United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
July 15, 2004.
RAYMOND A. JETT, JR., personally & individually and doing business as Escapade Investigations, Inc., Plaintiff,
BEECH INTERPLEX, INC., et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KELLY, Senior District Judge
Presently pending before this Court are Cross-Motions for
Summary Judgment of Plaintiff Raymond A. Jett, Jr. ("Jett") and
Defendants Beech Interplex, Inc. ("Beech Interplex"), Floyd
Alston, Craig Alston, Beech Capital Venture Corporation ("Beech
Capital")*fn1 and Larry Griffin ("Griffin") (collectively
the "Defendants"). For the following reasons, Jett's pro se
Motion will be denied and the Defendants' Motion will be
This case arose from a landlord/tenant dispute between Jett and
Beech Interplex. In September 2000, Jett entered into a leasing agreement with
Beech Interplex through which Jett rented office space from Beech
Interplex for his business.*fn3 After a short time into the
lease's term, a dispute arose between the parties that resulted
in Jett and his business vacating the premises and terminating
rent payments. Subsequently, a controversy arose between the
parties concerning the ownership and entitlement to the property
that Jett left behind when he and his business vacated the rented
In October 2001, Jett, individually and doing business as
Escapade Investigations, Inc., sued Beech Interplex and Floyd
Alston*fn4 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia
County. ("Jett I").*fn5 In Jett I, Jett's claims against
Beech Interplex and Floyd Alston were as follows: (1) unjust
enrichment; (2) loss of business; (3) loss of security; and (4)
breach of contract.*fn6 As the state proceedings progressed,
the disputed property in Jett's former office space became a
critical issue. Eventually, the parties agreed in open court that
Jett would secure a rental facility to store the property at
issue pending disposition of the Jett I case. Subsequently, on
November 7, 2002, Jett loaded the disputed property into a truck
and it was expected that he would store the property at a rental
facility as per the agreement approved by the State Court.
Nevertheless, rather than place the disputed property in the
rental facility as mandated by the parties' agreement, Jett took the truckload of disputed property
to his home in North Carolina.
As a result of these events, the State Court entered a Rule on
Jett to show cause why the Jett I action should not be
dismissed with prejudice because of Jett's actions concerning the
disputed property that amounted to contempt of court. After a
hearing on the matter, on January 30, 2003, the State Court
dismissed Jett I "with prejudice" and entered judgment for
Beech Interplex and Floyd Alston on all claims. Subsequently,
Jett filed a pro se action in this Court ("Jett II")*fn7
raising almost identical legal claims as in Jett I and based on
the same landlord/tenant dispute as in Jett I.
The instant action raises the same claims as Jett brought in
Jett I.*fn8 The only differences from the Jett I suit
and this action are that Jett adds certain additional parties and
adds one additional claim. Specifically, Jett includes Craig
Alston, Beech Capital, and Larry Griffin as additional defendants
in the Complaint filed in this Court.*fn9 Further, Jett adds
one additional Count in Jett II alleging
conspiracy/burglary/theft. On May 26, 2004, the Defendants filed
the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. On June 14, 2004, Jett
filed his Response and filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.
Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
summary judgment is proper "if there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Essentially, the inquiry
is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to
require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that
one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The moving party has
the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the
motion and identifying those portions of the record that
demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). An issue is
genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which
a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. A factual dispute is material only
if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.
Id. at 248.
To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party cannot rest on
the pleadings, but rather that party must go beyond the pleadings
and present "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). Similarly, the non-moving
party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory
allegations, or mere suspicions in attempting to survive a
summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester,
891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325
(1986)). Further, the non-moving party has the burden of
producing evidence to establish prima facie each element of its
claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. If the court, in viewing
all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party,
determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, then
summary judgment is proper. Id. at 322; Wisniewski v.
Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987).
In their Motion, the Defendants argue that they are entitled to
summary judgment based on the res judicata doctrine. Specifically, the Defendants
claim that Jett is precluded from going forward with the instant
lawsuit because of the State Court's dismissal of the nearly
identical Jett I action. This Court agrees with the Defendants'
res judicata argument and finds that the Jett II action fails
as a matter of law based on this well established doctrine.
