Wimbush v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (OH) et. al. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER dismissing with prejudice 1 Complaint; directing clerk to close this case. Signed by Judge Roger W Titus on 10/7/2016. (c/m 10/7/2016 aos, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
KIMBERLY R. WIMBUSH,
SERVICE, INC. (OH) et al.
Civil Action No. RWT-16-3200
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
On June 7, 2011, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County,
Maryland, in which she claimed personal injury from a motor vehicle accident involving Richard
Hutchinson, an employee of United Parcel Service. ECF No. 1-2. On November 21, 2012, the
court entered a judgment against Plaintiff after a jury returned a verdict in favor of the
Defendants. ECF 1-2 at 7. Plaintiff appealed the judgment of the Circuit Court, and on
November 24, 2014, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the judgment. ECF No. 1
at 9. Both the Maryland Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court denied her
petitions for writs of certiorari. Id. On September 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant pro se
Complaint [ECF No. 1], alleging that the Circuit Court improperly admitted certain confidential
Social Security records which defense counsel used to show that some of her alleged injuries
were, in fact, preexisting conditions. ECF No. 1 at 2-3. She also claims that her attorney did not
effectively represent her and that the trial judge denied her alleged right to proceed pro se. Id.
at 7-8. Plaintiff requests that this Court overturn her jury verdict and grant her a new trial on the
merits. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff’s Complaint will be dismissed.
It is well established that federal courts are “courts of limited jurisdiction” and “possess
only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah
Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). They “have an independent obligation to determine
whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even when no party challenges it.” Hertz Corp. v.
Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 94 (2010). There is “no presumption that the court has jurisdiction,” and
the facts showing the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction “must be affirmatively alleged in
the complaint.” Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick, 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999), cert.
denied, 528 U.S. 1155 (2000) (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178,
189 (1936)). “A court is to presume, therefore, that a case lies outside its limited jurisdiction
unless and until jurisdiction has been shown to be proper.”
United States v. Poole,
531 F.3d 263, 274 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377
While not stated explicitly, Plaintiff presumably invokes federal question jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which grants district courts “original jurisdiction over all civil actions
arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Her main arguments
appear to be that (1) the jury verdict in Maryland Circuit Court resulted from evidence admitted
in violation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2, relating to privacy protections for filings
made with the court, and (2) she was denied her right to self-representation under
28 U.S.C. § 1654, which allows parties to “plead and conduct their own cases personally” in “all
courts of the United States.” ECF No. 1.1 The relief she seeks, however, is a new trial for her
state law-based personal injury suit. Id. at 13.
Plaintiff’s Complaint is Barred by the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine.
Plaintiff is essentially seeking appellate review of a final judgment issued by the Circuit
Court for Prince George’s County and later affirmed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
This type of claim is barred under the Rooker-Feldman2 doctrine. “Under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, a ‘party losing in state court is barred from seeking what in substance would be
appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court.’” Am. Reliable Ins. v.
Stillwell, 336 F.3d 311, 316 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997,
1005-06 (1994)). The Supreme Court has clarified that this doctrine applies to “cases brought by
state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the
district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those
judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). If, “in
order to grant the federal plaintiff the relief sought, the federal court must determine that the
[state] court judgment was erroneously entered or must take action that would render the
judgment ineffectual, Rooker-Feldman is implicated.” Smalley v. Shapiro & Burson, LLP,
526 Fed. App’x 231, 236 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Even
if the precise claim was not brought before the state court, if “success on the federal claim
While it is highly unlikely that Plaintiff has stated claim for relief upon either of these federal statutes as neither
applies in state court, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 (“These rules govern the procedure in all civil actions in the United States
district courts”); 28 U.S.C. § 451 (“As used in this title, [t]he term ‘court of the United States’ includes the Supreme
Court of the United States, courts of appeals, district courts constituted by chapter 5 of this title, including the Court
of International Trade and any court created by Act of Congress the judges of which are entitled to hold office
during good behavior.”), the Court declines to dismiss the Complaint sua sponte on the grounds of frivolousness.
