive litigation, and protects against vexatious litigation. Manufactured Home Comms., Inc. v. City of San Jose, 420 F.3d 1022, 1031 n. 12 (9th Cir. 2005). Res judicata requires (1) a final judgment on the merits; (2) the same claim at issue in both suits and (3) involve the same parties or their privies. Blonder-Tongue Labs., Inc. v. Univ. of Ill. Found., 402 U.S. 313, 323-34 (1979); Nordhorn v. Ladish Co., 9 F.3d 1402, 1404 (9th Cir. 1993).

  First, a stipulated dismissal with prejudice in the first action constitutes a final judgment on the merits. See Semtek Int'l, Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 531 U.S. 497, 505 (2001); Amadeo v. Principal Mut. Life Ins. Co., 290 F.3d 1152, 1159-60 (9th Cir. 2002); Intermedics, Inc. v. Ventritex, Inc., 775 F. Supp. 1258, 1262-63 (N.D. Cal. 1991) (voluntary dismissal with prejudice serves as a final judgment for purposes of res judicata). In this case, Plaintiff's first suit was dismissed by a stipulation for dismissal with prejudice filed on January 7, 2004. Accordingly, the dismissal served as a final adjudication on the merits for purposes of res judicata.

  Second, res judicata requires that the same claims are presented in both lawsuits. In determining whether or not a stated action is the same as a previous claim, court look at "(1) whether rights or interests established in the prior judgment would be destroyed or impaired by prosecution of the second action; (2) whether substantially the same evidence is presented in the two actions; (3) whether the two suits involve infringement of the same right; and (4) whether the two suits arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts." Nordhorn, 9 F.3d at 1405 (citing Constantini v. TWA, 681 F.2d 1199, 1202-02 (9th Cir. 1982)).

  Moreover, it is not relevant that Plaintiff argues that the items involved in this present action was never actually litigated in the prior action. The question is "not whether a plaintiff asserted a given claim in the previous suit, but rather whether a plaintiff could have brought a claim in the previous suit. See Constantini, 681 F.2d at 1201 (res judicata "bar[s] all grounds for recovery which could have been asserted, whether they were or not, in a prior suit between the same parties"); Gregory v. Widnall, 153 F.3d 1071 (9th Cir. 1998). Plaintiff argues that he brought the initial complaint regarding the workstations because there was an immediate and pressing need to resolve that issue since lien creditors were requesting the return of their leased workstations. At that time, when Plaintiff requested the return of his property from the DEA agent, the agent, in a letter, told him that the government was still in the process of reviewing the items he requested and that it would take a significant amount of time to review. (Traverse, Ex. 6.)

  However, Plaintiff, at the time of the prior suit, had knowledge about the items he now seeks to recover and had the ability to bring the suit for all those materials but failed to bring suit for those items. In addition, both lawsuits arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts. Both cases arose out of the search conducted by the government of Plaintiff's warehouse in Escondido on October 18, 2001. Both suits claim that the property that was allegedly lost or seized did not relate to the crime in question and the Government had no interest in seizing the property. The only difference in the complaints are the materials that Plaintiff alleges are missing, confiscated or seized. Accordingly, based on Ninth Circuit precedent, the Court concludes that both suits contain the same claim. See Constantini, 681 F.2d at 1201.

  Lastly, the parties involved in both cases are the same. Plaintiff is Dennis Louis Alba and Defendant is the United States of America. Accordingly, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata.

  On May 10, 2005, Plaintiff also filed a motion to stay the complaint. On August 23, 2005, Plaintiff filed a request to strike the motion to stay the complaint. However, since the Court dismisses the complaint based on res judicata the Court DENIES Plaintiff's request to strike the motion to stay the complaint as MOOT. Conclusion

  Based on the above, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata and the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint.

  IT IS SO ORDERED.

20051122

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