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Maeshack v. Avenal State Prison

January 20, 2010

ROBERT MAESHACK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AVENAL STATE PRISON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, RECOMMENDING THAT DEFENDANT WEED'S MOTION TO DISMISS BE GRANTED, WITH PREJUDICE, FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM, BASED ON THE DOCTRINE OF RES JUDICATA (Doc. 36.) OBJECTIONS, IF ANY, DUE IN 30 DAYS

Findings and Recommendations on Defendant Weeds' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

Plaintiff Robert Maeshack ("plaintiff"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on December 22, 2005, at the Sacramento Division of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. (Doc. 1.) On January 5, 2006, the case was transferred to the Fresno Division of the Eastern District. (Doc. 5.) This action now proceeds on plaintiff's amended complaint filed on March 16, 2007, against defendants MTA Harbinson, Dr. McIntyre, Dr. Weed, and Dr. Sweetland for denial of adequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and for medical malpractice under state law.*fn1 (Doc. 17.)

On April 28, 2009, defendant Weed filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff 's claims against him for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, based on the doctrine of res judicata. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 36.) Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion on September 4, 2009. (Doc. 55.) Defendant Weed did not file a reply to the opposition.

I. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Rule 12(b)(6)

"The focus of any Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal . . . is the complaint," Schneider v. California Dept. of Corr., 151 F.3d 1194, 1197 n.1 (9th Cir. 1998), which 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). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)); Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice," Iqbal, 129 S.Ct at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), and courts "are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences," Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

B. Res Judicata

The doctrine of res judicata bars the re-litigation of claims previously decided on their merits. Headwaters, Inc. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 399 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2005).*fn2 Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or persons in privity with them from litigating the same claim that was raised in that action and all claims arising out of the same transaction or occurrence. See Taylor v. Sturgell, 128 S.Ct. 2161, 2171 (2008); Rest.2d Judgments § 18. "The elements necessary to establish res judicata are: '(1) an identity of claims, (2) a final judgment on the merits, and (3) privity between parties.'" Headwaters, Inc., 399 F.3d at 1052 (quoting Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency, 322 F.2d 1064, 1077 (9th Cir. 2003)). "[T]he doctrine of res judicata (or claim preclusion) 'bars all grounds for recovery which could have been asserted, whether they were or not, in a prior suit between the same parties ... on the same cause of action.'" Costantini v. Trans World Airlines 681 F.2d 1199, 1201 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting Ross v. IBEW, 634 F.2d 453, 457 (9th Cir. 1980) (emphasis added)).

When determining, for res judicata purposes, whether a present dispute concerns the same claims as did prior litigation, the Ninth Circuit considers: "(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", which is the most important factor. Headwaters, Inc., 399 F.3d at 1052.

The related doctrine of collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, provides that "when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit." U.S. v. Bhatia, 545 F.3d 757, 759 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 443 (1970)). Both doctrines apply to criminal and civil proceedings, and both require privity between the parties. Bhatia, 545 F.3d at 759 (citing U.S. v. Cejas, 817 F.2d 595, 598 (9th Cir. 1987) and see In re Schimmels, 127 F.3d at 881(noting that, under res judicata, "parties or their privies" may be bound by a prior judgment); United States v. ITT Rayonier, Inc., 627 F.2d 996, 1000 (9th Cir.1980) (requiring identity or privity between parties for collateral estoppel to apply)).

A defendant relying on res judicata or collateral estoppel as a defense must plead it as an affirmative defense. Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Ill. Found., 402 U.S. 313, 350, 91 S.Ct. 1434, 1453 (1971). However, "if a court is on notice that it has previously decided the issue presented, the court may dismiss the action sua sponte, even though the defense has not been raised," Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392, 416, 120 S.Ct. 2304, 2318 (2000), provided that the parties have an opportunity to be heard prior to dismissal, Headwaters, Inc., 399 F.3d at 1055. "As a general matter, a court may, sua sponte, dismiss a case on preclusion grounds 'where the records of that court show that a ...


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