Brown v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co
ORDER: Defendant's Motion 41 to Dismiss is GRANTED. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendant and to close the case. The Clerk is also directed to mail a copy of this opinion to pro se Plaintiff. Signed by Judge Janet Bond Arterton on 3/11/2013. (Bonneau, J)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
State Farm Fire and Casualty Company,
Civil No. 3:11cv1435 (JBA)
March 11, 2013
RULING ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS
Plaintiff Ralston Brown, proceeding pro se, brought this action against Defendant
State Farm Fire and Casualty Company alleging negligent misrepresentation, gross
negligence, negligence, obstruction of justice, violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade
Practices Act (“CUTPA”), and three counts of fraud arising from Defendant’s denial of
Plaintiff’s claim for insurance proceeds and the subsequent litigation regarding that
denial. (See Amend. Compl. [Doc. # 40].) Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), Defendant now moves [Doc. # 41] to dismiss the Amended
Complaint in its entirety arguing that (1) Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the doctrine of
res judicata, (2) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction in that Plaintiff cannot
establish that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, (3) the action should be
dismissed under the Colorado River abstention doctrine, and (4) Plaintiff has failed to
state a claim for which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, Defendant’s
motion to dismiss is granted.
This case arises out of an insurance coverage dispute between the parties.
Defendant issued Plaintiff a homeowner’s policy covering a house located at 100–102
Harral Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut for damage from fire. (See Ex. B to Def.’s Mot.
to Dismiss.) Defendant also issued a business policy for the same address. (See Myers
Aff., Ex. to Amend. Compl.) However, the policy listed the incorrect address for the
insured location, as Plaintiff did not own a business at 100–102 Harral Avenue. (See
Amend. Compl.) On March 22, 2006, Defendant sent Plaintiff a cancellation notice,
informing Plaintiff that both policies would be cancelled effective April 6, 2006 if the
premium payment of $729.85 was not received by that date. (See Myers Aff., Ex. to
Amend. Compl. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff failed to pay the outstanding balance and the policies
were cancelled as of April 6, 2006. (See id. ¶ 17.) On April 21, 2006, the dwelling at 100–
102 Harral Avenue was destroyed by fire. (See Ex. B to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss, ¶ 4.)
Plaintiff suffered property damage and lost rental income as a result of the fire.
Defendant refused coverage for these losses under the homeowners and business policies,
citing the prior cancellation of those policies. (See id. ¶¶ 7–8.)
On April 19, 2007, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in the Connecticut
Superior Court for the Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport, see Brown v. State Farm
Fire and Casualty Company, FBT–CV–075008258-S (hereinafter “Brown I”), alleging
wrongful denial of coverage under the homeowners and business policies. (See Ex. B to
Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss.) At the time this suit was filed, the parties had conducted
discovery and Defendant had filed and fully briefed a motion for summary judgment that
had been pending for several months. (See id.) Plaintiff’s allegations in this action arise
in part from the discovery conducted in Brown I. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant falsified
Plaintiff’s insurance applications and policies and that Defendant made false statements
regarding these applications and policies in affidavits submitted to the Connecticut
Superior Court. (See Amend. Compl.)
Although the parties have failed to keep the
Court apprised of the status of Brown I since the pending motion was filed, based on a
review of Connecticut’s electronic court filing system, the Court takes judicial notice of
the fact that judgment entered in Defendant’s favor after trial on December 24, 2012, and
that on January 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed an appeal, which is currently pending.
On May 27, 2011, Plaintiff filed a second suit against Defendant in this District,
see Brown v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, No. 10cv833 (CFD) (hereinafter
“Brown II”), alleging that Defendant had breached the business policy by denying
coverage for the losses resulting from the April 21, 2006 fire. On September 12, 2011
Judge Droney denied Plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint to add a CUTPA claim,
holding that the proposed amendment was futile because Plaintiff had not alleged that
Defendant committed unfair claim settlement practices with such frequency as to indicate
a general business practice. (See Brown II, Sept. 12, 2011 Ruling [Doc. # 58].) On
September 20, 2011, Judge Droney granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment,
holding that Plaintiff’s suit was barred by the suit–limitation clause in the business policy,
and denied as futile Plaintiff’s second motion to amend his complaint, in which Plaintiff
attempted to add many of the claims he asserts in this action. (See Brown II, Sept. 20,
2011 Ruling [Doc. # 59].) On September 16, 2011, several days before judgment entered
in favor of Defendant in Brown II, Plaintiff filed the present action, in which he attempts
for a third time to raise claims against Defendant arising from Defendant’s denial of
coverage for the April 21, 2006 loss and from the subsequent litigation surrounding that
Defendant argues that the Amended Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety
because (1) Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, (2) the Court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction in that Plaintiff cannot establish that the amount in
controversy exceeds $75,000, (3) the action should be dismissed under the Colorado River
abstention doctrine, and (4) Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for which relief can be
granted. Because the Court concludes that this action is barred by the doctrine of res
judicata, it will not address Defendant’s additional arguments.
Defendant argues that Judge Droney’s summary judgment ruling in Brown II has
preclusive effect on all of Plaintiff’s claims. “The doctrine of res judicata, or claim
preclusion, applies in later litigation if an earlier decision was (1) a final judgment on the
merits, (2) by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) in a case involving the same parties or
their privies, and (4) involving the same cause of action.” Hecht v. United Collection
Bureau, Inc., 691 F.3d 218, 221–22 (2d Cir. 2012). The parties do not dispute that the
summary judgment opinion in Brown II was a final judgment by a court of competent
jurisdiction involving the same parties.
