PHILADELPHIA – A federal appeals court says the doctrine of res judicata bars a civil complaint against a hospital because of its discharging of the plaintiff’s brother, an individual who allegedly then set fire to the plaintiff’s house.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judges Thomas L. Ambro, Cheryl Ann Krause and Richard L. Nygaard decided Aug. 4 to dismiss the appeal of plaintiff Gerald Bush.
In 2014, Gerald filed a complaint in district court, alleging the defendants violated his civil rights by discharging his brother, Gregory Bush, since after being discharged, Gregory allegedly set fire to his home on Jan. 3, 2014. The cistrict court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for relief, which the Third Circuit affirmed.
In 2016, Gerald filed a second complaint alleging again the defendants violated his civil rights by negligently discharging Gregory, but this time, Gerald claimed Gregory set a fire to his home on July 5, 2014. According to the doctrine of res judicata, The District Court dismissed his complaint pursuant because Gerald had “brought a previous suit against the defendants," leading Gerald to appeal.
With the first two qualities fulfilled (a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving (the same parties or their privies), all that was needed to be decided as was if the second lawsuit arises out of the same set of facts as the first one.
To that point, The Third Circuit explained Gerald’s first action alleged the defendants wrongfully discharged Gregory and that as a result Gregory set fire to his home on Jan. 3, 2014, while in the second action, Gerald claimed that the defendants negligently discharged Gregory and that as a result Gregory set fire to his home on July 5, 2014, adding the claims were “essentially indistinguishable” except for the date of the fire.
“The second fire, however, already had allegedly occurred before Gerald filed his initial complaint. Gerald’s claim could therefore have been brought in his prior suit and the District Court properly concluded that Gerald’s complaint was barred by claim preclusion. Gerald argues that he should be provided the opportunity to amend his complaint because, if he obtained counsel, it is ‘likely’ that he would be able to state a claim for relief. However, the District Court correctly concluded that, even if Gerald were given leave to amend his complaint, amendment here would be futile,” the Third Circuit stated.
The appellate court also denied the plaintiffs’ assertion that the District Court failed to monitor the appellants’ compliance with the disclosure requirements.
“However, as the District Court dismissed the action prior to the defendants being served with the complaint, the defendants had no obligation to respond to the complaint or provide initial disclosures. Accordingly, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court,” the Third Circuit said.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-3348
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-04022
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org