United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
LISA GODBEY WOOD, Chief District Judge.
Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Complaint. Dkt. No. 12. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED.
This action involves Plaintiff's refiling of the same claims that he asserted against the same state officials in Simmons v. Vickers, No. CV 510-60 (S.D. Ga. May 3, 2012). See Dkt. No. 1, pp. 1-2; see also Dkt. No. 12, Ex. 1. In his prior case, Plaintiff's allegations pertained to two underlying disputes with Defendants: the first dispute concerned Defendants' arrest and ten-day imprisonment of Plaintiff in connection with a shootout, which Plaintiff claimed took away his "freedom." Dkt. No. 12, Ex. 1, pp. 2, 3-4. The second was a property dispute involving Defendants' use of a road leading to Plaintiff's house in Coffee County, Georgia, which Plaintiff claimed amounted to an illegal taking. Id. at p. 2.
Based on Plaintiff's allegations, this Court granted summary judgment on his claims and entered judgment in favor of Defendants. Id. at P. 12. In doing so, the undersigned dismissed Defendants Vickers, Pope, and Paulk, citing the absence of any evidence of their liability. Id. at pp. 6-7. As to the remaining Defendants, the undersigned noted that Plaintiff arguably set forth a cognizable claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a deprivation of his constitutional rights based on Defendants having taken his property without just compensation. See id. at p. 8. Even so, the undersigned dismissed Plaintiff's takings claim based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction; the undersigned determined that such a claim is not ripe for adjudication in this Court until the property owner has exhausted Georgia's inverse condemnation procedure in state Court and has been denied just compensation in that forum. Id. at pp. 8-11. Finally, the undersigned concluded that any other potential claims for relief lacked evidentiary support and therefore were not properly before this Court. Id. at p. 11.
Plaintiff now has filed this lawsuit, in which he sets forth the same factual allegations regarding the imprisonment and property disputes that formed the basis of his previous complaint. See generally Dkt. No. 1. Beyond those allegations, Plaintiff also contends that on April 26, 2013, he sought to file a complaint alleging inverse condemnation in the Coffee County Superior Court, a copy of which Plaintiff has submitted with the instant Complaint. Id. at pp. 2, 40-48. According to Plaintiff, he requested permission to proceed in forma pauperis, but "[t]he [j]udge of that court ignored Plaintiff's request, effectively blocking  Plaintiff at the court house door." Id. at p. 2. Plaintiff also maintains that Defendants have continued to engage in the same conduct forming the basis of the property dispute. Id. at p. 14. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff seeks to refile his section 1983 claims alleging constitutional deprivations arising out of both his imprisonment and the taking of his property. Id. at pp. 1-2.
Defendants move for dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Dkt. No. 12, p. 1 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b) (6) ("Rule 12(b) (6)")). In support, Defendants argue that the applicable statutes of limitations bar Plaintiff's claims, because Plaintiff filed outside the two-year limitations period for section 1983 and four-year period for inverse condemnation. Id. at pp. 2-3. Defendants also assert that the doctrine of res judicata bars Plaintiff's claims, because this Court's prior decision satisfies the four elements of res judicata set forth in Ragsdale v. Rubbermaid, Inc., 193 F.3d 1235, 1238 (11th Cir. 1999). Id. at pp. 3-5. Defendants have attached as an exhibit a copy of this Court's order in that case. Id. at Ex. 1.
Plaintiff has filed a Response opposing Defendants' Motion on the ground that he sought relief within the relevant limitations periods. Dkt. No. 14, pp. 2-3. Plaintiff also maintains that res judicata does not apply here, because this Court's determination that his claims were not yet ripe for jurisdiction did not constitute an adjudication of his claims, as required under the res judicata elements. Id. at p. 3.
A Rule 12(b) (6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of a complaint in stating a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 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) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (interpreting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (2)). When ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must accept the factual allegations in a complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556, 570). A court also must afford a pro se party, such as Plaintiff, leniency in applying procedural rules. See GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cnty. of Escarnbia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998).
When a party moving to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b) (6) presents matters outside the pleadings, the court must treat the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. Concordia v. Bendekovic, 693 F.2d 1073, 1075 (11th Cir. 1982) (citations omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. "Matters outside the pleadings" includes oral or written evidence that supports or opposes a pleading and provides some substantiation therefor. Concordia, 693 F.2d at 1075 (citing 5 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1366 (1969)). A court, however, may consider a document attached to a motion to dismiss without converting such motion into a motion for summary judgment if the document is "incorporated into the complaint by reference" or concerns "matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).
In this case, Defendants have attached in support of their Motion a copy of this Court's order in the prior case. See Dkt. No. 12, Ex. 1. Because the ruling in that case is central to Plaintiff's Complaint and is within judicial notice, the attached order is not a "matter outside the pleadings." The Court thus will consider the order without converting Defendants' Motion into a motion for summary judgment.
Defendants base their Rule 12(b) (6) Motion, in part, on a res judicata defense. Res judicata, however, is not a defense under Rule 12(b); rather, it is an affirmative defense that a party should raise under Rule 8(c). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c), 12(b); Concordia, 693 F.2d at 1075 (citations omitted). A party nevertheless may assert a res judicata defense in a Rule 12(b) motion when the defense's existence appears on the face of the complaint or the record of the earlier case is received in evidence. Concordia, 693 F.2d at 1075 (citations omitted). Because such conditions are present here, Defendants have properly raised a res judicata defense in the form of a Rule 12(b) (6) motion. The Court therefore must decide whether the pleadings and exhibits provide sufficient information to support dismissing Plaintiff's Complaint on res judicata grounds. See id.
The doctrine of res judicata "bars the filing of claims which were raised or could have been raised in an earlier proceeding." Ragsdale, 193 F.3d at 1238 (citing Citibank, N.A. v. Data Lease Fin. Corp., 904 F.2d 1498, 1503 (11th Cir. 1990)). A claim is barred by prior litigation when all of the following elements are present: "(1) there is a final judgment on the merits; (2) the decision was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (3) the parties, or ...