The “test for dismissal” sua sponte for lack of a substantial federal question is “a rigorous one,” and a claim should
only be dismissed on these grounds if “its unsoundness so clearly results from the previous decisions of this court as
to foreclose the subject and leave no room for the inference that the questions sought to be raised can be the subject
of controversy.’” Crosby by Crosby v. Holsinger, 816 F.2d 162, 163 (4th Cir. 1987).
District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co.,
263 U.S. 413 (1923).
depends upon a determination that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it,” the claim
is barred in federal district court.
Brown & Root v. Breckenridge, 211 F.3d 194, 198
(4th Cir. 2000). Because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is jurisdictional, this Court is free to raise
it sua sponte. Am. Reliable Ins., 336 F.3d at 316; see also Jordahl v. Democratic Party of Va.,
122 F.3d 192, 197 n.5 (4th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1077 (1998) (noting that the
“district court appropriately sua sponte raised the Rooker-Feldman issue”).
Plaintiff’s Complaint falls squarely within the confines of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine—she lost in Maryland state court and is now asking this Court to reject the prior
judgment against her. She had adequate opportunity to raise the issues of the admissibility of her
Social Security records and her alleged right to self-representation on appeal in the Maryland
Court of Special Appeals. See Brown & Root, 211 F.3d at 201 (the “relevant inquiry is whether
a party had a reasonable opportunity to raise his federal claim in state proceedings”). Regardless
of whether Plaintiff’s assertion that “pro se litigants have less than ten percent chance to [win] an
appeal in the state of Maryland,” ECF No. 1 at 13, is true, it is not sufficient to confer
jurisdiction upon this Court. The Complaint must therefore be dismissed.
Plaintiff’s Complaint is Barred by Res Judicata.
Apart from the Rooker-Feldman jurisdictional bar, Plaintiff’s Complaint is barred by res
judicata because the judgment she seeks to revisit is a final judgment that was fully litigated in
state court. The Full Faith and Credit Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, “requires the federal court to give
the same preclusive effect to a state-court judgment as another court of that State would give.”
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. at 293 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). In
Maryland, the “doctrine of res judicata is that a judgment between the same parties and their
privies is a final bar to any other suit upon the same cause of action, and is conclusive, not only
as to all matters that have been decided in the original suit, but as to all matters which with
propriety could have been litigated in the first suit.” MPC, Inc. v. Kenny, 367 A.2d 486, 488-89
(Md. 1977). Here, Plaintiff seeks to bring another suit upon the same cause of action as the one
she previously brought in Maryland state court against the same defendants. Because Maryland
courts would give preclusive effect to the prior judgment, this Court must do so as well.
Res judicata is generally an affirmative defense, but it “may, in ‘special circumstances,’
be raised sua sponte.” Eriline Co. S.A. v. Johnson, 440 F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392, 412 (2000)). These “special circumstances” arise when, for
example, a “court is on notice that it has previously decided the issue presented.” Arizona,
530 U.S. at 412. While this Court did not previously decide the issues presented, it is on notice
that the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland and the Maryland Court of Special
Appeals have decided these issues. Therefore, sua sponte dismissal is “fully consistent with the
policies underlying res judicata: it is not based solely on the defendant’s interest in avoiding the
burdens of twice defending a suit, but is also based on the avoidance of unnecessary judicial
waste.” Id. Because Plaintiff’s case against Defendants was already fully litigated, and her
asserted grounds for recovery were available to her in prior proceedings, her suit is barred in this
Court and her Complaint must be dismissed.
Accordingly, it is this 7th day of October, 2016, by the United States District Court for
the District of Maryland,
ORDERED, that Plaintiff’s Complaint [ECF No. 1] is hereby DISMISSED WITH
PREJUDICE; and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk SHALL PROVIDE a copy of this Order to Plaintiff; and it is
ORDERED, that the Clerk SHALL CLOSE this case.
ROGER W. TITUS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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