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Bush v. Wexford Health Professional Services

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 2, 2014

RICHARD ARNOLD BUSH, Plaintiff,
v.
WEXFORD HEALTH PROFESSIONAL SERVICES; BUTLER COUNTY PRISON, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MAUREEN P. KELLY, Magistrate Judge.

I. RECOMMENDATION

It is respectfully recommended that, pursuant to screening provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Complaint should be dismissed before being served upon the Defendants because the Complaint is barred by the doctrine of res judicata.

II. REPORT

A. Procedural History

Richard Arnold Bush ("Plaintiff") is currently incarcerated at the Butler County Prison. Proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis ("IFP"), Plaintiff seeks to file a civil rights Complaint (the "Complaint"), naming two Defendants, the Butler County Prison and Wexford Health Professional Services. Plaintiff complains about not receiving proper health care and about being denied medical attention for his diabetes. He alleges that this denial of care is due to racial discrimination. He asserts that these events occurred as of August 1, 2012. ECF No. 1-1 at 2. It is imperative to note that Plaintiff previously filed a virtually identical civil rights action in this Court on February 11, 2013. Bush v. Butler County Prison, No. 2:13-cv-218 (W.D. Pa.) (the "First Case"). In the First Case, Plaintiff named the same two defendants as he names in the present case. In the Complaint in the First Case, Plaintiff complained of not receiving correct and fast medical treatment in 2012 and 2013. Id . (ECF No. 1 at 2). In a subsequent letter to the Clerk's Office, docketed in the First Case as a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Plaintiff complained about improper medical care of his diabetes. Id . (ECF No. 5). The First Case was dismissed with prejudice for failure to prosecute. Id . (ECF No. 15). Plaintiff did not appeal the order of dismissal. Plaintiff did attempt to file an Amended Complaint in the First Case but that Amended Complaint was stricken. Id . (Text Order entered 10/3/2013). Because the First Case and the present case are nearly identical, the doctrine of res judicata bars this case.

B. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), Congress adopted major changes affecting civil rights actions brought by prisoners, in an effort to curb the increasing number of frivolous and harassing lawsuits brought by persons in custody. The PLRA permits courts to screen complaints filed by prisoners and dismiss them before they are served if the complaints fail to state a claim or are frivolous or malicious. See Santana v. United States , 98 F.3d 752, 755 (3d Cir. 1996). Because Plaintiff is a prisoner who is suing government employees and/or because Plaintiff is a prisoner suing about prison conditions, the screening provisions of the PLRA apply. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A ("[t]he court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity."); and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (permitting courts to screen complaints concerning "prison conditions").

In performing the Court's mandated function of sua sponte review of complaints under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, to determine if they fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a federal district c ourt applies the same standard applied to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Brodzki v. Tribune Co., 481 F.Appx. 705 (3d Cir. 2012) (applying Rule 12(b)(6) standard to claim dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Courteau v. United States , 287 F.Appx. 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) ("the legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915A is identical to the legal standard employed in ruling on 12(b)(6) motions"); Montanez v. Pa. Health Care Service Staffs, Civ.A. No. 09-1547, 2011 WL 7417026, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 14, 2011), report adopted by, 2012 WL 602938 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 23, 2012).

As the United States Supreme Court explained in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007), a complaint may properly be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). Under this standard, the court must, as a general rule, accept as true all factual allegations of the complaint and all reasonable inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc. , 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). In addition to the complaint, courts may consider matters of public record and other matters of which a court may take judicial notice, court orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint when adjudicating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman , 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994). Moreover, under the 12(b)(6) standard, a "court need not... accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit." Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors , 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001), amended by, 275 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001). The court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp. , 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. , 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

The question to be resolved is: whether, taking the factual allegations of the complaint, which are not contradicted by the exhibits and matters of which judicial notice may be had, and taking all reasonable inferences to be drawn from those uncontradicted factual allegations of the complaint, are the "factual allegations... enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true even if doubtful in fact[.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. Or put another way, a complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

Furthermore, because Plaintiff is pro se, courts accord an even more liberal reading of the Complaint, employing less stringent standards when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519 (1972).

C. DISCUSSION

This case is barred by res judicata or claim preclusion.[1] The doctrine of res judicata provides that a final judgment rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, on the merits, is conclusive as to the rights of the parties and their privies, and as to them constitutes an absolute bar to a subsequent action involving the same cause of action. In re Weisbrod & Hess Corp. , 129 F.2d 114 (3d Cir. 1942). As explained by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the federal law[2] of res judicata or claim preclusion involves a three pronged test, and bars a second suit where "there has been (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." Lubrizol Corp. v. Exxon Corp. , 929 F.2d 960, 963 (3d Cir. 1991). The "purpose of [the res judicata] doctrine is to relieve the parties of the cost and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, prevent inconsistent decisions, and encourage reliance on adjudications." Turner v. Crawford Square Apartments III, L.P. , 449 F.3d 542, 551 (3d Cir. 2006). In light of the purposes which res judicata serves, the doctrine not only bars relitigation in a second suit of what was actually litigated in the first suit but res judicata also bars relitigation of what could have been litigated in the first suit. See, e.g., Smith v. Morgan , 75 F.Appx. 505, 506 (6th Cir. 2003) ("Under claim preclusion, a final judgment on the merits bars any and all claims by the parties or their privies based on the same cause of action, as to every matter actually litigated ...


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