United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR CONTINUANCE OF TRIAL (DOCS. 8, 10)
Geoffrey W. Crawford, Judge United States District Court
Pro se Plaintiff, David Papazoni, brings this action against Peter Shumlin, Governor of Vermont, in his official capacity. Now pending before the court is Governor Shumlin's Motion to Dismiss and Mr. Papazoni's Motion for Continuance of Trial. (Docs. 8, 10.) For the reasons that follow, Governor Shumlin's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8) is GRANTED, and Mr. Papazoni's Motion for Continuance of Trial (Doc. 10) is DENIED as moot.
Mr. Papazoni filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis on March 19, 2015. On April 22, 2015, his Complaint was filed, alleging that Governor Shumlin was liable for the conduct of several state agencies, as well as unnamed state employees, who committed "fraud, [a]buse and discriminat[ion]" relating to Mr. Papazoni's "Social Security [number], [m]edical records, and [h]ealth." (Doc. 4.) District Judge J. Garvan Murtha granted Mr. Papazoni's request to proceed in forma pauperis, but dismissed his Complaint (Doc. 4), holding that Mr. Papazoni's claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, as he had filed two previous actions against Governor Shumlin in this court based on the same factual allegations. (Doc. 3.) The first suit was dismissed on the merits for failure to state a claim, see Papazoni v. State of Vt, No. 5:12-cv-01, ECF No. 22, slip op. at 4-8 (D. Vt. May 9, 2013), appeal dismissed, No. 13-2281, ECF No. 26, slip op. (2d Cir. Aug. 21, 2013), and the second was dismissed on the basis of res judicata. See Papazoni v. Shumlin, No. 2:13-cv-258, 2014 WL 1491135, at *1-2 (D. Vt. Apr. 15, 2014). The court also noted that Mr. Papazoni's Complaint failed to allege "any facts to allow the [c]ourt to plausibly infer that Governor Shumlin was personally involved or otherwise responsible for any of the wrongdoing alleged." (Doc. 3 at 5.) However, the court granted leave to amend because Mr. Papazoni's claims could "conceivably be brought against a different defendant. . . ." (Doc. 3 at 5-6.)
On May 21, 2015, Mr. Papazoni timely filed an Amended Complaint against Governor Shumlin "and [counsel], " requesting "tort action [to] order Defend[a]nts [to] comply with this court." (Doc. 5 at 1-2.) He also seeks mileage reimbursement arising out of a proceeding with the Vermont Human Services Board. Finally, he requests that the defendants "address the abuse, [f]raud, discrimination and [i]den[t]ity theft [that] the plaintiff needs to correct." (Id. at 2.)
Governor Shumlin moves to dismiss Mr. Papazoni's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Governor argues that Mr. Papazoni's Amended Complaint "does not cure the deficiencies identified by the [c]ourt in its prior order" and does not assert a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 8 at 1.)
A. Standard of Review
"To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. This standard is not "akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Documents filed by a pro se litigant are "to be liberally construed" and "a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).
B. Whether Mr. Papazoni Has Stated A Claim On Which Relief Can Be Granted
As an initial matter, the court notes that the previous order of this court only granted Mr. Papazoni leave to file claims against a defendant other than Governor Shumlin. (Doc. 3 at 5-6.) Mr. Papazoni's Amended Complaint continues to seek relief exclusively from the Governor and could be dismissed on this ground alone. However, given our responsibility to liberally construe documents filed by pro se litigants, the court will briefly consider the claims alleged.
The claims alleged in the Amended Complaint continue to be barred by res judicata. "[A] final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties . . . from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." Maharaj v. Bankamerica Corp., 128 F.3d 94, 97 (2d Cir. 1997) (quoting Federated Dep't Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981)). The district court applies "federal law in determining the preclusive effect of a federal judgment." Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Simon, 310 F.3d 280, 286 (2d Cir. 2002). In the Second Circuit, res judicata bars subsequent claims where the court determines the matter was previously decided by: "(1) a final judgment on the merits, (2) by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) in a case involving the same parties . . ., and (4) involving the same cause of action." In re Adelphia Recovery Tr., 634 F.3d 678, 694 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal citation omitted).
As noted by this court's previous order, two preceding cases bar the present action. In the first case, Mr. Papazoni alleged that Governor Shumlin had participated in "[a]buses, [f]rauds, and [discriminations" in the form of an improperly recorded Social Security number and the denial of access to medications, among other claims. See Papazoni, No. 5:12-cv-01, ECF No. 15 at 1-3. Having already granted Governor Shumlin's Motion to Dismiss on the basis of Eleventh Amendment immunity and having granted Mr. Papazoni leave to file an amended complaint on two separate occasions, Chief Judge Christina Reiss considered the possibility that Mr. Papazoni intended to bring claims against Governor Shumlin in his individual capacity. The court concluded that Mr. Papazoni failed to allege any facts to support such a claim. The court also held that Mr. Papazoni failed to allege facts connecting Governor Shumlin to an ongoing violation of federal law which might merit prospective injunctive relief under the Ex Parte Young exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity. All claims against Governor Shumlin were dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6). Thereafter, Mr. Papazoni brought another action against Governor Shumlin alleging similar claims of "abuse, fraud, and discrimination" which Judge William K. Sessions, III dismissed with prejudice, on res judicata grounds. See Papazoni, 2014 WL 1491135, at * 1-2. Mr. Papazoni did not appeal that determination.
Here, the claims alleged in the Amended Complaint involve the same defendant and nearly identical causes of action as did the two earlier cases. As these claims have already been dismissed on their merits for failure to state a claim, see Federated Dep't Stores, 452 U.S. at 399 n.3 (dismissal for failure to state claim under Rule 12(b)(6) operates as "judgment on the merits" (quoting Angel v.Bullington, 330 U.S. 183, 190 (1947))) and on res judicata grounds, see Haefner v. City of Lancaster, Pa., 566 F.Supp. 708, 710-11 (E.D. Pa. 1983) (previous judgment dismissing ...