United States District Court, S.D. New York
May 7, 2004.
GARY M. LACY, Plaintiff, -against- ANTHONY J. PRINCIPI, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM CONNER, Senior District Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Gary M. Lacy, appearing pro se, brought this suit
against defendant Anthony J. Principi in his capacity as the Secretary of
the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") alleging a host of claims
arising in connection with his employment at the VA Medical Center
located in Bronx County, New York (the "VA Hospital").*fn1 Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint includes a prayer for damages in the amount of $50
million. Defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P.
56 on the ground that Plaintiff's suit is barred by the doctrine of
res judicata. Defendant also requests that plaintiff be enjoined
from bringing lawsuits against the federal government or any of its
agencies or employees for claims arising out of plaintiff's employment at
the VA Hospital. For the reasons stated herein, both defendant's motion
for summary judgment and application for an injunction are granted. BACKGROUND
On April 7, 1992, plaintiff obtained a favorable award in arbitration
against the VA Hospital. The VA Hospital was ordered to promote plaintiff
and give him a retroactive pay increase. Plaintiff contends that
subsequent to this award, the VA Hospital set out on a course of
retaliation for the Plaintiff's union activism. (Am. Complt. ¶ 8(C).)
He alleges a variety of retaliatory acts by the VA Hospital, including
its failure to advise plaintiff of his rights after he was injured in an
employment related basketball game in June 1994, or to provide him with
adequate accommodations when he returned to work after recuperating from
that injury. He also claims that there is a policy within the VA Hospital
to perpetuate a "WHITE/ITALIAN FEMALE SUPREMACY" to the detriment of
black males. (Id. ¶ 8(D) (all capital letters in original).)
Indeed, plaintiff claims that he was repeatedly sexually harassed and
called a "bitch" by Angela DiGaudio, a female co-worker who he contends
is of Italian-American heritage. (Id. ¶ 9.) Despite his
formal protestations, the management of the VA Hospital protected
DiGaudio and punished plaintiff instead. Plaintiff's employment with the
VA Hospital was terminated sometime after an investigation of reports of
patient abuse and other misconduct allegedly committed by plaintiff.
Plaintiff maintains that these charges were fabricated in order to
discredit him and offers signed statements from 110 people, presumably VA
Hospital employees and patients, who state that they were never abused by
the plaintiff and that plaintiff performed his duty in an acceptable
manner "in light of the stress he [had] to operate under." (Lacy Affm.,
Plaintiff previously filed three lawsuits involving claims of
discrimination and retaliation that allegedly arose during his employment
at the VA Hospital. In each of these actions judgment was entered in
favor of the defendants. On August 26, 1997, plaintiff commenced Lacy
v. Musumeci, No. 97 Civ. 6343 (DAB) ("Lacy I") against several VA
Hospital employees. In that suit, plaintiff included many of the same
claims he asserts in this action and additional claims for attempted
murder and medical malpractice. (Cronan Decl., Ex. A.) The plaintiff
included a demand for damages in the amount of $1 billion. Although in
the Lacy I Complaint the plaintiff referred to the sexual
harassment he allegedly suffered at the hands of DiGaudio, he did not
include a claim for sexual harassment in that action. (Id.)
Judge Batts dismissed "with prejudice" the Lacy I Complaint
sua sponte by Judgment dated November 11, 1997. (Id.,
Ex. B.) Judge Batts further certified pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal would not be taken in good faith. (Id.)
Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration was subsequently denied.
(Id., Ex. C.) No appeal was taken.
In July and August of 2000, plaintiff commenced Lacy v. West,
No. 00 Civ. 1765 (LMM) ("Lacy II") and Lacy v. West,
No. 00 Civ. 5546 (LMM) ("Lacy III") naming as defendant Togo D.
West, Jr., who served as Secretary of the VA at the time. Both
Complaints contained claims for employment discrimination similar to
those asserted in Lacy I. (Cronan Decl., Exs. D, E.) The
Complaint in Lacy III also detailed the sexual harassment the
plaintiff allegedly suffered at the hands of DiGaudio. (Id.,
Ex. E.) West moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal on the ground
that the two actions were barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion.
Judge McKenna concluded that Lacy I was decided on the merits
and that Lacy II and Lacy III, like Lacy I,
included claims of "discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion,
national origin, and disability." (Id., Ex. G.) Noting that
plaintiff had acknowledged that Lacy II and Lacy III
were based on the same set of operative facts involved in Lacy I
by continually referencing his filings in Lacy I, Judge
McKenna granted West's motion for summary judgment dismissing Lacy
II and Lacy III. (Id., Exs. G, H.)
