West v. Amberson et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER- Deft Jayme Amberson's motion to dismiss (Doc 4 ) is GRANTED, and it is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that final judgment be entered in favor of Deft Amberson and against all claims asserted by pltf Joseph Stephen West; Deft Wendall Ward's motion to dismiss (Doc 13 ) is DENIED and his supplemental motion to dismiss (Doc 25 ) is MOOT; Ward SHALL file an answer to the complaint within fourteen days. Signed by Magistrate Judge Staci G Cornelius on 2/9/18. (MRR, )
2018 Feb-09 AM 11:47
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JOSEPH STEPHEN WEST,
JAYME AMBERSON, et al.,
Case No.: 1:17-cv-01212-SGC
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER1
On July 20, 2017, Joseph Stephen West, proceeding pro se, filed this action
against Jayme Amberson and Wendall Ward pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc.
1). Defendant Amberson filed a motion to dismiss on August 16, 2017. (Doc. 4).
Defendant Ward filed a motion to dismiss on September 14, 2017. (Doc. 13).
Both motions are fully briefed and before the court for decision. For the reasons
stated below, Amberson’s motion to dismiss (Doc. 4) is due to be granted and
Ward’s motion to dismiss (Doc. 13) is due to be denied.
On April 6, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in Calhoun County Circuit
Court against Jayme Amberson, former Assistant District Attorney for Calhoun
County, alleging claims of malicious prosecution and fraud. (Doc. 5-1). On May
The parties have consented to the exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by a magistrate judge
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 17).
16, 2017, Amberson filed a motion to dismiss,2 arguing she was absolutely
immune from suit pursuant to prosecutorial immunity, and asked the court to
dismiss the complaint with prejudice. On May 25, 2017, Circuit Judge Bud Turner
granted Amberson’s motion to dismiss.3 (Doc. 5-2). Two months later, on July
20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court. (Doc. 1).
Defendant Amberson contends Plaintiff’s claims against her are barred by
the doctrine of res judicata. (Docs. 4 & 5). Defendant Ward contends Plaintiff’s
claims against him are similarly barred by the doctrine of res judicata and
(Docs. 13 & 14).
The court addresses each defendant
A. Defendant Amberson
“When [a federal court] consider[s] whether to give res judicata effect to a
state court judgment, we must apply the res judicata principles of the law of the
The court may take judicial notice of the plaintiff’s state court records in West v. Amberson, 11CV-2017-000013. See Coney v. Smith, 738 F.2d 1199, 1200 (11th Cir. 1984) (citing Moore v.
Estelle, 526 F.2d 690, 694 (5th Cir. 1976)); see also Grider v. Cook, 522 F. App’x 544, 545 n.2
(11th Cir. 2013) (“the district court was permitted to take judicial notice of Grider’s state court
criminal proceedings”); see also Keith v. DeKalb Cnty., Georgia, 749 F.3d 1034, 1041 n.18
(11th Cir. 2014) (taking judicial notice of DeKalb County Superior Court Online Judicial System
pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 201).
The consolidated case action summary, as well as the general docket sheet “court action”
description, lists the case as dismissed without prejudice for “juris. or pros.” According to Judge
Turner’s order, however, this clerical notation is incorrect. The court granted the motion to
dismiss and did not note it was without prejudice or for lack of jurisdiction or failure to
prosecute. Therefore, the motion was clearly one for dismissal with prejudice based on
prosecutorial immunity, and the undersigned treats the dismissal as such.
state whose decision is set up as a bar to further litigation.”
Secretary, Florida Dept. of Corrections, 739 F.3d 683, 688 (11th Cir. 2014)
(internal quotations and citations omitted). In Alabama, “[t]he doctrine of res
judicata bars subsequent claims involving the ‘identical parties, facts and subject
matter litigated, or those which could have been litigated, in an earlier lawsuit.’”
Higgins v. Henderson, 551 So. 2d 1050, 1052 (Ala. 1989) (quoting Chavers v.
National Sec. Fire & Cas. Co., 456 So. 2d 293, 294 (Ala. 1984)).
[t]he traditional res judicata case (frequently referred to
as a claim preclusion) involves prior litigation between a
plaintiff and a defendant, which is decided on the merits
by a court of competent jurisdiction, and then a
subsequent attempt by the prior plaintiff to relitigate the
same cause of action against the same defendant, or
perhaps to relitigate a different claim not previously
litigated but which arises out of the same evidence.
Alabama law is well settled that this will not be allowed.
A valid, final judgment on the merits of the claim
extinguishes the claim. If the plaintiff won, the claim is
merged into the judgment; if the defendant won, the
plaintiff is barred from relitigating any matter which
could have been litigated in the prior action.
