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Norris v. P. S. Elliott

August 24, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge



Plaintiff Mario Norris, acting pro se, brought this action for employment discrimination against his former employer pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant, P.S. Elliott, Inc., fired him after he refused to engage in a sexual relationship with his supervisor. Currently before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which argues that the doctrine of res judicata bars Plaintiff from litigating his claim in federal court. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.


The following facts, which are referred to in the Complaint, are taken as true for purposes of the instant motion. On March 21, 2002, Plaintiff filed a verified complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights ("DHR") alleging that his supervisor, Miriam Lebron, sexually harassed him while he was employed at P.S. Elliott, Inc. between December 10, 2001, and January 10, 2002. (DHR Ord., p. 1).*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Lebron threatened to fire him if he would not engage in sexual relations with her and offered to promote him to assistant supervisor in exchange for sexual favors. Plaintiff contends that when he refused her advances, Defendant P.S. Elliott, Inc. fired him. (Pl.'s Resp., ¶ 1).

According to the DHR Determination and Order After Investigation, dated April 29, 2005, the investigation did not support Plaintiff's allegations of sexual harassment. (DHR Ord., p. 1). To the contrary, the investigation supported a conclusion that either Plaintiff and Ms. Lebron were having a consensual relationship, or that Plaintiff was sexually harassing Ms. Lebron. (DHR Ord., p. 3). DHR concluded that P.S. Elliott, Inc. terminated Plaintiff for non-discriminatory reasons and that it did not violate the New York State Human Rights Law. (DHR Ord., p. 3). On these bases, DHR dismissed Plaintiff's verified complaint. The Determination and Order notified Plaintiff that he could appeal the agency's decision in state court, but that an adverse decision there could preclude further litigation of the complaint in federal court. (DHR Ord., p. 4).

DHR also notified Plaintiff that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, his verified complaint had been filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where he could receive a review of the action upon written request. (DHR Ord., p. 4). On July 13, 2005, the EEOC adopted the findings of the DHR and served Plaintiff with a Dismissal and Notice of Right to Sue. (EEOC Not.).*fn2 On or about June 30, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Request for Judicial Intervention in New York State Supreme Court. (Def.'s Mem., p. 2). At a hearing on Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, the court denied the motion and directed Plaintiff to properly file a petition pursuant to New York Executive Law § 298. (Covey Aff., ¶¶ 3-5). On July 20, 2005, Plaintiff filed a handwritten "Notice of Appeal" naming Ms. Lebron and P.S. Elliott, Inc. as defendants and seeking judicial review of the DHR decision. In his "Notice of Appeal," Plaintiff alleged that his supervisor demanded that he have a sexual relationship with her and if he refused, she would fire him. (Pl.'s App., p. 1).*fn3 He also alleged that the DHR caseworker prevented his case from receiving a full and fair review. (Pl.'s App., pp. 4-7).

On August 3, 2005, P.S. Elliott, Inc. filed a Motion to Dismiss the complaint on the grounds that, inter alia, it was time-barred and did not meet the procedural requirements of Executive Law § 298. (Def.'s Mem., p. 2). The Honorable Joseph D. Mintz, New York State Supreme Court Justice, conducted several hearings and granted Plaintiff two extensions of time to properly file his notice of petition and petition. (Def.'s Mem., p. 3). On October 25, 2005, Justice Mintz held a final hearing at which Plaintiff did not appear. Accordingly, Justice Mintz granted Defendant's motion and dismissed the complaint on the merits for failure to comply with the court's previous directives and to timely file his petition. (Tr., pp. 2-3).*fn4

On September 29, 2005, while the New York State Supreme Court proceedings were ongoing, Plaintiff commenced the instant action against P.S. Elliott, Inc., Miriam Lebron, DHR, and the DHR investigator, Brenda Johnson, by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. (Compl., p. 1). On October 28, 2005, this Court dismissed the action against all parties except Defendant P.S. Elliott, Inc. (Docket No. 5). On January 23, 2006, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), raising the doctrine of res judicata.*fn5


A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Under Rule 12 (b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may grant a defendant's motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6). The court should grant the motion only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Gagliardi v. Vill. of Pawling, 18 F.3d 188, 191 (2d Cir. 1994) (internal citations and quotations omitted). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all of the allegations contained in a plaintiff's complaint as true and must draw all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Weixel v. Bd. of Educ. of City of N.Y., 287 F.3d 138, 145 (2d Cir. 2002). "This rule applies with particular force where the plaintiff alleges civil rights violations or where the complaint is submitted pro se." Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 597 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir.1998)).

B. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

Defendant argues that the doctrine of res judicata compels this Court to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. Defendant contends that Plaintiff chose to appeal the decision of the DHR in New York State Supreme Court, where it was dismissed on the merits. Thus, Plaintiff is precluded by the doctrine of res judicata from bringing his claim before the federal court. (Def.'s Mem, pp. 5-6). Plaintiff argues that he was denied a full investigation at the administrative level, sought to withdraw his ...

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