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Barabino v. Citizens Automobile Finance

October 4, 2010

ROBERT BARABINO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITIZENS AUTOMOBILE FINANCE, INC., A CORPORATION; JPMORGAN CHASE BANK, A CORPORATION; WESTERN SURETY COMPANY, A CORPORATION; AND DOES ONE THROUGH TWENTY; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is a Motion by Defendant Citizens Automobile Finance, Inc. ("Defendant") for Judgment on the Pleadings. Defendant's Motion is made on the grounds that the claim for declaratory relief asserted by Plaintiff Robert Barabino ("Plaintiff") in this proceeding is barred by the statute of limitations or, in the alternative, precluded by principles of either collateral estoppel or res judicata. In his opposition to this motion, Plaintiff filed a Motion requesting Rule 11 Monetary Sanctions. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is denied and Plaintiff's Motion requesting Rule 11 Monetary Sanctions is denied.

BACKGROUND*fn1

On January 14, 2002, Plaintiff executed a "Retail Installment Sales Contract" ("Contract") for the purchase of a 2001 Bounder Diesel ("Vehicle") from Dan Gamel's Rocklin RV Center ("Seller"). The Contract states "ANY HOLDER OF THIS CONSUMER CREDIT CONTRACT IS SUBJECT TO ALL CLAIMS AND DEFENSES WHICH THE DEBTOR COULD ASSERT AGAINST THE SELLER OF THE GOODS OR SERVICES OBTAINED PURSUANT HERETO" ("Holder Clause"). Subsequent to Plaintiff's purchase, Seller assigned its rights under the Contract to Bank One, N.A. Defendant JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. ("JPMorgan") acquired rights under the Contract as successor in interest to Bank One, N.A. by way of merger. Plaintiff made payments to JPMorgan in excess of $25,000. JPMorgan thereafter assigned its rights to Defendant. Plaintiff has since made payments to Defendant in excess of $25,000. Defendant currently holds the contract and Plaintiff continues to make payments.

In 2004, Plaintiff filed suit in Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:04-cv-2359-MCE-EFB, (hereinafter "Barabino I") against Seller and the manufacturer of the vehicle alleging violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and fraud. In 2009, Plaintiff obtained judgment on all causes of action against Seller and was awarded damages in the amount of $270,590.20.

On November 26, 2008, Plaintiff filed a second action in state court ("Barabino II")*fn2 . (Def.'s Req. For Judicial Notice, Ex. 3). This suit was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:09-cv-86-GEB-KJM. Both JPMorgan and Citizens were named as Defendants. In Barabino II, Plaintiff alleged that pursuant to the "Holder Clause" both Defendants were subject to the same claims brought against Seller in Barabino I. (Def.'s Req. For Judicial Notice, Ex. 3, ¶¶ 16-17.) Ultimately, the court in Barabino II dismissed Plaintiff's claims as barred by the statute of limitations. (Def.'s Req. For Judicial Notice, Ex. 4.)*fn3

In the present action (Barabino III), Plaintiff's Complaint contains one cause of action requesting declaratory relief. The cause of action, however, requests resolution of two issues:

1) whether the Contract held by Citizen is enforceable, and

2) whether Defendants have any liability for claims which Plaintiff has or could have asserted against Seller.

Prior to the filing of the present Motion, both Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss. Those Motions were granted in part and denied in part. In its Memorandum and Order filed March 29, 2010, this Court held that Plaintiff was collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of whether Defendants are subject to liability for claims that could have been asserted against Seller. In partially denying Defendants' Motions, the Court explained that enforceability of the Contract was not directly addressed in either Barabino I or Barabino II.

STANDARD

A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) challenges the legal sufficiency of the opposing party's pleadings. E.g. Westlands Water Dist. v. Bureau of Reclamation, 805 F. Supp. 1503, 1506 (E.D. Cal. 1992). Any party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed but within such time as to not delay trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c).

The standard for evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings is essentially the same as the standard applied to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989). A motion for judgment on the pleadings should only be granted if, accepting as true all material allegations contained in the nonmoving party's pleadings, the moving party "'clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he [or she] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Doleman v. Meiji Mut. Life Ins. Co., 727 F.2d 1480, 1482 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting Charles Alan Wright & ...


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