United States District Court, D. New Jersey
McNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jerry Somerset has recently filed a civil complaint in this
matter, citing, inter alia, the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA). (I will refer to this, the above-captioned case,
as Somerset III, for reasons that will immediately become
clear.) The complaint was accompanied by an application to
proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"), which I have
granted, permitting it to be filed without a fee.
complaint is accompanied by plaintiffs Civil Cover Sheet.
This, under "Related Cases, If Any" discloses the
prior state court litigation that is the subject of the
complaint. Somerset v. Elam, No. DC-06311-15 (N.J. Superior
Court, Law Division, Special Civil Part) ("Somerset
I"). It does not disclose the prior federal action filed
by Mr. Somerset against the same defendants, based on the
same events. Somerset v. State of New Jersey, et al, Civ. No.
17-993 (D.N.J.) ["Somerset IT). Somerset IIwas dismissed
with prejudice after considerable motion practice, on grounds
including Rooker-Feldman, failure to state a claim, and
judicial immunity. Because this current action, Somerset III,
asserts similar claims against the same parties based on the
same events, it will be dismissed on resjudicata grounds,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1915(e).
granted IFP status, the court is obligated to screen the
allegations of the complaint to determine whether it
(i) is frivolous or malicious;
(ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted;
(iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune
from such relief.
28U.S.C. § 1915(e).
second ground, failure to state a claim, incorporates the
familiar standards under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, a complaint may be dismissed on
resjudicata grounds, where the necessary facts are
"apparent on the face of the complaint."
RycoUne Products, Inc. v. C & W Unlimited, 109
F.3d 883, 886 (3d Cir. 1997); Smith v. Hillside
Village, No. CV 17-0883 (KM), 2018 WL 588923, at *3
(D.N.J. Jan. 26, 2018). Res judicata is may likewise
be a fit basis for dismissal on IFP screening under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915. SeeMcMillian v. Trans World Airlines,
No. 08-4449, 2009 WL 1396780, at *1 (3d Cir. May 20, 2009)
(dismissing appeal from order sua sponte dismissing complaint
on res judicata grounds under Section 1915);
Britt v. United Steel Workers Local 2367, 319
Fed.Appx. 89, 90 (3d Cir. 2008) (affirming order sua sponte
dismissing complaint for same).
judicata of course requires the court to consider the
contents of a prior judicial decision. On a motion to
dismiss, the court may consider a prior judicial decision,
particularly its own, not for the truth of facts therein, but
for its existence and legal effect. Id. (citing S.
Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Wah Kwong Shipping Grp.
Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426-27 (3d Cir. 1999)). See
generally Fed. R. Evid. 201. Here, Somerset I
is indirectly relevant, and Somerset II is
I was a suit filed by Mr. Somerset against Mr. Elam in
state court. Somerset, who is vision-impaired, alleged
that he made the down payment on a van for his
friend, defendant Elam, to drive in connection with their
floor refurbishing business. Elam, he says, took advantage of
his disability and used the van in another business
(apparently involving deliveries for pharmacies). This,
Somerset alleged, violated their agreement to share and share
alike. That state court matter went to trial. Mr. Somerset
did not prevail, however, and judgment was entered in favor
February 14, 2017, Mr. Somerset filed the complaint in
Somerset II in this federal court, and it was
assigned to me. The theories of recovery seemed to include
the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42
U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., impairment of
contracts, fraud, and breach of contract. The facts alleged
were similar. Mr. Somerset expanded his claims, however, to
encompass the businesses in which the van was used, as he
asserted claims that his rights were violated by the judge
and opposing attorney in the Somerset I state court
action. Mr. Somerset sued the State of New Jersey; the Hon.
Frank Covello, J.S.C., the presiding judge in Somerset
I; Lawrence D. Eichen, Elam's attorney in
Somerset I; Joseph ...