However, Plaintiff does argue that Judge
“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.’” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). Although detailed allegations are not required, a claim will be found facially
plausible only if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Id. at 678–79; see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(6). “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint,
however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers.” Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Droney’s opinion was not “on the merits,” and that he did not have a full and fair
opportunity to litigate his claims in Brown II.
Plaintiff argues that because Judge Droney granted judgment in favor of
Defendant on Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim on the basis that it was untimely under
the suit limitation clause in the business policy, the judgment in Brown II was not “on the
merits” for purposes of res judicata. A decision is “on the merits” for res judicata
purposes if it “reaches and determines the real or substantial grounds of action or defense
as distinguished from matters of practice, procedure, jurisdiction, or form,” Saylor v.
Lindsley, 391 F.2d 965, 968 (2d Cir. 1968), and “[b]oth claim preclusion and issue
preclusion result from summary judgments that rest on the lack of any genuine issue of
material fact going to the merits of a claim or defense.” Charles A. Wright & Arthur R.
Miller, et al., 18A Federal Practice and Procedure § 4444. In Brown II, Judge Droney
addressed the substance of Defendant’s defense that Plaintiff’s suit was barred by the suit
limitation clause in the business policy claim and found that Plaintiff had failed to present
a genuine issue of material fact as to whether his failure to bring suit within the
contractual limitation period was justified. (See Brown II, Sept. 20, 2011 Ruling at 4–7 &
n.7.) Therefore, the summary judgment opinion in Brown II was “on the merits” for
purposes of res judicata.
Plaintiff also appears to argue that res judicata should not apply to bar this suit
because he did not have a full and fair opportunity to raise his present claims in Brown II.
“[R]es judicata, or claim preclusion prevents a party from litigating any issue or defense
that could have been raised or decided in a previous suit, even if the issue or defense was
not actually raised or decided.” Woods v. Dunlop Tire Corp., 972 F.2d 36, 38 (2d Cir.
1992) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
“Whether or not the first
judgment will have preclusive effect depends in part on whether the same transaction or
connected series of transactions is at issue, whether the same evidence is needed to
support both claims, and whether the facts essential to the second were present in the
first.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, if Plaintiff could have
raised his present claims in Brown II, they will be barred by the application of res judicata.
Plaintiff admits that he in fact attempted to bring many of the claims at issue in this suit
in Brown II. (See Pl.’s Opp’n [Doc. # 44] at 5 (“The plaintiff made several attempts to
amend the complaint, however upon a lengthy analyst [sic] of the complaint the court
(Judge Droney) concluded that it would be futile to amend the complaint.”).)2 Plaintiff
also raised the issue of the alleged false statements made by Defendant when rejecting
To the extent that the Brown II court denied as futile Plaintiff’s motion to amend
his complaint to bring some of the claims alleged in the present suit (see Brown II, Sept.
20, 2011 Ruling), that decision would also have preclusive effect on those claims. See
Casciani v. Town of Webster, No. 11–4372–cv, 2012 WL 5416618, at *1 (2d Cir. Nov. 7,
2012) (holding that where the district court considered each claim in the proposed
amended complaint and denied leave to amend as futile the decision “constitute[d] a final
judgment sufficient to preclude any claims contained in the proposed amended
complaint” (citing Flaherty v. Lang, 199 F.3d 607, 615 (2d Cir. 1999))). Plaintiff’s
proposed amended complaint in Brown II included claims for CUTPA violation,
negligence, and fraud. (See Brown II, Mot. to Amend Compl. [Doc. # 23].) Thus,
Plaintiff’s CUTPA, fraud, and negligence claims in the present action are also precluded
by Judge Droney’s denial of the motion to amend in Brown II. Furthermore, to the extent
that Plaintiff alleges the new claims of gross negligence and obstruction of justice in
violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1501–07 for the first time in this action, these claims fail as a
matter of law because Connecticut does not recognize a private cause of action for gross
negligence as distinct from negligence, see Gersich v. Enterprise Rent A Car, No.
3:95CV01053(AHN), 1995 WL 904917, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 20, 1995), and 18 U.S.C. §§
1501–07 is a federal criminal statute that does not give rise to a private cause of action. See
De Haven v. Schwarzenegger, 123 F. App’x 287, 289 (9th Cir. 2005) (“[O]bstruction of
justice is a criminal charge that does not provide a private cause of action.”). Cf. Clissuras
v. City Univ. of New York, 90 F. App’x 566, 567 n.1 (2d Cir. 2004) (“In their cavalcade of
claims, plaintiffs make creative arguments regarding obstruction of justice and theft of
identity. These claims are either time–barred or do not constitute private federal causes
of action, or both.”)
Plaintiff’s insurance claim and during the Brown I litigation at several points during the
course of Brown II. (See, e.g., Brown II, Pl.’s Mem. Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. [Doc. # 8].)
Thus, the evidence in support of and the facts essential to Plaintiff’s present claim were
before the court in Brown II, and all of the alleged misstatements had occurred prior to
the entry of judgment in that action. Furthermore, each of Plaintiff’s claims arises from
the same transaction or series of transactions in that Plaintiff’s claims all relate to
Defendant’s actions in denying his insurance claim and its continued denial of that claim
during the litigation of the original coverage dispute in Brown I. For these reasons, the
claims at issue in this action could have been brought in Brown II, and thus constitute the
same “cause of action” for res judicata purposes. Therefore, all of Plaintiff’s claims are
barred by the doctrine of res judicata.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s Motion [Doc. # 41] to Dismiss is granted.
The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of Defendant and to close the case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Janet Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 11th day of March, 2013.
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