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Couture v. Blair

United States District Court, D. Vermont

December 28, 2017


          OPINION AND ORDER (DOCS. 7, 13, 17, 20)


         Pro se Plaintiff Darren Couture, an inmate presently in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC), has filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Sue Blah, Director of the Vermont Parole Board, and against the "Vermont Parole System." (Doc. 4 at 1.) His claims stem from an April 1, 2014 preliminary parole revocation hearing before the Vermont Parole Board (the "Board"), at which time he asserts that he was on suicide watch and was suffering from qualifying disabilities. (See Id. at 3.) Plaintiff claims that, at the hearing and afterwards, Defendants violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. (See Id. at 1, 10.) He further alleges that constitutional and ADA violations are pervasive throughout the Vermont parole system. (See Id. at 5, 7.) He seeks wide-ranging injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 10-13.)

         Two motions are currently pending: Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7), and Plaintiffs "Motion to Amend to Class Certification" (Doc. 17). The United States Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) regarding the Motion to Dismiss on May 8, 2017. (Doc. 13.) Plaintiff filed objections to that R&R on May 30, 2017 (Doc. 16), and Defendants filed a response on June 1, 2017 (Doc. 19). The Magistrate Judge issued an R&R regarding the Motion to Amend on August 25, 2017. (Doc. 20.) No objections have been filed as to that R&R.

         After careful review of the record, the Magistrate Judge's R&Rs, and the objections, the court AFFIRMS, APPROVES, and ADOPTS both the May 8, 2017 R&R and the August 25, 2017 R&R, with only one minor narrowing of the basis for dismissing Mr. Couture's ADA and Rehabilitation claims to the extent that they are brought against the Board.


         I. Applicable Standards

         A district judge must make a de novo determination of those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which an objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); Cullen v. United States, 194 F.3d 401, 405 (2d Cir. 1999). The district judge may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); accord Cullen, 194 F.3d at 405. The district judge is not required to review the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of a report and recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a pleading "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)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The court must also draw all reasonable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Lanier v. Bats Exch, Inc., 838 F.3d 139, 150 (2d Cir. 2016). Dismissal is appropriate when "it is clear from the face of the complaint, and matters of which the court may take judicial notice, that the plaintiffs claims are barred as a matter of law." Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d 82, 86 (2d Cir. 2000). "Res judicata challenges may properly be raised via a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." Thompson v. Cty. of Franklin, 15 F.3d 245, 253 (2d Cir. 1994). "The burden is on the party seeking to invoke res judicata to prove that the doctrine bars the second action." Brown Media Corp. v. K&L Gates, LLP, 854 F.3d 150, 157 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Comput. Assocs. Int'l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 126 F.3d 365, 369 (2d Cir. 1997)).

         II. Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7)

         A. Res Judicata

         The Magistrate Judge took notice of a case that Mr. Couture filed in this court in 2014, which ended in 2015 with the dismissal of Mr. Couture's complaint and amended complaints. See Couture v. Blair, No. 5:14-cv-00220, 2015 WL 1931548 (D. Vt. Apr. 28, 2015), ECF No. 29 (granting Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted), appeal dismissed, No. 15-1520 (2d Cir. Aug. 13, 2015).[1]The Magistrate Judge analyzed the elements of res judicata and concluded that all of the elements are satisfied with respect to each of Plaintiff s claims except his First Amendment retaliation claim. (Doc. 13 at 6-18.)[2] Plaintiff challenges the Magistrate Judge's res judicata conclusion, arguing that his present action involves different issues than the issues in the 2014 case, and that new issues and new facts have been discovered which were not fully and fairly litigated in the 2014 case. (See Doc. 16 at 1.)

         "The doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, holds that 'a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action.'" Brown Media Corp., 854 F.3d at 157 (quoting Monahan v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Corr., 214 F.3d 275, 284 (2d Cir. 2000)). "To determine whether the doctrine of res judicata bars a subsequent action, we consider whether 1) the prior decision was a final judgment on the merits, 2) the litigants were the same parties, 3) the prior court was of competent jurisdiction, and 4) the causes of action were the same." Id. (quoting In re Layo, 460 F.3d 289, 292 (2d Cir. 2006)).

         There appear to be no objections to the Magistrate Judge's analysis of the first three elements of the res judicata test. The Magistrate Judge recognized that the court's April 28, 2015 decision in the earlier case was a dismissal for failure to state a claim-a final judgment on the merits with res judicata effects. (Doc. 13 at 12 (citing Carthaginian Fin. Corp. v. Skinner, Inc., No. 2:05-CV-3, 2005 WL 1388689, at *3 (D. Vt. June 3, 2005)).)[3] Regarding the second element, the Magistrate Judge concluded that this case and the 2014 case involve "essentially the same parties." (Doc. 13 at 12.) Finally, the Magistrate Judge noted that the court in the 2014 case was a court of competent jurisdiction. (Id.) In the absence of any objections to that analysis, the court turns to the final element of res judicata: whether the causes of action were the same.

         Mr. Couture asserts that the causes of action in this case are different than those in the 2014 case. He says that the issues in the first case were "revocation hearings and waivers, as well as seeking release, " whereas "this action concerns ADA & Rehab. Act, conjunctive with 14th Amendment Constitutional violations, and unconstitutional Parole system, Director, and Board." (Doc. 16 at 1.) It is true that, in the 2014 case, Mr. Couture did not bring claims under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. See Couture, 2015 WL 1931548, at *2 (noting two categories of claims: claims that aspects of his parole revocation proceedings violated his right to procedural due process, and a claim that the parole revocation proceedings violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause). It is also true that some of the forms of relief that Mr. Couture sought in the 2014 case were different than the relief he seeks in this ...

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