Plaintiff appealed and the Second Circuit affirmed Judge McKenna's
ruling. Lacy v. West, No. 02-6066, 02 Civ. 6067, 2004 WL 75366, at *2 (2d Cir. Jan. 13, 2004)
(unpublished opinion). The Second Circuit held that Judge Batts's
dismissal "with prejudice" of Lacy I was a final adjudication
on the merits. Id. at*l (citing Nemaizer v. Baker,
793 F.2d 58, 60-61 (2d Cir. 1986)). The court also concluded that most of
the issues addressed in Lacy II and Lacy III were
raised in Lacy I and stated that "to the extent that the issues
in the present action were not raised . . . [in Lacy I],
they could have and should have been raised in that action, as they
revolve around the `same nucleus of operative facts.'" Id. at
*1 (quoting Waldman v. Vill. of Kiryas Joel, 207 F.3d 105, 108
(2d Cir. 2000)). The Second Circuit further concluded that the defendant
in Lacy II and Lacy III, VA Secretary West, was in privity with
the defendants in Lacy I, who were several VA Hospital
employees. Lacy, 2004 WL 75366, at *1. The fact that plaintiff
had not alleged that West had independently wronged him was significant
because it demonstrated that plaintiff was suing the same entity he had
sued in Lacy I. Id. Accordingly, the Second Circuit affirmed
Judge McKenna's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in
Lacy II and Lacy III because the actions were barred
by the doctrine of claim preclusion.
On May 14, 2003, prior to the issuance of the Second Circuit's summary
order affirming Lacy II and Lacy III, plaintiff filed
this action. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on the ground that
this action is barred by the doctrine of res judicata.
I. Governing Standard
Summary judgment may be granted where there are no genuine issues of
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986). The burden rests on
the movant to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A
genuine factual issue exists if there is sufficient evidence favoring the
nonmovant for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding whether summary judgment
is appropriate, the court resolves all ambiguities and draws all
permissible factual inferences against the movant. See id. at
255. To defeat summary judgment, the nonmovant must go beyond the
pleadings and "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The court's role at
this stage of the litigation is not to decide issues of material fact,
but to discern whether any exist. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential
Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). Finally, where
a pro se litigant opposes a motion for summary judgment, that
litigant's submissions are construed liberally by the court. See
Graham v. Lewinski, 848 F.2d 342, 344 (2d Cir. 1998).
II. The Doctrine of Res Judicata
The doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, "prevents
a party from suing on a claim which has been previously litigated to a
final judgment by that party . . . and precludes the assertion by such
parties of any legal theory, cause of action, or defense which could
have been asserted in that action." MOORE's FEDERAL PRACTICE §
131.10[a] (3d Ed. 2003); see also Waldman, 207 F.3d at 108.
When a party has litigated a claim to final judgment, that party cannot
avoid the res judicata effect of that judgment by bringing suit
against a new defendant that is in privity with the original defendant.
See Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Empresa Naviera Santa
S.A., 56 F.3d 359, 367-68 (2d Cir. 1995) ("[T]he principle of
privity bars relitigation of the same cause of action against a new defendant known by plaintiff at the time of the first suit where
the new defendant has a sufficiently close relationship to the original
defendant to justify preclusion."). The doctrine was created to address
the fundamental need of any judicial system for finality; "a claim . . .
which parties had a full and fair opportunity to litigate should, after
judgment, forever be put to rest as between those parties." MOORE's
FEDERAL PRACTICE § 131.12 (citing Montana v. United States,
440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979)). Whether the prior judgment was decided
correctly is not considered when determining whether the doctrine of
claim preclusion bars suit. See Nemaizer, 793 F.2d at 64-66.
Courts consider whether the party seeking dismissal has shown: "(1) the
previous action involved an adjudication on the merits; (2) the previous
action involved the Plaintiff's or those in privity with them; [and] (3)
the claims asserted in the subsequent action were, or could have been,
raised in the prior action." See Monahan v. N.Y. City Dep't of
Corr., 214 F.3d 275, 285 (2d Cir. 2000).
Plaintiff does not dispute that Lacy /, Lacy II and
Lacy III were litigated to final judgments on the merits or that
the present defendant is either the same entity or in privity with the
defendants in the previous actions. Plaintiff also does not dispute that
Lacy I, Lacy II and Lacy III involved the same
set of operative facts that are the basis of the Amended Complaint filed
in the present action or that the issues raised in this suit could have
been raised in the previous actions. Indeed, plaintiff cannot contest any
of these points because the Second Circuit has already conclusively
The crux of plaintiff's opposition to defendant's motion for summary
judgment is that he should be allowed to proceed to trial because he was
treated very badly by the VA Hospital, certain VA Hospital employees, and
in the administrative forum provided to VA Hospital employees and that
the judges presiding over Lacy /, Lacy II and Lacy
III performed grave injustices when they dismissed his actions.
Plaintiff estimates that the VA has wronged him at least seven times and
notes that because of this he has "EARNED . . . AT LEAST ONE `TRIAL BY
JURY'!" (Am. Complt., Ex. C at 11 (all capital letters in original).) We
have carefully reviewed the voluminous submissions offered by plaintiff.
