On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. SC-1739-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher and Fasciale.
Plaintiff commenced this action, claiming his former employer, defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife), reneged on promises to reimburse him for travel expenses and improperly handled or terminated his brokerage account. We conclude this action was properly dismissed based on res judicata and entire controversy principles because plaintiff either asserted or should have asserted these claims in an earlier federal suit.
Plaintiff was employed as a broker-dealer when, in 2002, MetLife acquired his employer; plaintiff accepted a position with MetLife as a cashiering manager. Soon thereafter, plaintiff asserted that MetLife was not fairly compensating its employees for overtime and, as a result, threatened to report the situation to the Department of Labor. MetLife ultimately issued back pay to the affected employees in March 2003.
In May 2002, plaintiff and his fianceee opened a joint personal brokerage account with MetLife. Around June 2003, MetLife's human resources department noticed, among other irregularities, that plaintiff's account carried a negative balance. An investigation revealed that plaintiff changed the address of the account and made several withdrawals without his fianceee's consent; the investigation also revealed plaintiff made several transactions in violation of company regulations. In early June 2003, plaintiff admitted he engaged in the improper transactions and had unilaterally changed the account address but claimed he had his fianceee's consent to the withdrawals. Plaintiff was suspended and, on June 30, 2003, terminated.
In June 2004, plaintiff commenced a civil action against MetLife in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. He filed an amended complaint in May 2005 and a second amended complaint in May 2006. In that action, plaintiff asserted both federal and state causes of action of racial discrimination, the maintenance of a hostile work environment, defamation, and wrongful termination. The district court granted summary judgment on the defamation claim but denied the motion insofar as it sought dismissal of the wrongful termination claim; at the same time, plaintiff withdrew his hostile work environment and discrimination claims. The district court later granted MetLife's motion for summary judgment on the wrongful termination claim by way of a written decision filed on May 7, 2009. The Court of Appeals affirmed, Badrinauth v. MetLife Corp., 368 F.App'x. 320 (3d Cir. 2010), and the Supreme Court of the United States denied plaintiff's petition for a writ of certiorari, __ U.S. __, 131 S. Ct. 834, 178 L. Ed. 2d 559 (2010).
On July 1, 2009, after the district court granted summary judgment but before the court of appeals affirmed, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Law Division, alleging MetLife reneged on its obligation to reimburse plaintiff for business travel expenses and took unlawful actions with regard to his brokerage account. Judge Melvin Gelade granted MetLife's motion to dismiss on res judicata and entire controversy grounds. Plaintiff appealed the August 18, 2009 order of dismissal, arguing: (1) the proceedings violated Rules 1:7-1 and 1:7-2; (2) he was prejudiced by having insufficient time to respond to a brief filed by MetLife; and (3) the trial judge erroneously applied the entire controversy doctrine. We find insufficient merit in these and all other arguments in plaintiff's pro se brief to warrant discussion in a written opinion, Rule 2:11-3(e)(1)(E), and affirm substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Gelade's thoughtful oral decision. We add only the following brief comments regarding plaintiff's third argument.*fn1
In affirming we need not devote much time discerning whether any of the claims asserted in the complaint plaintiff filed here were actually asserted in the federal action.
Certainly, if any were, the rendering of a final judgment in that court, followed by its affirmance, warranted application of res judicata principles to bar those claims from being asserted in another lawsuit. See, e.g., Culver v. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 115 N.J. 451, 460 (1989). And, if any of these claims were not asserted in the federal action, then the entire controversy doctrine, which requires that all claims arising from a particular transaction or series of transactions should be joined in a single action, barred their assertion in a later lawsuit. See, e.g., Prevratil v. Mohr, 145 N.J. 180, 190 (1996).