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WILLIAMS v. LEHIGH COUNTY DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS

September 15, 1998

ANTHONY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
LEHIGH COUNTY DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KATZ

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 Katz, J.

 September 15, 1998

 Factual Background

 On April 8, 1998, Plaintiff Anthony M. Williams filed a complaint naming the Lehigh County Department of Corrections and individuals Albert Gonzales, Eric Gaumer, and Dale E. Boehm as defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff states that on October 30, 1996 he was beaten by Officer Gaumer and that Officer Gonzales and Officer Boehm witnessed the abuse but did not intervene; in fact, they attempted to conceal the event. Officers Gaumer and Gonzalez were fired as a result of the incident, but Officer Gonzalez was subsequently rehired. See Answer and Affirmative Defenses of Defendants PP 5, 10-11.

 On June 1, 1998, plaintiff amended his complaint and added Jane Baker, Lehigh County Executive, as a defendant, stating that Baker was liable as a decision maker and that Lehigh County had a policy of authorizing violations of the plaintiff's constitutional rights and failing to hold its officials accountable. See Amended Compl. P1. In particular, plaintiff alleges that Ms. Baker knew of the rehiring of Officer Gonzales and that such knowledge and actions constituted an unconstitutional official policy. See id. P2.

 Plaintiff previously filed a virtually identical claim before this court in 1996 as part of an extensively litigated series of claims against Lehigh County and related defendants. The first case, docket number 96-2267, recounts the same incident in its Third Amended Complaint. In that Amended Complaint, plaintiff names officers Gaumer, Gonzales, and Boehm as individuals who abused him or witnessed the abuse after he challenged Officer Gonzales for refusing to provide clean underwear. See Third Amended Compl. PP1-14. Plaintiff specifically added Officers Gaumer, Gonzales, and Boehm as defendants. See id. P20. The first lawsuit included, in addition to the October 30 incident, many other allegations of abuse. This court dismissed that case in its entirety upon defendants' motion for summary judgment based upon issues of qualified immunity, failure to state a proper constitutional claim, and failure to establish municipal liability under § 1983. See Order of April 8, 1997. That grant of summary judgment was affirmed by the Third Circuit on December 4, 1997.

 The only difference between the allegations at issue in plaintiff's first case and those made in the present case is the inclusion of a claim that defendant Gonzales came to Williams' cell and "threatened to assault" plaintiff on March 19, 1998. See Compl. P19. The complaint does not allege that Gonzales or anyone else ever carried out or repeated this threat. Plaintiff also alleges that Officer Gonzales' rehiring constitutes a constitutional violation.

 In response to these claims, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Because plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata, defendants' motion will be granted. The sparse new allegations are insufficient to constitute independent grounds for suit.

 Discussion *fn1"

 Res Judicata

 Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, bars the relitigation of an issue identical to that addressed in a prior action. Res judicata, or claim preclusion, is broader in effect and "prohibits reexamination not only of matters actually decided in the prior case, but also those that the parties might have, but did not assert in that action." Edmundson v. Borough of Kennett Square, 4 F.3d 186, 189 (3d Cir. 1993). The plaintiff's claim, while probably subject to both collateral estoppel and res judicata, falls more appropriately into the broader category of res judicata. Res judicata requires three factors: 1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving 2) the same parties or their privies, and 3) a subsequent suit based on the same cause of action. See Board of Trustees v. Centra, 983 F.2d 495, 504 (3d Cir. 1992); Greenberg v. Potomac Health Systems, Inc., 869 F. Supp. 328, 330 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Analyzing the factors described above, the plaintiff's suit is clearly barred.

 First, the plaintiff's previous claim was subject to a final adjudication on the merits. "It is well established that a grant of summary judgment is a final adjudication." Greenberg, 869 F. Supp. at 330 (citations omitted); see also Sims v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 463 F. Supp. 1068, 1069 (E.D. Pa. 1979); Hubicki v. ACF Indus., Inc., 484 F.2d 519, 524 (3d Cir. 1973). While plaintiff's first claim before this court included many other allegations in addition to those concerning the October 30, 1996 event, the claims pertaining to that incident were dismissed along with all of the other allegations. While the plaintiff claims that new threats were made, as discussed below, these threats are not sufficient to constitute a new cause of action.

 Second, there is identity of parties sufficient to bar relitigation of the plaintiff's claim. Res judicata applies equally when there is complete identity of parties, privity with prior parties, or when the parties have an otherwise " 'close or particular relationship.' " See Greenberg, 869 F. Supp. at 330, citing Avins v. Moll, 610 F. Supp. 308, 316 (E.D. Pa. 1984). Res judicata " 'will not be defeated by minor differences of form, parties or allegations' where the 'controlling issues have ben resolved in a prior proceeding in which the present parties had an opportunity to appear and assert their rights.' " Zhang v. Southeastern Financial Group, Inc., 980 F. Supp. 787, 794 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (citations omitted). When, as here, a defendant brings the same claims in successive suits against different but closely related ...


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