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Davis v. Raines

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

December 11, 2017

GARY DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
STEPHEN RAINES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. GLEN E. CONRAD SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Gary Davis, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendant, Stephen Raines, wrongfully detained him and used excessive force against him. The defendant has filed a motion to dismiss arguing that Davis' current claims are barred by res judicata, based on the court's dismissal of his prior lawsuit, Case No. 7:15CV00380. Finding no merit to the defendant's argument, the court will deny the motion to dismiss.

         I.

         In brief, Davis alleges that on Saturday, May 31, 2014, he was leaving a store in Franklin County, Virginia, when Raines, an off-duty Henry County police officer, stopped him and prevented him from entering a nearby vehicle. Raines believed that authorities had outstanding arrest warrants for Davis. When Davis refused to cooperate and tried to reenter the store, Raines allegedly slammed the door on his hand and injured him.

         In July 2015, Davis filed a pro se civil rights complaint under § 1983 against Raines and others, docketed as Case No. 7:15CV00380. In the initial, conditional filing order, the court notified Davis, among other things: “Plaintiff shall notify the court in writing immediately upon plaintiff's transfer or release and shall provide a new address. FAILURE TO NOTIFY THE COURT OF SUCH A CHANGE OF ADDRESS WILL RESULT IN DISMISSAL OF THE CASE.” (Case No 7:15CV00380, ECF No. 5.) Once Davis consented to pay the filing fee through installments from his inmate trust account, the court advised him that his original complaint did not state the claims he wished to pursue and granted him an opportunity to file an amended complaint, which Davis did. The court liberally construed Davis' amended complaint as alleging the following claims against Raines, seeking monetary damages:[1] (1) Raines violated state law by detaining Davis outside of Henry County; (2) Raines seized Davis in violation of the Fourth Amendment by preventing him from entering the vehicle and by slamming the store's door on Davis' arm to prevent him from entering the store; and (3) Raines' slamming of the door on Davis' hand constituted (a) excessive force under the Fourth Amendment and (b) assault and battery.

         Raines filed a motion to dismiss, and Davis responded. By opinion and order dated June 14, 2016, the court denied the motion to dismiss[2] and directed Raines to file a motion for summary judgment within 21 days. (Case No. 7:15CV00380, ECF No. 29.) On June 30, 2016, the copies of the opinion and order that the clerk had mailed to Davis at the jail address he had provided were returned as undeliverable, with no forwarding address. (Case No 7:15CV00380, ECF No. 30). By opinion and order entered July 1, 2016, the court dismissed the civil action without prejudice for failure to prosecute, based on Davis' failure to comply with the court's prior order requiring him to ensure that the court had a current mailing address. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). The court's opinion also stated: “If Davis wishes to proceed with this action, he may move to reopen the case within 30 days from the entry of the dismissal order, provided that he demonstrates good cause for his failure to update the court with a current address as directed.” (Case No 7:15CV00380, ECF No. 30). Davis made no such motion in the time allotted.

         On September 15, 2016, the court received a letter from Davis, asking about the status of his case. The clerk's office resent him copies of the dismissal opinion and order. Davis then filed a motion in the closed case, dated September 19, 2016, seeking reinstatement of the case. He stated that he had been released from prison unexpectedly on an unspecified date and “all of the paperwork pertaining to his complaint was lost upon his release.” (Case No 7:15CV00380, ECF No. 35.) He also stated that he was “extremely indigent” after his release and believed, in error, that because he was on probation, the prison would forward his mail to “his address of record.” (Id.) The court found no basis for reinstatement, stating:

The court concludes that Davis' motion omits critical facts necessary for him to show good cause for his failure to provide the court with his address “immediately” after his release from confinement. He does not provide the date of his release, preventing the court from calculating the number of weeks or months that he waited before his first inquiry with the court about the status of his case. He also fails to explain how or why he lost his case number and documents, and he states no reason whatsoever that he was unable to mail the court an address update. His belief that the prison would forward his mail to his address of record because of his probation status does not excuse his failure to send that address to the court immediately after his release, as directed. Based on this record, the court cannot find that dismissal of the action for failure to prosecute was erroneous or that reinstatement is warranted.

(Case No 7:15CV00380, ECF No. 42.) For the reasons stated, the court denied Davis' motion to reinstate.

         On March 21, 2017, the court received a new pro se § 1983 complaint from Davis, raising the same claims against Raines.[3] (Case No. 7:17CV00107, ECF No. 1.) Raines has waived service of process and filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Davis has responded, making the matter ripe for consideration.

         II.

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. See, e.g., Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 553 U.S. 544, 553-63 (2007). In ruling on such a motion, the court accepts the factual allegations of the complaint as true, but may also consider facts of which it properly takes judicial notice. See Brooks v. Arthur, 626 F.3d 194, 200 (4th Cir. 2010).[4] In particular, the court may properly take notice of facts from a prior judicial proceeding to address a defendant's res judicata defense if it does not involve disputed factual issues. Id.

         “Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action.” Cromwell v. Cnty. of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 597 (1948). The doctrine of

res judicata serves as a bar to a subsequent litigation only when the prior judgment was returned by a court of competent jurisdiction, when the prior judgment was a final judgment on the merits, when the same parties and their privies are involved in both suits, when the two actions are based on the same issues and ...

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