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William Sutherland v. Officer M. Underwood

February 6, 2012

WILLIAM SUTHERLAND,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER M. UNDERWOOD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDING DISMISSAL OF THIS ACTION AS BARRED BY RES JUDICATA OBJECTIONS DUE WITHIN THIRTY DAYS

I. Procedural Background

On September 27, 2010, William Sutherland ("Plaintiff'), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On June 17, 2011, the Court issued an order requiring Plaintiff to either file an amended complaint or notify the Court of willingness to proceed on his cognizable claim for Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference stemming from his bunk bed fall on July 12, 2009. Doc. 9. On June 28, 2011, Plaintiff notified the Court of his willingness to proceed on his cognizable claim for Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference. Doc. 10. On July 6, 2011, the Court adopted findings and recommendations, recommending dismissal of certain claims and does defendants. Doc. 12.

Upon review of the complaint, the undersigned finds that this action is substantively identical to the previously decided case that Plaintiff filed on November 19, 2009, William Young Sutherland v. J. Clark Kelso, et al., 1:09-cv-02028-OWW-SKO, which was dismissed, with prejudice, on September 7, 2011, for failure to state a claim.

II. 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). Claim preclusion (res judicata) pertains to "the effect of a judgment in foreclosing litigation of a matter that never has been litigated, because of a determination that it should have been advanced in an earlier suit . . . " Gospel Missions of America v. City of Los Angeles, 328 F.3d 548, 553 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 77 n.1 (1984)); see Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 713 (9th Cir. 2001) ("Res judicata precludes the litigation of 'any claims that were raised or could have been raised' in a previous lawsuit."). "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)). "[I]f 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 (2000), provided that the parties have an opportunity to be heard prior to dismissal, Headwaters, Inc., 399 F.3d at 1055. Generally a person who is not a party to an action is not entitled to the benefits of res judicata. However, where "two parties are so closely aligned in interest that one is the virtual representative of the other, a claim by or against one will serve to bar the same claim by or against the other." Nordhorn v. Ladish Co., Inc., 9 F.3d 1402, 1405 (9th Cir. 1993). "There is privity between officers of the same government so that a judgment in a suit between a party and a representative of the United States is res judicata in re-litigation of the same issue between that party and another officer of the government." Sunshine Anthracite Coal Co. v. Adkins, 310 U.S. 381, 402-03 (1940).

The doctrine of res judicata is applicable to section 1983 actions. Clark v. Yosemite Comm'y College Dist., 785 F.2d 781, 788 n.9 (9th Cir. 1986) (noting that there is no exception to the rules of issue and claim preclusion for federal civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983). The doctrine is applicable whenever there is "(1) an identity of claims, (2) a final judgment on the merits, and (3) identity or privity between parties." Id.

III. Analysis

A. Identity of Claims

"Whether two events are part of the same transaction or series depends on whether they are related to the same set of facts and whether they could conveniently be tried together." Western Sys., Inc. v. Ulloa, 958 F.2d 864, 871 (9th Cir. 1992). In applying the transaction test, the Court examines the following criteria:

(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.

Costantini v. Trans World Airlines, 681 F.2d 1199, 1201-02 (9th Cir. 1982). "The last of these criteria is the most important." Id. at 1202.

1. Plaintiff's Complaints in the Instant Case and the Prior Case

On September 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the instant case, alleging a claim against Officer M. Sutherland and Does 1 through 3 Correctional Officers, for Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference stemming from his bunk bed fall on July 12, 2009. Pl. Compl. at 1-3, Doc.

1. On January 13, 2009, Plaintiff arrived at Pleasant Valley State Prison and received a medical chrono for a lower bunk. Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges that on July 12, 2009, while getting down from his upper bunk, his left arm went numb and paralyzed due to degenerative disk problem in his neck and back that pinches his nerves, which caused Plaintiff to fall five and one-half feet, hitting the corner of the lower bunk. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff states that the fall dislocated his right shoulder, cracked a rib, and that he now has irreparable harm ...


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