He has included the testimony of a witness who states that on one
occasion she observed DiGaudio touch Plaintiff's buttocks and that
plaintiff objected to this touching. (Lacy Affm., Ex. E.) A Report of
Contact filed with the VA indicates that another potential witness
observed DiGaudio refer to plaintiff as a "bitch." (Id.)
Plaintiff has also included records of the administrative actions filed
by him to rectify discrimination and harassment he allegedly suffered at
the hands of VA Hospital officials. Although many of these actions were
dismissed for lack of supporting evidence or specificity of the
allegations, plaintiff had some success in the administrative forum. For
example, Plaintiff's allegations of racial discrimination prompted one
inspector to recommend "that a further inquiry be performed by an outside
investigator. . . ." (Id., Ex. E.)
We have no doubt that plaintiff feels a grave injustice has been done
to him. However, his day in court has come and gone. Plaintiff commenced
Lacy I in district court. Judge Batts considered the Complaint
filed in that action and dismissed it because she determined that the
suit was without merit. Plaintiff could have appealed the judgment
entered by Judge Batts, but he did not. Instead, plaintiff filed separate
lawsuits under the mistaken belief that he was entitled to file as many
lawsuits as he desired until he found a judge sympathetic to his
position. The Second Circuit has already determined that plaintiff had a
full and fair opportunity in Lacy I to litigate the claims
before this Court when it affirmed Judge McKenna's grant of summary
judgment in Lacy II and Lacy III. Accordingly, any district
court presented with a complaint filed by plaintiff that alleges a claim
arising out of his employment with the VA Hospital must dismiss the
action. This would be true even if plaintiff demonstrates to the district
court beyond all doubt that the allegations in his complaint are true; whether the prior judgment was correct is
simply not considered in determining whether the doctrine of res
judicata applies. See Federated Dep't Stores, Inc. v.
Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981). Stated differently, plaintiff is
not entitled to sue the VA for any of the incidents allegedly occurring
in connection with his employment at the VA Hospital.
We conclude that defendant has demonstrated that the present case is
barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion and that plaintiff has failed
to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to this issue.
Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
III. Defendant's Application for an Injunction
Defendant requests an injunction restraining plaintiff from filing
lawsuits in the future against the federal government or its agencies or
employees for claims arising out of his employment with the VA Hospital.
We conclude that plaintiff should be enjoined from bringing lawsuits
against these defendants that assert claims arising from his employment
at the VA Hospital. As stated previously, plaintiff has had his day in
court and the issues he seeks to litigate were decided against him.
Rather than appealing the dismissal he suffered in Lacy /,
plaintiff has commenced three separate lawsuits in federal district court
essentially seeking a reversal of Judge Batts's initial dismissal.
Although he appealed Judge McKenna's grant of summary judgment, he filed
this lawsuit while that appeal was pending. The tenor of plaintiff s
submissions to this Court also indicates that he has no intention of
abandoning his crusade against his former employer; it appears that he
feels that he has been grievously wronged and will not stop filing
lawsuits until he either finds a judge who agrees with him or is
otherwise restrained from doing so. When a plaintiff files repeated lawsuits involving the same nucleus of
operative facts, a district court has the inherent power to enjoin him
from filing vexatious lawsuits in the future. See Malley v. N.Y.
City Bd. of Educ., 112 F.3d 69, 69 (2d Cir. 1997) (affirming
injunction where the plaintiff had filed repeated lawsuits concerning the
same nucleus of operative facts); Safir v. United States Lines,
Inc., 792 F.2d 19, 24 (2d Cir. 1986) ("Ultimately, the question the
court must answer is whether a litigant who has a history of vexatious
litigation is likely to continue to abuse the judicial process and harass
other parties."); Raffe v. John Doe, 619 F. Supp. 891, 898
(S.D.N.Y. 1985) (Conner, J.) (enjoining a litigant from filing future
lawsuits when that litigant had a history of filing vexatious lawsuits).
Moreover, the Court has a constitutional duty to enjoin the filing of
frivolous lawsuits in order to preserve judicial resources when the
plaintiff is likely to file more suits in the future and non-injunctive
relief would be ineffective. See In re Martin-Trigona,
737 F.2d 1254, 1261 (2d Cir. 1984). Because plaintiff filed this lawsuit in
forma pauperis, we conclude that monetary sanctions against him
would be ineffective. Id. at 1662 (noting that injunctive relief
is particularly appropriate when the plaintiff appears judgment-proof
because sanctions would be ineffective).*fn2 Accordingly, we grant
defendant's application for an injunction.
For the reasons stated herein, defendant Anthony J. Principi's motion
for summary judgment is granted and plaintiff Gary M. Lacy's Amended
Complaint is dismissed with prejudice. Defendant's application for an injunction is also granted.
Accordingly, plaintiff is hereby permanently enjoined from filing
lawsuits in the future against the federal government or its agencies or
employees for claims arising out of his past employment with the VA
Medical Center located in Bronx County, New York.