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Mauller v. Heartland Automotive Services, Inc.

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

May 15, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Heartland Automotive Services, Inc., d/b/a Jiffy Lube's ("Heartland"), and Raphael Doriety's Motion to Dismiss Count II Against Heartland And to Dismiss Plaintiffs Request for Attorney Fees (Doc. 15), and Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 13). The motions are fully briefed. (Docs. 14, 16, 17, 18.)

         I. Background

         Plaintiff alleges the following facts: She was hired in August 2015 to work at the Jiffy Lube on North New Florissant Road in Florissant, Missouri, where Doriety was employed as a supervisor. (Doc. 10 at 2.) On August 25, 2015, "[a]fter making several sexually suggest[ive] comments to [Plaintiff], Doriety grabbed [Plaintiffs] breasts." (Id.) "Soon thereafter, " Doriety asked Mauller to join him in the office at the Jiffy Lube. (Id.) When Plaintiff entered, Doriety closed and locked the door and positioned himself between Plaintiff and the exit. (Id. at 2-3.) Doriety intimated that he would help Plaintiff with payroll issues and schedule her for additional hours in exchange for sexual favors. (Id. at 3.) He "then moved toward [Plaintiff] and unzipped the fly of his pants and said: 'I need some assistance.'" (Id.) Plaintiff asked Doriety to unlock the door, left work, and reported the incident to police. (Id.) She did not return.

         On March 28, 2013, Plaintiff sued Defendants in state court. (Doc. 16-2.) She alleged that Heartland discriminated against her in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act; that Doriety committed assault, battery, and false imprisonment under Missouri law; and that Heartland negligently failed to provide a safe workplace. (See Doc. 16-2.)[1] Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs third count for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that the Missouri Workers' Compensation Law preempts common-law tort claims against an employer. (Doc. 16-6.) Defendants later asked the court to alternatively construe its motion as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or a motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 16-3.) After briefing and oral argument on the motion, the court granted the motion and dismissed Plaintiffs tort-law claims against Heartland for failure to state a claim. (Docs. 16-3 to 16-7.) On Plaintiffs motion, the court dismissed the case without prejudice before trial. (Doc. 14-6.)

         On August 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed this federal suit, advancing two claims: in Count I, she alleges discrimination under Title VII by Heartland; in Count II, she alleges state-law assault, battery, and false imprisonment by both defendants. (Doc. 1 at 3-5.) She seeks damages and attorney fees. (Id. at 5.)

         Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs Title VII claim and urged the court not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs remaining Missouri tort claims. (Doc. 5 at 6.) Defendants additionally argued that Plaintiffs state-law claims are barred by issue preclusion and fail on the merits. (Id. at 7-8.) The Court granted the motion and dismissed Plaintiffs Title VII claim on the ground that she failed to allege that she gave Jiffy Lube its legally required notice and opportunity to address the harassment before filing suit. (Doc. 9.) The Court reserved ruling on the issues surrounding Plaintiffs state-law claims, and granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 9.) In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff additionally alleges that she notified Jiffy Lube of the harassment through its online complaint procedure, and that she "was contacted by a representative of Jiffy Lube" thereafter. (Doc. 10 at 3, 8-9.)

         Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs state-law claims against Heartland on the basis of issue preclusion based on the state court's ruling that Plaintiffs tort claims were prohibited under Missouri law. (Doc. 16 at 3-5.) In addition, Defendants have filed their own Motion for Attorney Fees for the cost of defending Heartland against the state tort claims, arguing that those claims are frivolous in light of the state court's ruling. (Doc. 4.)

         II. Analysis

         a. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Count II as against Heartland

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 768 (2009) (citing Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         Defendants argue that the state court's order preclude Plaintiff from raising her state-tort claims against Heartland in this federal action. (Doc. 16 at 3-4.) Federal courts must look to state law to determine the preclusive effect of a state-court judgment on future federal suits. Marrese v. Am. Acad, of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 470 U.S. 373, 374 (1985). Under Missouri's issue preclusion doctrine, a party may not raise an issue that is (1) identical to one raised in a prior proceeding; when (2) there was a judgment on the merits of the issue in the prior proceeding; (3) the precluded party was a party in the prior proceeding; and (4) had a full and fair opportunity in the prior proceeding to litigate the issue. Woods v. Mehlville Chrysler-Plymouth, 198 S.W.3d 165, 168 (Mo.Ct.App. 2006).

         Plaintiff advanced the same state-law tort claims in state court against the same defendants as she does here. (Compare Doc. 10 with Doc. 16-3.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff asserts that her state-law tort claims are not precluded because the case was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, meaning there was no judgment on the merits. (Doc. 17.) Defendants respond that Plaintiffs voluntary dismissal took place after the state court had already held that Plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief on those claims could be granted. (Doc. 18 at 3-4; see also Doc. 16-4.)

         The Court agrees with Defendants. "Principles of issue preclusion dictate that, even when a [case is dismissed] without prejudice, an issue specifically and necessarily decided by that court is final and may not be relitigated in a second action brought in a court of concurrent jurisdiction." Bachman v. Bachman, 997 S.W.2d 23, 25 (Mo.Ct.App. 1999), opinion adopted and reinstated after retransfer (Sept. 1, 1999). Such is the case here: Plaintiffs voluntary dismissal took place after the state court had dismissed the claims following full briefing and oral argument. ...

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