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Daniels v. Sherman

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 28, 2019

STU SHERMAN, et al., Defendants.


         Norman Gerald Daniels, III (“Plaintiff”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, commenced this action by filing a Complaint against Stu Sherman (“Defendant”), Warden of California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison Corcoran (“SATF”), on September 6, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) The Court dismissed Plaintiff's action with prejudice on March 20, 2017, on res judicata grounds. Plaintiff now seeks relief from that judgment through his “Motion for Reconsideration of Dismissal and Request to Allow Merger.” (ECF No. 23.) For the following reasons, it is recommended that the motion be denied.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Complaint against Defendant on September 6, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleged that Defendant declined to make certain accommodations to improve the accessibility of the computers in the law library at SATF. Plaintiff consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Plaintiff also filed another action that same day, Daniels v. Sherman, 1:16-cv-01312-EPG (the “1312 case”), containing allegations that were substantially similar to the instant matter. The allegations in both the instant matter and the 1312 case were substantially similar to another case Plaintiff filed on April 9, 2012, Daniels v. Allison, Case No. 1:12-cv-00545-LJO-GSA (the “545 case”), which was dismissed with prejudice by District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill.

         The Court issued an Order for Plaintiff to show cause (“OSC”) in both the instant matter and the 1312 case why the cases should not be dismissed on res judicata grounds. (ECF No. 16 in the instant matter; ECF No. 9 in the 1312 case). The Court explained the res judicata doctrine in detail and explained what Plaintiff needed to do to respond to the OSC. (Id.) Plaintiff responded to the OSC on January 17, 2017. (ECF No. 17.)

         On March 20, 2017, the Court dismissed the instant matter and the 1312 case on res judicata grounds, finding that the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint were substantially similar to those in the 545 case. (ECF No. 18 in the instant matter; ECF No. 14 in the 1312 case). Plaintiff did not appeal the dismissal in the instant matter.[2]

         On March 6, 2019, Plaintiff filed a “Motion for Reconsideration of Dismissal, and Request to Allow Merger.” (ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the March 20, 2017 judgment in which the Court found that the res judicata doctrine barred his case. He claims that his “inability to meaningfully access…equipment” has caused him to err on several occasions in this suit and that this lack of access to equipment deprives him of meaningful access to the Courts. (Id. at p. 2.) Plaintiff further argues that there is another issue in this case concerning the request for a lap top computer that is “wholly separate from the original Case No. 1:12-cv-00545-LJO GSA PC, which was screened out with prejudice.” (Id. at p. 4.) Additionally, Plaintiff asks that “this case be reopened under error and surprise due to [his] disability as a special circumstance.” (Id.) Finally, in addition to relief from judgment, Plaintiff moves the Court to “merge” this Complaint with another case he filed in this District, Daniels v. Sherman, 1:18-CV-01420-BAM (PC).


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60, a court may relieve a party from a final judgment for the following reasons: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b); (3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; (4) the judgment is void; or (5) any other reason that justifies relief.” Motions under Rule 60(b) “must be made within a reasonable time-and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding.” Rule 60(c)(1).

         Relief under Rule 60 “is to be used sparingly as an equitable remedy to prevent manifest injustice and is to be utilized only where exceptional circumstances…” exist. Harvest v. Castro, 531 F.3d 737, 749 (9th Cir. 2008). “A motion for reconsideration should not be granted, absent highly unusual circumstances, unless the district court is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an intervening change in the controlling law, ” and it may not be used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first time when they could reasonably have been raised earlier in the litigation.” Marlyn Nutraceuticals, Inc. v. Mucos Pharma GmbH & Co., 571 F.3d 873, 880 (9th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphasis in original). As for Rule 60(b)(4), “Federal courts considering Rule 60(b)(4) motions that assert a judgment is void because of a jurisdictional defect generally have reserved relief only for the exceptional case in which the court that rendered judgment lacked even an ‘arguable basis' for jurisdiction.” United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa, 559 U.S. 260, 271 (2010) (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court will recommend that Plaintiff's motion be denied. Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to relief from the judgment because of “error and surprise.” As for error, Plaintiff appears to question the Court's res judicata analysis. He contends that this case contains a request for a lap top that was not present in the case in which judgment was originally entered against his meaningful access claims: Daniels v. Allison, Case No. 1:12-cv-00545-LJO-GSA. The Court rejects this argument for several reasons.

         First, to the extent premised upon “error” or surprise, ” Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration is untimely. Under Rule 60, motions for reconsideration for “mistake” or “surprise” must be made “no more than a year after the entry of the judgment.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. Rule 60(c)(1). Here, Plaintiff waited nearly two years to file his motion for reconsideration.

         Second, the Court stands by the res judicata analysis contained in its March 20, 2017 Order, which it incorporates here by reference. “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. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 399 F.3d 1047, 1052 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

         The allegations in this case and the ones preceding it involved an identity of claims: the allegations of all three cases arise out of the same nucleus of facts and allege violations of the same right. The cases are based on the institution's failure to make a series of requested accommodations involving law library computers for disabled inmates. In all three cases, Plaintiff alleges the same accommodations have been denied and asks for the same relief. Moreover, final judgment was entered in the original case after it was dismissed for failure to state a claim. Finally, all of Plaintiff's complaints involve the same parties. While the Defendant in the original 545 case, Katherine Allison, is different from the Defendant in this case and the 1312 case, all Defendants were named because of their positions as Warden at SATF. Because Plaintiff's claims against these Defendants are premised upon their positions as Warden, their interests in the litigation are identical. Id. ...

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