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Sammy Page v. Stephen Mayberg

August 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sidney R. Thomas, United States Circuit Judge Sitting by Designation


Plaintiff Sammy Page, civilly committed under California's Sexual Violent Predator Act ("SVPA"), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss For Failure to State a Claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 57.) Plaintiff has opposed the motion and filed a Motion to Strike Portions of Defendants' Response. (Doc. Nos. 64 & 67.)

Defendants seek dismissal on grounds that: (1) Page's complaint is barred by the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel; and (2) even if res judicata and collateral estoppel do not apply, Page nevertheless cannot seek injunctive relief because he has an adequate remedy at law.*fn1 In opposing Defendants' motion, Page contends that: (1) his previous lawsuits do not preclude his present claims, either because those lawsuits involved distinguishable claims or were not heard on the merits; and (2) his § 1983 action is proper because he challenges the conditions of his confinement, not the fact or duration of same.


"Res judicata, or claim preclusion, prohibits lawsuits on 'any claims that were raised or could have been raised' in a prior action." Stewart v. U.S. Bancorp, 297 F.3d 953, 956 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 713 (9th Cir. 2001)). The doctrine "applies when there is: (1) an identity of claims; (2) a final judgment on the merits; and (3) identity or privity between parties." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

Defendants argue that Page v. State of California, Case No. 1:06-cv-1409-LJO-DLB (hereinafter Page I) precludes Page's present § 1983 action. Page does not dispute that Page I satisfies the second and third requirements for res judicata.*fn2 Hence, the res judicata effect of Page I turns on whether an "identity of claims" exists between that case and the present action.

To determine "whether a present dispute concerns the same claims as did prior litigation, the Ninth Circuit considers: '(1) [W]hether 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.'" Headwaters Inc. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 399 F.3d 1047, 1052 (9th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original) (quoting Costantini v. Trans World Airlines, 681 F.2d 1199, 1201--02 (9th Cir. 1982)).

The fourth criterion is "most important," Constantini, 681 F.2d at 1202, and, indeed, "central . . . in determining whether there is an identity of claims between the first and second adjudications." Owens, 244 F.3d at 714 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency, 322 F.3d 1064, 1078 (9th Cir. 2003).

Comparing the present action with Page I, the Court finds that the two suits arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts. In Page I, Page sought prospective injunctive relief based on allegations that his civil commitment violated due process and his right to refrain from treatment meetings. He alleged, inter alia, that: (a) his diagnosis (paraphilia) was "impermissibly vague," "not a recognized disorder," and that "all criminal[s] such as Page . . . could be diagnosed with paraphilia"; and (b) he "exercise[d] his right to refrain from attending and participat[ing] in monthly treatment conferences." (Page I Docket, Doc. No. 29.) He also argued that the Defendants had relied on an "underground regulation." (Id., Doc. No. 54). Page now draws on the same nucleus of facts to support his claims that his diagnosis violates substantive due process, that compelled interviews violate his right to privacy and free speech, and that the procedures used for re-evaluating his civil commitment are improper "underground regulations." (Doc. No. 33 ¶¶ 1, 10--16, 20). He has "returned to court and filed a new action essentially seeking relief from the same alleged wrongs [he] unsuccessfully protested before." Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, 322 F.3d at 1078.

In other words, "[a]ny of the claims presently before [the Court] could thus have been asserted in the previous lawsuit." Id. Page has not even suggested otherwise. He urges that his present "claims were not specifically raised or decided in [Page I]," but that argument has no bearing on the Court's res judicata analysis. See Costantini, 681 F.2d at 1201 ("[The] contention that the question involved in his present action was never actually litigated in the prior action is simply irrelevant."); Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, 322 F.3d at 1078 ("It is immaterial whether the claims asserted subsequent to the judgment were actually pursued in the action that led to the judgment; rather, the relevant inquiry is whether they could have been brought." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). "Newly articulated claims based on the same nucleus of facts may still be subject to a res judicata finding if the claims could have been brought in the earlier action." Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, 322 F.3d at 1078 (emphasis added).

Though the most important criterion is satisfied, the Court also notes that the remaining Headwaters factors support finding an identity of claims here: the rights and interests established in Page I would be impaired by this action; similar evidence is presented in the two actions; and the two suits involve the same rights. See, e.g., Costantini, 681 F.2d at 1202--03.

Accordingly, res judicata bars this action. See Stewart, 297 F.3d at 956.


Defendants' motion to dismiss Page's complaint is GRANTED, and this action is DISMISSED as barred by res judicata.*fn3 Given the Court's conclusion, any amendment would be futile, and leave to amend is not warranted. See, e.g., Janis v. United States, No. 1:04-cv-05812, 2011 WL 1258521, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 30, 2011); see also Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995) ("In dismissing for failure to state a claim, a district court should grant leave to amend . . . unless it determines ...

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