Neal v. Bridge Inc, The et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: As further set out in order, 10 , Defendants' Motion for Sanctions, is DENIED; Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED. The above-styled action is hereby DISMISSED with prejudice. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 02/28/13. (CVA)
2013 Feb-28 AM 10:57
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JOSEPH ANTHONY NEAL,
THE BRIDGE, INC., et al.,
Civil Action Number
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Pro se Plaintiff Joseph Anthony Neal filed this lawsuit seeking damages and
attorney’s fees against his former employer The Bridge, Inc., Penelope Burton,
Kim Harden, and Cheryl Jackson (“The Bridge Defendants”) pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. 1. The Bridge Defendants filed a motion for sanctions and a
motion to dismiss, claiming that (1) Neal failed to establish the violation of any
federal right or statute, (2) The Bridge Defendants are not state actors, (3) res
judicata bars Neal from re-litigating his claims, and (4) Neal’s claims are barred
by the applicable statute of limitations.1 Doc. 10. In light of Neal’s contention in
his Complaint that The Bridge discharged him on October 15, 2010, doc. 1 at 3,
The Bridge Defendants’ motion also included a motion to seal documents, which the
court granted on February 13, 2013. Docs. 10 at 10; 14.
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the court ordered Neal to show cause why his claims should not be dismissed as
untimely. Doc. 14. Neal has responded, doc. 17, The Bridge Defendants have
replied, doc. 18, and the motion is ripe for resolution. For the reasons stated
below, the court GRANTS the motion.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a
complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive a
motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially
plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more
than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Bell
Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific
task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950.
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II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The Bridge hired Neal as a residential counselor in July 2010. Doc. 1 at 3.
According to Neal, The Bridge discharged him for “failure to complete clinical
paperwork in a timely manner” on October 15, 2010. Id. at 3, 7-8. After his
discharge, Neal applied for unemployment benefits. Ultimately, the Alabama
Department of Industrial Relations denied Neal’s application. Doc. 10-1 at 4.
Neal appealed the ADIR’s decision to the Circuit Court of Etowah County and
asserted that The Bridge wrongfully discharged him by falsifying documents and
because he followed the Lead Therapist’s instructions.2 Doc. 10-1 at 1-3.
Eventually, the Circuit Court found that Neal was “terminated for misconduct
repeated after previous warning” and affirmed the denial of unemployment
benefits. Doc. 10-1 at 4. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed and the
Alabama Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court denied Neal’s petitions
for writ of certiorari. Docs. 10-2, 10-3,17 at 15. Neal subsequently filed this
lawsuit, alleging again a wrongful discharge claim. Doc. 1.
Neal alleges that The Bridge “wrongfully terminated” him in violation of §
It is not apparent from the face of the Circuit Court pleadings the basis in law for Neal’s
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1983. Doc. 11. For the reasons stated below, Neal’s claim is barred by the
doctrine of res judicata and the applicable statute of limitations.3
The Doctrine of Res Judicata
The Bridge Defendants contend that Neal’s § 1983 claim is barred by the
doctrine of res judicata because Neal previously litigated it before the ADIR,
Circuit Court of Etowah County, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, and Alabama
Supreme Court.4 Doc. 10 at 7. Under Alabama law, which the court applies
because The Bridge Defendants rely on Alabama court decisions for their res
judicata contention, see Kizzire v. Baptist Health Sys., Inc., 441 F.3d 1306, 1308
(11th Cir. 2006), (citing Amey, Inc. v. Gulf Abstract & Title, Inc., 758 F.2d 1486,
1509 (11th Cir. 1985), a subsequent action is barred if there is: “(1) a prior
judgment on the merits, (2) rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) with
substantial identity of the parties, and (4) with the same cause of action presented
in both actions.” Kizzire, 441 F.3d at 1308-1309 (citing Equity Res. Mgmt., Inc. v.
Vinson, 723 So. 2d 634, 636 (Ala. 1998)). Critically, the same facts must
substantially support both actions:
In light of this finding, the court will not address the issues of whether The Bridge
Defendants violated a federally protected right or are state actors.
Apparently, The Bridge Defendants were not aware at the time that they filed their
motion to dismiss that the United States Supreme Court had denied Neal’s petition for certiorari.
See docs. 10 at n.1; 17 at 15.
