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Wilborn v. Halifax County Verginia School Board

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

May 23, 2016




         Before me is Defendant Halifax County (Virginia) School Board’s Motion to Dismiss, in which it argues that Plaintiff William Wilborn’s claims are barred by Virginia’s res judicata rule. The matter has been fully briefed by the parties, and I have reviewed the record, relevant law, and arguments of counsel. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and Plaintiff’s claims will be dismissed with prejudice.


         Plaintiff William Wilborn (“Plaintiff” or “Wilborn”) was employed by Defendant Halifax County (Virginia) School Board (“the Board”) as a continuing contract teacher from 2005 to 2014. (Compl. ¶¶ 5-6 [ECF No. 1-1].) Wilborn requested FMLA leave on April 3, 2014; while on leave, Assistant Superintendant Valdivia Marshall informed Plaintiff that the Board proposed to terminate his employment. (Id. ¶ 15.) On April 25, 2014, Plaintiff requested a hearing on his proposed termination. (Id. ¶ 16.) The hearing officer ultimately recommended that Plaintiff’s termination be upheld, and the Board terminated Plaintiff on June 2, 2014. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         Plaintiff filed suit against the Board in Halifax County Circuit Court on June 9, 2014, alleging a violation of his due process rights and breach of contract. (See Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss [hereinafter “Def.’s Mem.”] Ex. A [ECF No. 8-1].) The Board filed a demurrer to both counts, and the Circuit Court sustained the demurrer and dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint without prejudice. (Id. Ex. C [ECF No. 8-3].) Plaintiff filed an amended complaint reasserting both claims. (See id. Ex. D [ECF No. 8-4].) The Board filed a second demurrer. (Id. Ex. E [ECF No. 8-5].) After the Board filed its second demurrer but before the hearing on that demurrer, Plaintiff nonsuited only his breach-of-contract claim. (See id. Ex. F [ECF No. 8-6].) The court granted Plaintiff’s request for a nonsuit. When it reached the merits of the Board’s demurrer on the remaining claim (violation of Plaintiff’s due process rights), the Circuit Court sustained the demurrer and dismissed Plaintiff’s amended complaint with prejudice. (See id. Ex. H [ECF No. 8-8].) Plaintiff appealed this decision, but the Supreme Court of Virginia denied his petition for appeal. (See id. Ex. J [ECF No. 8-10].)

         Plaintiff filed a second lawsuit against the Board on February 2, 2016, reasserting his previously nonsuited breach-of-contract claim and adding claims that the Board’s termination of Plaintiff violated the Family Medical Leave Act. (See Compl. ¶¶ 21-46.) The Board removed that action to this Court on February 22 and filed a motion to dismiss on February 24. (Mot. to Dismiss, Feb. 24, 2016 [ECF No. 7].) In its motion, the Board asserts that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by res judicata. Plaintiff responded on March 10, 2016 [ECF No. 12], and the Board replied on March 17 [ECF No. 14]. I heard oral arguments on the Motion on May 9, 2016.


         Allegations that claims are res judicata are challenged under Rule 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 (4th Cir. 2000). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) 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)). “A claim has facial plausibility 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. at 678. In determining facial plausibility, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Id. The Complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” and sufficient “[f]actual allegations . . . to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the Complaint must “allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [the] claim.” Bass v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003). Although “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, ” a pleading that merely offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


         “Under the Full Faith and Credit Act, state judicial decisions ‘shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States . . . as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State . . . from which they are taken.’” Ghayyada v. Rector & Visitors of Univ. of Va., Case No. 3:11-cv-00037, 2011 WL 4024799, at *3 (W.D. Va. Sept. 12, 2011) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1738). Federal courts, therefore, “give the same preclusive effect to state court judgments that those judgments would be given in state courts of the State from which the judgments emerged.” Baker v. GMC, 522 U.S. 222, 246 (1998) (Kennedy, J., concurring). In other words, a federal court interprets the issue of res judicata stemming from a Virginia court judgment by applying Virginia preclusion rules in the same manner that a Virginia court would.

         As is applicable here, the Virginia claim preclusion rule is found in Rule 1:6 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Rule states, in pertinent part:

A party whose claim for relief arising from identified conduct, a transaction, or an occurrence, is decided on the merits by a final judgment, shall be forever barred from prosecuting any second or subsequent civil action against the same opposing party or parties on any claim or cause of action that arises from the same conduct, transaction or occurrence, whether or not the legal theory or rights asserted in the second or subsequent action were raised in the prior lawsuit, and regardless of the legal elements or the evidence upon which any claims in the prior proceedings depended, or the particular remedies sought.

         Va. Sup. Ct. R. 1:6(a). “Accordingly, the rule ‘operates to bar any claim that could have been brought in conjunction with a prior claim, where the claim sought to be barred arose out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence as the previously litigated claim.’” Ghayyada, 2011 WL 4024799, at *4 (quoting Martin-Bangura v. Commonwealth Dep’t of Mental Health, 640 F.Supp.2d 729, 738 (E.D. Va. 2009)).

         In the present case, Plaintiff concedes that his denial-of-due-process claim was dismissed with prejudice, and that that ruling operates to bar any claim arising out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence. He disputes, however, that his breach-of-contract claim arose out of the same transaction because that claim arose out of his termination, not his ...

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