A. Res Judicata Standard
According to the doctrine of res judicata under Pennsylvania
law, "a final judgment on the merits by a court of competent
jurisdiction will bar any future suit between the parties or
their privies in connection with the same cause of
action."*fn10 Radakovich v. Radakovich, 846 A.2d 709, 714
(Pa. Super. 2004). The purposes underlying the doctrine are
to conserve judicial resources, establish certainty and respect
for court judgments, and to protect the party that relies on
prior adjudication from vexatious litigation. Id. The
application of res judicata requires the concurrence of four
elements: "(1) identity of the thing sued upon; (2) identity of
the cause of action; (3) identity of the parties; (4) identity of
the capacity of the parties." Taylor v. Shiley, Inc.,
714 A.2d 1064, 1066 (Pa. Super. 1998). Importantly, "res judicata will
`not be defeated by minor differences of form, parties or
allegations' where the `controlling issues have been resolved in
a prior proceeding in which the present parties had an opportunity to appear and assert their rights.'" Massullo, M.D.
et al. v. Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin, P.C., No.
98-116, 1999 WL 313830, at *5 (E.D. Pa. May 17, 1999) (quoting
Helmig v. Rockwell Mfg. Co., 131 A.2d 622, 627 (Pa. 1957)). In
this case, this Court finds that all four res judicata elements
are satisfied and that the Defendants are therefore entitled to
summary judgment. This Court will now address each of these
elements in turn.
1. Identity of the Thing Sued Upon
The first factor for this Court to consider is the similarity
of the thing sued upon in both Jett I and Jett II. Taylor,
714 A.2d at 1066. In this case, the operative facts and the
subject matter of this action are identical to the prior State
Court proceedings. Specifically, Jett's claims in both actions
center around alleged agreements reached during the
landlord/tenant relationship and property that became at issue
because of the deterioration of the landlord/tenant relationship.
Thus, this Court concludes that the first element of the res
judicata doctrine is satisfied.
2. Identity of the Causes of Action
The second element for this Court to examine is the likeness of
the causes of action in both the state and federal actions. Id.
"[I]dentity of causes of action exists when, in both the prior
and the subsequent proceedings the subject matter and the
ultimate issues are the same. . . . Res judicata applies not only
to matters which were actually litigated, but also to those
matters which should have been litigated. . . ." Patel v.
Workmen's Comp. Appeal Bd. (Sauquoit Fibers Co.), 488 A.2d 1177,
1179 (Pa. Commw. 1985). The central focus concerning this
factor should be whether the "ultimate and controlling issues"
have been decided. Dempsey v. Cessna Aircraft Co.,
653 A.2d 679, 681 (Pa. Super. 1995). The identity relating to the
causes of action "may be determined by considering the similarity
in the acts complained of and the demand for recovery as well as the identity of the witnesses,
documents and facts alleged." Id.
In this controversy, Jett's causes of action are almost
identical to the claims he made in Jett I. In both cases,
Jett sued pursuant to the following theories: (1) unjust
enrichment; (2) loss of business; (3) loss of security; and (4)
breach of contract. It is clear that res judicata applies to
these four causes of action. The only other claim Jett makes in
this federal action is one additional Count for
conspiracy/burglary/theft. This Court concludes that this one
additional Count does not destroy the identity that is needed to
apply res judicata. As previously noted, a minor difference in
allegations is not sufficient to defeat res judicata. Massullo,
M.D., 1999 WL 313830, at *5. Further, this additional Count in
Jett II is based on the same set of facts as Jett sued on in
Jett I, necessitates the same witnesses as the other claims in
both actions and involves the same property that was at issue in
Jett I. Finally, res judicata applies despite this additional
cause of action because the doctrine applies to matters that
should have been litigated just as it applies to matters that
were litigated. Based on the above discussion, it is clear that
the second factor of the res judicata doctrine is fulfilled.
