• Res Judicata Barred Plaintiff From a Second Bite at the Apple
  • April 25, 2012 | Author: Gregory L. Arbogast
  • Law Firm: Semmes, Bowen & Semmes A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • Leftridge v. Matthews, Case No. ELH-11-3499 (D. Md. April 18, 2012)

    Leftridge v. Matthews, is a res judicata case, in which Judge Hollander of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland held that some of Plaintiff’s claims were barred against some Defendants by the doctrine of res judicata.

    Leftridge arose out of a traffic stop, which was allegedly performed by the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department and the Maryland State Police. Plaintiff, Vernon J. Leftridge, alleged that he and his brother, Sylvonte Bishop, were stopped by a Maryland sheriff’s deputy for having a defective brake light. Plaintiff alleges that during the traffic stop, they were allegedly subjected to, “harassment, sexual harassment, several searches and strip searches.” Additionally, Plaintiff, who is African-American, claims to be the subject of racial profiling and racial discrimination.

    Plaintiff and his brother filed a previous lawsuit on December 28, 2010, arising out of the same traffic stop. Leftridge v. Lewis, Civ. No. WMN-10-3640 (D. Md.), hereinafter “Leftridge I.” Plaintiff and his brother filed Leftridge I against Mike Lewis, the Wicomico County Sheriff, in both his individual and official capacities, and the Maryland State Police. On May 4, 2011, Judge Nickerson dismissed the lawsuit, giving express instructions to file an Amended Complaint. Judge Nickerson dismissed the lawsuit, because Plaintiff’s Complaint was unintelligible, incoherent, and failed to properly aver the facts of the incident. By way of example, Plaintiff alleged that the incident happened in Wicomico County on I-95. Judge Nickerson noted that not only does I-95 not run through Wicomico County, but they are 100 miles apart and their closest point. Judge Nickerson’s Order instructed Plaintiff to refile within ten (10) days or the Complaint would be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff did not refile the case within ten (10) days.

    On December 2, 2011, approximately six (6) months after Judge Nickerson’s Order, Plaintiff Vernon Leftridge, this time sans his brother as a codefendant, filed the instant action against Mike Lewis, Kelly Matthews, a Wicomico County sheriff’s deputy, several other John and Jane Doe Defendants who are law enforcement officers with the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department, and three (3) additional John Doe Defendants, who are Maryland state troopers. Defendants were sued in both their official and individual capacities. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss based on the doctrine of res judicata.

    Judge Hollander assessed whether res judicata barred Plaintiff’s claims. Judge Hollander noted that a case will have preclusive effect on subsequent lawsuits “when three conditions are met: (1) the subsequent suit presents the ‘same cause of action’ as the prior suit; (2) judgment was rendered ‘on the merits’ in the prior suit; and (3) the subsequent suit involves ‘the same parties or their privies’ as were involved in the prior lawsuit.”

    Judge Hollander held that the first lawsuit had preclusive effect on Mike Lewis and the Maryland State Police, but not the officers in their individual capacities. The first prong was easily met, because the same cause of action simply means that the two (2) lawsuits arise out of the same transaction or series of transactions. Here, both lawsuits arose out of the same traffic stop. The second prong was also easily met, because a judgment on the merits simply means that the case was dismissed with prejudice. Judge Nickerson expressly stated that if the Complaint was not refiled within ten (10) days, then it would be dismissed with prejudice. The issue, here, came down to the third prong of the res judicata test, i.e., that the lawsuits involve the same parties or their privies. Judge Hollander found that Defendants in their individual capacity are not in privity with the same Defendants in their official capacity. A person’s official capacity is essentially the equivalent of suing the State, which has a different interest than the individual. Therefore, since the first lawsuit did not sue the officers (other than Mike Lewis) in their individual capacity, that aspect of the instant case was not dismissed.