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West v. Amberson

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

February 9, 2018

JOSEPH STEPHEN WEST, Plaintiff,
v.
JAYME AMBERSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          STACI G. CORNELIUS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

On July 20, 2017, Joseph Stephen West, proceeding pro se, filed this action against Jayme Amberson and Wendall Ward pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Defendant Amberson filed a motion to dismiss on August 16, 2017. (Doc. 4). Defendant Ward filed a motion to dismiss on September 14, 2017. (Doc. 13). Both motions are fully briefed and before the court for decision. For the reasons stated below, Amberson's motion to dismiss (Doc. 4) is due to be granted and Ward's motion to dismiss (Doc. 13) is due to be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 6, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Calhoun County Circuit Court against Jayme Amberson, former Assistant District Attorney for Calhoun County, alleging claims of malicious prosecution and fraud. (Doc. 5-1). On May 16, 2017, Amberson filed a motion to dismiss, [2] arguing she was absolutely immune from suit pursuant to prosecutorial immunity, and asked the court to dismiss the complaint with prejudice. On May 25, 2017, Circuit Judge Bud Turner granted Amberson's motion to dismiss.[3] (Doc. 5-2). Two months later, on July 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. (Doc. 1).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendant Amberson contends Plaintiff's claims against her are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. (Docs. 4 & 5). Defendant Ward contends Plaintiff's claims against him are similarly barred by the doctrine of res judicata and collateral estoppel. (Docs. 13 & 14). The court addresses each defendant separately.

         A. Defendant Amberson

         “When [a federal court] consider[s] whether to give res judicata effect to a state court judgment, we must apply the res judicata principles of the law of the state whose decision is set up as a bar to further litigation.” Muhammad v.Secretary, Florida Dept. of Corrections, 739 F.3d 683, 688 (11th Cir. 2014) (internal quotations and citations omitted). In Alabama, “[t]he doctrine of res judicata bars subsequent claims involving the ‘identical parties, facts and subject matter litigated, or those which could have been litigated, in an earlier lawsuit.'” Higgins v. Henderson, 551 So.2d 1050, 1052 (Ala. 1989) (quoting Chavers v.National Sec. Fire & Cas. Co., 456 So.2d 293, 294 (Ala. 1984)). Stated differently,

[t]he traditional res judicata case (frequently referred to as a claim preclusion) involves prior litigation between a plaintiff and a defendant, which is decided on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction, and then a subsequent attempt by the prior plaintiff to relitigate the same cause of action against the same defendant, or perhaps to relitigate a different claim not previously litigated but which arises out of the same evidence. Alabama law is well settled that this will not be allowed. A valid, final judgment on the merits of the claim extinguishes the claim. If the plaintiff won, the claim is merged into the judgment; if the defendant won, the plaintiff is barred from relitigating any matter which could have been litigated in the prior action.

Whisman v. Alabama Power Co., 512 So.2d 78, 81 (Ala. 1987) (internal citations omitted).

         Plaintiff contends res judicata does not bar the instant complaint against Amberson because the state court complaint was not dismissed on the merits. (Doc. 11). The court disagrees. The law is clear dismissal for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is a judgment on the merits. Federated Dep't. Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 399 n.3 (1981). It follows, therefore, that Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is a judgment on the merits as they both are dismissals for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         In the state court action, Amberson moved for dismissal for failure to state a claim based on prosecutorial immunity under Alabama law and sought dismissal with prejudice. Her motion argued the allegations contained in the complaint squarely fell within the scope of her prosecutorial discretion and, therefore, Plaintiff could prove no set of facts entitling him to relief. Judge Turner granted the motion to dismiss. That dismissal was a judgment on the merits.

         There is no question the remaining elements of the res judicata test are satisfied. Plaintiff does not dispute the prior decision was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction and the parties were identical in both suits. Additionally, a review of both complaints shows all causes of actions against Amberson asserted in this case were also raised in the complaint in Calhoun County. Accordingly, Amberson's motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

         B. ...


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