3. Identity of the Parties
The third factor for this Court to consider is whether there is
identity of the parties in Jett I and Jett II. Taylor, 714
A.2d at 1066. It is clear that application of the res judicata
doctrine is appropriate as to Floyd Alston and Beech Interplex
because they were named Defendants in both actions. The critical
issue is whether this Court should apply the doctrine even though
the following new Defendants were named in Jett II: (1) Craig
Alston; (2) Beech Capital; and (3) Larry Griffin.
It is well established that res judicata applies to parties who
were involved in the previous litigation (i.e. Floyd Alston and Beech Interplex) and
those in privity with parties who were involved in the previous
litigation. Day v. Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft,
464 A.2d 1313, 1317 (Pa. Super. 1983). As previously mentioned, res
judicata will not be defeated by minor differences in parties
when the controlling issues have been resolved in a prior
proceeding. Massullo, M.D., 1999 WL 313830, at *5. The concept
of privity in the res judicata area means that "the relationship
between one who is a party on the record and another is close
enough to include the other within the res judicata." Equal
Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. U.S. Steel Corp., 921 F.2d 489,
493 (3d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Courts have found privity
to exist when the actual party in the previous litigation
adequately represented the nonparty's interest in the prior
proceeding. Bruszewski v. U.S., 181 F.2d 419, 422 (3d Cir.
1972) ("res judicata may be invoked against a plaintiff who has
previously asserted essentially the same claim against different
defendants where there is a close or significant relationship
between successive defendants"); Myers v. Kim,
55 Pa. D. & C. 4th 93, 100 (Pa. Com. Pl. 2001) (citations omitted).
This Court will now examine each of the new Defendants and
explain why the concept of privity makes the res judicata
doctrine applicable to each one of them. First, in relation to
Craig Alston, Jett does not dispute that Craig Alston's only
connection to this lawsuit is that he was Beech Interplex's
lawyer and was, therefore, Beech Interplex's agent. Principals
and agents are parties in privity for purposes of applying the
res judicata doctrine. Day, 464 A.2d at 1317. Thus, the res
judicata doctrine is appropriate as to Craig Alston because he
was in privity with a party to the Jett I litigation. Second,
in relation to Beech Capital and Griffin, res judicata is also
appropriate for these new parties. Beech Capital is a closely
related business to Beech Interplex.*fn11 Further, Jett does not dispute that
Griffin's only connection to this controversy is that he is the
Vice-President of Beech Capital. It appears Beech Capital and
Griffin were only added to the Jett II lawsuit because Jett
realized that these parties were doing business out of Jett's
former leased suite and were allegedly in possession of some of
the disputed property because they were operating out of the same
location.*fn12 This Court concludes that Beech Capital and
Griffin were in privity with the defendants in Jett I based on
the closeness of the relationship between all the defendants. It
is clear that the interests of both Beech Capital and Griffin
were adequately represented in Jett I because their interests
were so closely aligned with the named defendants in the prior
state proceedings. This conclusion to apply the res judicata
doctrine based on the privity concept is supported by the fact
that the same property that is at issue in the
conspiracy/burglary/theft Count against Beech Capital and Griffin
was at issue in Jett I. Thus, the res judicata doctrine is
appropriate as to Beech Capital and Griffin because they were in
privity with the named parties to the Jett I litigation.
4. Identity of the Capacity of the Parties
The final element for this Court to examine is the likeness of
the capacities of the parties in both Jett I and Jett II.
Taylor, 714 A.2d at 1066. In this case, Jett has sued in the
same capacity in both lawsuits. Further, the Defendants that Jett
has named in both actions have been sued in the same capacities
in both Jett I and Jett II. Consequently, this Court
concludes that the fourth element of the res judicata doctrine is satisfied.
In summary, based on the doctrine of res judicata, this Court
finds that Jett is precluded from continuing with the instant
lawsuit because of the State Court's dismissal of a nearly
identical action. This Court finds that all four prongs of the
res judicata standard have been met and that the Jett II
action, therefore, fails as a matter of law. Thus, the Defendants
are entitled to summary judgment on all claims. ORDER
AND NOW, this 15th day of July, 2004, upon consideration of
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 8), Plaintiff's
Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10) and the Responses
and Replies thereto, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendants'
Motion is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.