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[i]t is well-settled that the principle test for comparing causes of
action for the application of res judicata is whether the primary right
and duty or wrong are the same in each action. Res judicata applies
not only to the exact legal theories advanced in the prior case, but to
all legal theories and claims arising out of the same nucleus of
operative facts. . . . As it is sometimes stated, where two successive
suits seek recovery for the same injury, a judgment on the merits
operates as a bar to the later suit, even though a different legal theory
of recovery is advanced in the second suit.
Old Republic Ins.Co. v. Lanier, 790 So. 2d 922, 928-29 (Ala. 2000) (quotation
marks and citations omitted) (emphasis in original).
All four Kizzire factors exist in this case. First, Neal received a final
judgment on the merits when, after a trial and “consideration of the evidence
presented,” the Etowah County Court found that The Bridge discharged Neal for
repeated misconduct after previous warning and dismissed Neal’s claim. Doc. 101 at 4; Kizzire, 441 F.3d at 1308. Second, the Etowah County Court properly
exercised jurisdiction over Neal’s appeal of the denial of unemployment benefits
pursuant to Alabama Code § 25-4-95, which authorizes judicial review of boards
of appeals decisions.5 See also State Dept. of Indus. Relations v. Page, 362 So. 2d
263, 265 (Ala. Civ. App. 1978). Third, “substantial identity of the parties exist”
“Within 30 days after the decision of the board of appeals has become final, any party to
the proceeding including the director who claims to be aggrieved by the decision may secure a
judicial review thereof by filing a notice of appeal in the circuit court of the county of residence
of the claimant.” ALA. CODE § 25-4-95 (1975).
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since Neal filed the prior action against The Bridge and brings this action, again,
against The Bridge and other Bridge employees. See doc. 1; doc. 10-1 at 1.
Fourth, Neal presents the same cause of action in both cases, i.e. Neal’s purported
wrongful termination and damages he allegedly suffered. Id.; Old Republic, 790
So. 2d at 928-29. Whether Neal failed to specifically invoke § 1983 in state court
is irrelevant since the purported wrongful termination claim under § 1983 accrued
at the time of his discharge. As such, res judicata bars this action since Neal’s
claim arises “out of the same nucleus of operative facts” and the § 1983 claim is
one Neal raised or could have raised in Etowah County Circuit Court. Old
Republic, 790 So. 2d at 928-29.
B. Statute of Limitations
Alternatively, the Bridge Defendants contend that § 1983’s two year statute
of limitations bars Neal’s action. Doc. 10 at 8. Neal maintains that his claim was
timely filed in state court although the pleadings fail to support that contention.
Doc. 17 at 3. Nonetheless, Neal’s assertion further exemplifies why his claim is
barred by res judicata. In any event, while § 1983 has no statute of limitations of
its own, the court must look to the forum state’s general personal injury statute
when determining the timeliness of a § 1983 claim. McNair v. Allen, 515 F.3d
1168, 1173 (11th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). Alabama’s statute of limitations
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for personal injury claims is two years from the date the injury accrued. ALA.
CODE § 6-2-38; see Nelson v. Estate of Frederick, 855 So. 2d 1043, 1047 (Ala.
2003). As a result, since Neal was discharged on October 15, 2010, Neal had until
October 15, 2012 to timely file his lawsuit. However, Neal waited until January
18, 2013, more than ninety days after the October 2012 deadline. Therefore, to the
extent Neal failed to file a § 1983 claim with his Etowah County Circuit Court
lawsuit, Neal’s claims here are untimely and are due to be dismissed.
Although pro se litigants are subject to Rule 11 sanctions for misconduct,
see Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1989), “the court must take
into account the plaintiff’s pro se status when determining whether the filing was
reasonable,” Thomas v. Evans, 880 F.2d 1235, 1240 (11th Cir. 1989). In that
regard, while Neal’s lawsuit involved claims he appealed unsuccessfully and in
that respect alone should have alerted Neal that pursuing them again is a futile
exercise, the court has no reasonable basis to infer that Neal filed this action in bad
faith, i.e. that Neal knew that this lawsuit was frivolous rather than simply having
a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. See Jones v. Int’l Riding Helmets,
Ltd., 49 F.3d 692, 694 (11th Cir. 1995) (“Rule 11 sanctions are proper . . . when
the party files a pleading in bad faith for an improper purpose.”) (citations and
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internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the court DENIES The Bridge
Defendants’ motion for sanctions. Doc. 10.
The court GRANTS The Bridge Defendants’ motion to dismiss. Doc. 10.
The above-styled action is hereby DISMISSED with prejudice.
Done the 28th day of February, 2013.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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