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Malcolm v. Board of Education of the Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School Dist.

September 14, 2010

BERNICE MALCOLM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE HONEOYE FALLS-LIMA CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Bernice Malcolm ("plaintiff") was employed by defendant Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School District (the "District") from January 2001 until her resignation in July 2007, effective June 30, 2008. The instant action, one of several brought by the plaintiff against various District entities and employees, alleges claims of discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.§2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §290 et seq. ("NYHRL"), and breach of contract.

The plaintiff has now filed a total of four lawsuits in federal court, and at least one in state court, against the District. See Malcolm v. Honeoye Falls-Lima Central Sch. Dist. et al., 09-CV-6421 (W.D.N.Y. 2009) (pending action alleging post-employment retaliation in violation of Title VII and NYHRL); Malcolm v. Bd. of Educ. of the Honeoye Falls-Lima Central Sch. Dist. et al., 08-CV- 6551 (W.D.N.Y. 2008) (pending action alleging discrimination by the District's teachers' association in violation of Title VII and NYHRL); Malcolm v. Honeoye Falls-Lima Central Sch. Dist. et al., 08-CV-6300 (W.D.N.Y. 2008) (action alleging discrimination by the District in violation of Title VII and NYHRL, dismissed on November 10, 2009 for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), based upon plaintiff's execution of a Settlement Agreement that barred her claims); Malcolm v. Honeoye Falls-Lima Sch. Dist., 2008-16610 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Monroe County 2008) (action alleging breach of the Settlement Agreement by the District, dismissed by grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment on March 12, 2010, on the grounds that plaintiff's claims lacked evidentiary support).

The gravamen of each of plaintiff's lawsuits is the same: she generally alleges that the District, its Board of Education (the "Board"), and a revolving cast of District administrators and employees discriminated against her during her employment on the bases of race, age and gender, and/or failed to comply with contractual obligations to plaintiff.

On January 23, 2009, the District defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint, and for an injunction to prevent plaintiff from commencing further litigation without leave of court. (Dkt. #5). On February 5, 2009, the non-District defendants filed their own motion seeking the same relief. (Dkt. #11). Before those motions were decided, the defendants notified the Court of their intention to file a motion to dismiss the action on res judicata grounds, based, in part, upon this Court's dismissal of a related matter, Malcolm v. Honeoye Falls-Lima Central Sch. Dist., 08-CV-6300. On April 8, 2010, the defendants made that motion. (Dkt. #30). For the reasons set forth below, and upon the grounds discussed in the defendants' motions to dismiss, those motions (Dkt. #5, #11, #30) are granted,the complaint is dismissed with prejudice, and plaintiff is hereby prohibited from commencing further litigation in federal court seeking redress for discrimination or civil rights violations against the District, its employees and agents without leave of court.

DISCUSSION

I. Defendants' Second Motion to Dismiss

"Under the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating claims that were or could have been raised in that action." Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Simon, 310 F.3d 280, 286-87 (2d Cir. 2002). As such, "a judgment on the merits in one suit is res judicata in another where the parties and subject-matter are the same, not only as respect matters actually presented to sustain or defeat the right asserted, but also as respects any other available matter which might have been presented to that end." Woods v. Dunlop Tire Corp., 972 F.2d 36, 38 (2d Cir. 1992). In determining whether a party's claims were or could have been previously raised, "[i]t is [the] identity of facts surrounding the occurrence which constitutes the cause of action, not the legal theory upon which [plaintiff chooses] to frame her complaint," which informs the Court's analysis. Id., 972 F.2d 36 at 39. See also Interoceanica Corp. v. Sound Pilots, Inc., 107 F.3d 86, 90 (2d Cir. 1997).

It is undisputed that each of plaintiff's pending lawsuits against the District and its employees arises out of precisely the same events. A federal and state court have each now determined that plaintiff's claims against the District and its Board, administrators and employees, which related to plaintiff's previous employment by the District and to its performance of obligations under a Settlement Agreement, are either barred by the Settlement Agreement and are otherwise without a sufficient evidentiary basis. While there is some variation between the particular individual defendants identified in each of plaintiff's lawsuits, there is no dispute that the instant defendants, including the Board of Education and various District employees, are in privity with the District and/or "ha[ve] a sufficiently close relationship to the [District] to justify preclusion," and that if plaintiff wished to bring claims against them, she had a full and fair opportunity to do so in her already-dismissed cases. Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Empresa Naviera Santa S.A., 56 F.3d 359, 367-368 (2d Cir. 1995). Because all of plaintiff's instant claims were, or could have been, raised in her two now-dismissed federal and state actions, both of which were adjudicated finally and on the merits, they are barred by res judicata.

Plaintiff contends that res judicata cannot be applied at this juncture, because the decision dismissing her state court action is under appeal. Plaintiff is incorrect. "Under New York law, the pendency of an appeal does not deprive a challenged judgment of preclusive effect." Deshpande v. Medisys Health Network, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37891 at *24 (E.D.N.Y. 2010), quoting Arnold v. Beth Abraham Health Servs., Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121382 at *11 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (collecting cases).

Furthermore, even if plaintiff's instant claims were not barred by res judicata, they would be subject to dismissal as a matter of law, for the reasons set forth in this Court's decision in Malcolm v. Honeoye Falls-Lima Central Sch. Dist.,669 F. Supp. 2d 330 (W.D.N.Y. 2009). It is undisputed that upon the termination of her employment, on or about July 16, 2007, plaintiff entered into a Settlement Agreement which explicitly released the Honeoye Falls-Lima "Board of Education, its members, officers, employees and agents," from any claims or causes of action whatsoever "from the beginning of the world to [July 16, 2007]." See Malcolm v. Honeoye Falls-Lima Central Sch. Dist., 08-CV-6300 (Dkt. #3-2, Exh. 4).

It is well-settled that "a settlement is a contract, and once entered into is binding and conclusive." Janneh v. GAF Corp., 887 F.2d 432, 436 (2d Cir. 1989). All of plaintiff's instant claims against the defendants arise out of her employment with the District and pre-date the Settlement Agreement, and therefore they are barred by the Settlement Agreement's release provisions and must be dismissed.

II. Defendants' Motions for Injunctive Relief

Having been subjected to litigation in multiple lawsuits for claims that were clearly barred by the terms of plaintiff's Settlement Agreement or that were otherwise finally determined to be meritless, defendants have requested that the Court order injunctive relief, prohibiting plaintiff from engaging in additional frivolous ...


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