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Rodgers v. University of Missouri Board of Curators

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 29, 2014

CHERI RODGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI BOARD OF CURATORS, et al., Defendants

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Cheri Rodgers, Plaintiff, Pro se, Ferguson, MO.

For Curators of the University of Missouri System, in Official Capacity as a state entity, Curtis Coonrod, individually and in his official capacity as UMSL's Vice Provost of Student Affairs, Glen Hahn Cope, individually and in her official capacities as UMSL's University Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Deborah Burris, individually and in her official capacities as UMSL's Chief Diversity Officer and Director of UMSL's Office of Equal Opportunity, PhD Deborah Nobel-Triplett, individually and in her official capacity as the UM-System's Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Miriam Huffman, individually and in her official capacities as Student Mediator and Director of Student Life at UMSL, D'andre Braddix, individually and in his official capacities as UMSL Vice Povost Assistant, UM-System's Designated Primary Officer at UMSL, Asst. Dean Student Conduct and Community Standards, Student Court Advisor, and Student Life Project Support Specialist, Tanisha Stevens, individually and in her official capacity as Student Advocate of UMSL's Office of Academic Affairs, Charles Granger, individually and in his official capacities as a Faculty Member and Student Advisor at UMSL Department of Biology, Marcel Bechtholdt, individually and in his official capacities as an UMSL Faculty Professor, UMSL's Information Tech. Services System Administrator, and SEMPA Faculty Advisor, Defendants: Brandon A. DeWitt, LEAD ATTORNEY, BEHR AND MCCARTER, P.C., St. Louis, MO.

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MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 36) and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Strike Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 46).[1] These matters are fully briefed and ready for disposition.

STANDARD FOR MOTION TO DISMISS

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must view the allegations in the Complaint liberally in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Luney v. SGS Auto Servs., 432 F.3d 866, 867 (8th Cir. 2005)). Additionally, the Court " must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Coons v. Mineta, 410 F.3d 1036, 1039 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain " enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (abrogating the " no set of facts" standard for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief " requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the

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elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Huang v. Gateway Hotel Holdings, 520 F.Supp.2d 1137, 1140 (E.D. Mo. 2007).

To determine whether an action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must engage in a two-step inquiry. First, the Court must identify the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). These include " legal conclusions" and " [t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action [that are] supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. Second, the Court must determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679. This is a " context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. The plaintiff is required to plead facts that show more than the " mere possibility of misconduct." Id. The Court must review the factual allegations in the complaint " to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief." Id. When faced with alternative explanations for the alleged misconduct, the Court may exercise its judgment in determining whether the plaintiff's proffered conclusion is the most plausible or whether it is more likely that no misconduct occurred. Id. at 680-82.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Cheri Rodgers (" Plaintiff" ) brings this lawsuit to address her impeachment as president of the Student Electronic Media Association Organization (" SEMPA" ), two months following her election to the position. A full background of underlying acts in this case can be found at Rodgers v. University of Missouri Board of Curators et al. (Rodgers I), 4:11cv515, ECF No. 82, (Sept. 4, 2012).

The Court reviews the Complaint and the Amended Complaint pursuant to the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 36) and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative Strike Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 46). The Court also reviews Plaintiff's Complaint and Amended Complaint to determine if they are patently meritless:

A court does not obtain subject-matter jurisdiction just because a Plaintiff raises a federal question in his or her complaint. If the asserted basis of federal jurisdiction is patently meritless, then dismissal for lack of jurisdiction is appropriate. Because this is a facial rather than a factual challenge to jurisdiction, [the court] determine[s] whether the asserted jurisdictional basis is patently meritless by looking to the face of the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiff.

Biscanin v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. 407 F.3d 905, 907 (8th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff's Complaint is Barred by Res Judicata

Defendants argue that res judicata bars this case. " The principle behind the doctrine of res judicata is that '[f]inal judgment on the merits precludes the relitigation of a claim on any grounds raised before or on any grounds which could have been raised in the prior action. '" Torrey v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, 4:13CV1611 CEJ, 2014 WL 1648791, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 24, 2014)(quoting Poe v. John Deere Co., 695 F.2d 1103, 1105 (8th Cir. 1982)). In order for a claim to be precluded under the doctrine of res judicata, the following five elements must be satisfied: (1) the

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first suit resulted in a final judgment on the merits; (2) the first suit was based on proper jurisdiction; (3) both suits involve the same parties (or those in privity with them); (4) both suits are based upon the same claims or causes of action; and (5) the party against whom res judicata is asserted must have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the matter in the proceeding that is to be given preclusive effect. Rutherford v. Kessel, 560 F.3d 874, 877 (8th Cir. 2009).

