United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION (AFFIRMING THE BANKRUPTCY
E. Hudson Senior United States District Judge
bankruptcy matter is before the Court on an appeal filed by
Brenda Gillis (pro se "Appellant")
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a). Appellant appeals the
Bankruptcy Court's December 14, 2018 Order (the
"Order") that dismissed her Complaint with
prejudice because it was a mere reiteration of a previously
adjudicated matter. (See ECF No. 17-1; see
also ECF No. 18 at 15, 17-18.) Pursuant to
Fed.R.Bankr.P. 8009, both Appellant and Appellees have
designated portions of the record they believe to be
pertinent to this appeal, and the matter has been fully
briefed. The Court also recognizes that pro se
complaints are to be liberally construed, and the Court has
done so in its review of this appeal. Laber v.
Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 413 n.3 (4th Cir. 2006).
October 17, 2018, the Bankruptcy Court entered an order
against Appellant, overruling her objection to Appellee
Specialized Loan Servicing's ("Specialized
Loan") Proof of Claim 2. Appellant then appealed that
decision to this Court on October 19, 2018. In addition, and
based upon that same Bankruptcy Court Order, Appellant also
filed a secondary suit in the Bankruptcy Court-that secondary
suit is the source of the current appeal.
Bankruptcy Court dismissed Appellant's secondary suit
with prejudice on December 14, 2018. The Bankruptcy Court
concluded that "for the reasons stated by the Court at
the hearing conducted on December 12, 2018; and good and
sufficient cause appearing therefor, it is hereby
ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED THAT: [ ] The
Motions are hereby GRANTED. [ ]The Complaint filed by
Plaintiff Brenda Coleman Gillis shall be and hereby is
dismissed with prejudice." (ECF No. 17-1 at 2.)
Appellant now appeals the dismissal of her secondary suit to
though Appellant has filed three briefs in this appeal, it is
unclear what challenges Appellant raises against the
Bankruptcy Court's factual findings and its ultimate
conclusion that her secondary suit was rightly precluded
under res judicata. (See ECF No. 18 at 15, 17-18.)
Appellant filed her first brief on February 1, 2019 prior to
the designation of the record ("February 1
Brief'). (See ECF No. 3.) In this brief,
Appellant outlined ten unsupported "statements of
fact." A subsequent brief was filed on May 10, 2019
("May 10 Brief), in which Appellant claimed there were
issues regarding the filing of objections to her Chapter 13
Bankruptcy Plan. (See ECF No. 19.) She then filed
"Appellant's BRIEF Amendment #2" (the
"Amended Brief) on May 20, 2019. (See ECF No.
20.) In the Amended Brief, Appellant stated she is
"requesting an extension to file her Brief. The reasons
are the hiccups and roadblocks that this Pro Se
Appellant is receiving from the Appellee(s)." She
further stated that her brief was "ninety-five percent
complete - but ONCE, [she] receive[s] [her] answers from
Ms. Brogan - [she] can proceed to turn in [her]
completed Brief(s)." (Id. at 2.) However, this
filing, like the others, fails to establish how the
Bankruptcy Court's dismissal of Appellant's secondary
suit was in error.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
appeal, a district court must accept a bankruptcy court's
findings of fact unless those findings are clearly erroneous.
In re Highland Constr. Mgmt. Servs., LP, 569 B.R.
673, 680 (E.D. Va. 2017) (quoting Riley v. Robey, 25
Fed.Appx. 149, 152 (4th Cir. 2002)). Conclusions of law, such
as res judicata, are reviewed de novo by a
district court. See Providence Hall Assocs. Ltd
P'ship v. Wells Fargo Bank N.A., 816 F.3d 273, 276
(4th Cir. 2016).
Wells Fargo Home Mortgage ("Wells Fargo"), Mortgage
Electronic Registration Systems ("MERS"), and
Specialized Loan Servicing correctly raise the issue of
res judicata in their briefs. "Under the
doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion,
'[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.'"
Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 354 (4th
Cir. 2004) (quoting Federated Dep't Stores, Inc. v.
Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981); also citing Brown
v. Felsen, 442 U.S. 127, 131 (1973); Meekins v.
United Transp. Union, 946 F.2d 1054, 1057 (4th Cir.
1991)). Three factors must be present for a court to make a
finding of res judicata: "(1) a final judgment
on the merits in a prior suit; (2) an identity of the cause
of action in both the earlier and the later suit; and (3) an
identity of parties or their privies in the two suits."
Clodfelter v. Sudan, 720 F.3d 199, 210 (4th Cir.
2013) (quoting Pueschel, 369 F.3d at 354-55). The
Fourth Circuit takes a "transactional approach" to
determine whether causes of action are identical.
Id. "As long as the second suit 'arises out
of the same transaction or series of transactions as the
claim resolved by the prior judgment,' the first suit
will have preclusive effect." Id. (quoting
Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal v. Aracoma Coal Co., 556
F.3d 177, 210 (4th Cir. 2009)).
three factors are present here. Regarding the first res
judicata factor, the Bankruptcy Court entered a final
judgment on the merits in the prior suit on October 17,
2018. Regarding the second factor, Appellant
fails to identify how the present case differs from the prior
claim objection proceeding. (See ECF Nos. 3, 19,
20.) In fact, an examination of Appellant's three
appellate briefs reveals no significant distinction between
her previous case and the current one.
statements of facts found in her February 1 Brief are related
to the claim objection proceedings that the Bankruptcy Court
already addressed (See ECF No. 3). Furthermore, in
her February 1 Brief, Appellant expressly stated in bold and
underlined font that the basis for this suit is the same.
(See id at 10 ("[t]he evidence
contained in this brief- is a duplication of what Appellant
and her spouse have been indicating to ALL the named
defendants the entire time.")). Also in
line with Appellees' argument, Appellant references the
previously adjudicated claim objection proceedings as the
basis for her May 10 Brief, and Appellant explicitly directs
the Court to reference documents from the record of that
previously adjudicated bankruptcy case. (See, e.g.,
ECF No. 19 at 6 ("Refer to U.S. Bankruptcy Case
18-33270-KLP Document 85 Filed 02/09/2019.")). The May
10 Brief gives no other independent basis for her appeal.
Finally, Appellant's Amended Brief offers no assistance
and simply requests additional time to file another brief.
(See ECF No. 20.) In short, at no point in any of
these three briefs does Appellant assert a basis for her
secondary suit, and this appeal, that is independent of the
previously adjudicated claim objection proceeding.
during the December 12, 2019 bankruptcy proceeding, in
response to the Bankruptcy Court's questioning, Appellant
explicitly admitted that she was raising the same issues as
in her previous claim objection suit. (See ECF No.
18 at 15.)
THE COURT: But my point is is [sic] that this was
all dealt with in the claim objection proceeding, and should
continue to be dealt with in the claim objection proceeding,
not through a new complaint that makes the same ...