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Somerset v. Partners Pharmacy LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 6, 2019

JERRY SOMERSET, Plaintiff,
v.
PARTNERS PHARMACY LLC, STRATEGIC DELIVERY SOLUTIONS LLC, JUDGE FRANK COVELLO, JOSEPH ELAM, and LAWRENCE D. EICHEN, ESQ., Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN McNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Mr, 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.

         The 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).

         Discussion

         Having 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; or
(iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28U.S.C. § 1915(e).[1]

         The second ground, failure to state a claim, incorporates the familiar standards under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).[2] 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).

         Res 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 directly relevant.

         Somerset 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 of Elam.

         On 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 ...


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