Plaintiff asserts that her claim is not barred by the doctrine of res judicata because " the Court did not fully adjudicate Plaintiff's Complaint" when the Court dismissed her Second Amended Complaint in the prior lawsuit. (ECF No. 45-1 at 2).

Here, the Court previously fully adjudicated all of Plaintiff's claims regarding her impeachment from SEMPA and dismissed any and all claims that Plaintiff attempted to assert. (4:11cv515, ECF Nos. 82-83)(dismissing Plaintiff's claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § § 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, as well as Plaintiff's state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress). Plaintiff asserts that the Court never fully litigated her Missouri Human Rights Act (" MHRA" ) claim.[2] As noted by the Eighth Circuit, " An involuntary dismissal under Rule 41(b) is with prejudice unless stated otherwise by the district court." Luney v. SGS Auto. Servs., Inc., 432 F.3d 866, 867 (8th Cir. 2005). Rule 41(b) provides that " [u]nless the court in its order for dismissal otherwise specifies, a dismissal under this subdivision ... operates as an adjudication on the merits."

A review of this Court's prior dismissal orders confirms that Plaintiff's prior Complaint was dismissed with prejudice for failing to state a claim and constituted a final judgment on the merits. See Ritchie v. St. Louis Jewish Light, 630 F.3d 713, 717 (8th Cir. 2011)(quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (" [W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged--but it has not 'show[n]'--'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" ). Because a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is considered a dismissal on the merits, the dismissal is with prejudice and has a claim preclusive effect on future litigation. See Astron Indus. Associates, Inc. v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 405 F.2d 958, 960 (5th Cir. 1968)(" It is clear that a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice, or, for that matter, a dismissal with prejudice at any stage of a judicial proceeding, normally constitutes a final judgment on the merits which bars a later suit on the same cause of action." ).

On August 31, 2011, the Court entered an order dismissing defendants Ethan Chou, Craig Robinson, Keith Robinson, Tiffany Axton, Ryan Ordway, Stephen Engelmeyer, and John Edwards. (Rodgers v. University of Missouri Bd. of Curators, Case No. 4:11cv515 JAR, ECF Nos. 50-51). On October 14, 2011, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May Be Granted. (Id., ECF No. 71). Defendants' Motion sought a dismissal of each and every count in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint with prejudice. (Id., ECF No. 71). In a twenty-two page opinion, this Court GRANTED that Motion and dismissed Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, in full, on the merits. See Id., ECF No. 82 (" IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May Be

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Granted [71] is GRANTED." ); id., ECF No. 83 (" IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED." ). On October 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed a " Motion to Reconsider Court's August 31, 2011 Order Dismissing Case Defendants" (id., ECF No. 84) and a " Motion to Reconsider Court's September 4, 2011 Order Dismissing Case for Failure to State a Claim" (id., ECF No. 86). On October 19, 2012, the Court entered an Order denying Plaintiff's motions for reconsideration and stating that " IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider Court's August 31, 2011 Order Dismissing Case Defendants [84] and Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider Court's September 4, 2012 Order Dismissing Case for Failure to State a Claim [86] are DENIED." (Id., ECF No. 91).

As demonstrated above, Defendants sought a dismissal of Plaintiff's entire Second Amended Complaint based upon Plaintiff's inability to state a claim against any Defendants. The Court addressed each and every count of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint in their Motion to Dismiss. This Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim in its entirety, thereby dismissing Plaintiff's entire Second Amended Complaint. Plaintiff clearly was aware that this Court dismissed her entire Second Amended Complaint because she filed a motion with this Court asking it to reconsider the dismissal of her entire complaint. Rodgers v. University of Missouri Bd. of Curators, Case No. 4:11cv515 JAR, ECF No. 86). The Court denied this Motion and her case was ripe for appeal at that time, but she chose not to appeal. See Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(1); Fed.R.App.P. 3(c)(1)(B) (notice of appeal must " designate the judgment, order, or part thereof being appealed" ). Plaintiff has now waited nearly a year and filed a new Complaint, which includes the same parties, allegations and facts alleged in her prior complaint and lawsuit. The parties here are clearly in privity. The earlier cause of action is the same cause now sued upon such that this action is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. See Astron Indus. Associates, Inc., 405 F.2d at 960-61. Pursuant to federal law, Plaintiff is barred from reasserting these ...


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