Whisman v. Alabama Power Co., 512 So. 2d 78, 81 (Ala. 1987) (internal citations
Plaintiff contends res judicata does not bar the instant complaint against
Amberson because the state court complaint was not dismissed on the merits.
(Doc. 11). The court disagrees. The law is clear dismissal for failure to state a
claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is a judgment on the merits.
Federated Dep't. Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 399 n.3 (1981). It follows,
therefore, that Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is a judgment on the
merits as they both are dismissals for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
In the state court action, Amberson moved for dismissal for failure to state a
claim based on prosecutorial immunity under Alabama law and sought dismissal
with prejudice. Her motion argued the allegations contained in the complaint
squarely fell within the scope of her prosecutorial discretion and, therefore,
Plaintiff could prove no set of facts entitling him to relief. Judge Turner granted
the motion to dismiss. That dismissal was a judgment on the merits.
There is no question the remaining elements of the res judicata test are
satisfied. Plaintiff does not dispute the prior decision was rendered by a court of
competent jurisdiction and the parties were identical in both suits. Additionally, a
review of both complaints shows all causes of actions against Amberson asserted
in this case were also raised in the complaint in Calhoun County. Accordingly,
Amberson’s motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
B. Defendant Ward
Ward argues the claims against him are barred by res judicata and collateral
estoppel. (Docs. 13, 14). Plaintiff contends that res judicata does not apply to
Defendant Ward because he was not a party to the complaint filed in Calhoun
County. (Doc. 19). Plaintiff does not address Ward’s collateral estoppel argument.
Plaintiff is correct res judicata does not apply but not for the reasons
Identity of party is not the problem with Ward’s res judicata
argument. The fourth element of res judicata, that each suit is based on the same
cause of action, is not met. The determination whether the cause of action is the
same in two separate suits depends on whether the issues in the two actions are the
same and whether the same evidence would support a recovery for the plaintiff in
both suits. Dominex, Inc. v. Key, 456 So. 2d 1047, 1054 (Ala.1984). In other
words, the fourth element is met when the issues involved in the earlier suit
comprehended all that is involved in the issues of the later suit. Adams v. Powell,
225 Ala. 300, 142 So. 537 (1932).
In the instant complaint, West asserts a claim for malicious prosecution,
false imprisonment, and fraud against Ward. (Doc. 1-1 at 9-10). The facts detailed
in the complaint here are not described in his complaint in Calhoun County. The
allegations contained in the complaint in Calhoun County surround West’s April
2015 arrest for solicitation of prostitution, his prosecution and 109 days
imprisonment for the same, and events occurring while in jail. (Doc. 5-1 at 3-12).
Here, the allegations against Ward focus on West’s second arrest in December
2015, prosecution, and additional 52 days in jail. (Doc. 1 at 2-3, 9-10). The facts
allege separate causes of action against Ward, not alleged in the Calhoun County
complaint. Therefore, the doctrine of res judicata does not bar West’s claims
Similarly, the defense of collateral estoppel does not bar West’s claims
against Ward. Where a plaintiff sues a different defendant on issues arising from
the same nucleus of facts as an earlier complaint, the defense of collateral estoppel
can be used to preclude the second or later lawsuit. Blonder-Tongue Laboratories,
Inc. v. University of Illinois Found., 402 U.S. 313, 328 (1971); Parklane Hosiery
Co., Inc. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 328 (1979). The doctrine of collateral estoppel
does not require identity of the causes of action involved but does require: (1) an
issue identical to the one litigated in the prior suit; (2) that the issue was actually
litigated in the prior suit; (3) that resolution of the issue was necessary to the prior
judgment; and (4) the same parties. Pierce v. Rummell, 535 So. 2d 594, 596–97
(Ala. 1988); Lott v. Toomey, 477 So. 2d 316, 319 (Ala. 1985); Wheeler v. First Ala.
Bank of Birmingham, 364 So. 2d 1190, 1199 (Ala. 1978).
Ward does not meet the requirements for collateral estoppel. As explained
above, the allegations against Ward are from a totally separate incident and were
not addressed by Amberson in her defense in the state action. The issues presented
by West’s claims against Ward were not identical or litigated in the earlier lawsuit.
Therefore, the doctrine of collateral estoppel is not a bar to West’s action against
For these reasons, Defendant Amberson’s motion to dismiss (Doc. 4) is
GRANTED, and it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that
final judgment be entered in favor of Defendant Amberson against all claims
asserted by Plaintiff West. Defendant Ward’s motion to dismiss (Doc. 13) is
DENIED and his supplemental motion to dismiss (Doc. 25) is MOOT. Ward
SHALL file an answer to the complaint within fourteen days of the date of this
DONE and ORDERED this 9th day of February, 2018.
STACI G. CORNELIUS
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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