United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
M. FURMAN, United States District Judge
It is a
“fundamental precept” of the American legal
system “that a right, question or fact distinctly put
in issue and directly determined by a court of competent
jurisdiction . . . cannot be disputed in a subsequent suit
between the same parties or their privies.” Montana
v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979) (internal
quotation marks omitted). This precept, embodied in the
doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel,
is “central to the purpose for which civil courts have
been established, the conclusive resolution of disputes
within their jurisdictions.” Id. Indeed,
“[t]o preclude parties from contesting matters that
they have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate”
not only “protects their adversaries from the expense
and vexation attending multiple lawsuits, ” but also
“conserves judicial resources and fosters reliance on
judicial action by minimizing the possibility of inconsistent
decisions.” Id. at 153-54.
principles apply with full force to this case, brought by
Premalal Ranasinghe, proceeding pro se, against
Great West Casualty Company (“Great West”) and
various attorneys and law firms that represented Great West
and its interests in previous lawsuits (together,
“Defendants”). Indeed, Ranasinghe asserts in this case
claims that he has repeatedly pressed in other fora and
continues to press in a pending appeal before the United
States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On that basis
and others, Defendants move, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss all of
Ranasinghe's claims. (Docket Nos. 53, 57). Several
Defendants also move for sanctions - namely, for a pre-filing
injunction barring Ranasinghe from filing any further
lawsuits relating to the matters pressed here and for
attorney's fees. (Docket No. 64). For the reasons stated
below, Defendants' motions to dismiss are GRANTED, and
their motion for sanctions is GRANTED in part and DENIED in
following facts are taken from the Third Amended Complaint
and documents of which the Court can take judicial notice.
See, e.g., Karmely v. Wertheimer, 737 F.3d
197, 199 (2d Cir. 2013); Anderson v. Rochester-Genesee
Reg'l Transp. Auth., 337 F.3d 201, 205 n.4 (2d Cir.
2003) (noting that a court may take judicial notice of
official court records in a related proceeding and citing
cases). Where taken from the Third Amended Complaint, the
facts are assumed to be true. See Karmely, 737 F.3d
legal saga with Ranasinghe began with the death of Sarath
Sapukotana, a Sri Lankan native working as a truck driver in
the United States. (Docket No. 48 (“Third Am.
Compl.”) ¶¶ 21-39). In January 2008, Mr.
Sapukotana died after being struck by another truck in
Arizona. (Id. ¶ 21). Later that year, Martha
Sapukotana, purporting to be Mr. Sapukotana's wife,
brought a wrongful death action in the United States District
Court for the District of Arizona against the driver who
struck Mr. Sapukotana and the driver's company - both of
which were insured by Defendant Great West. (Docket No. 54
(“Kennell Decl.”), Ex. E at 2-3 (“Wrongful
Death Case Docket”); see also Third Am. Compl.
¶¶ 23-39). Defendant Joseph Popolizio and his law
firm, Defendant Jones, Skelton & Hochuli P.L.C.
(“Jones Skelton”) represented the defendants in
that case. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 23-24).
November 2009, a few weeks before the close of discovery in
the wrongful death suit, Palihawadanage Ramya Chandralatha
Fernando, a Sri Lankan woman, moved to intervene, claiming
she was Mr. Sapukotana's actual surviving spouse.
(See Wrongful Death Case Docket at 8; Kennell Decl.,
Ex. F at 1). Ranasinghe - purporting to be acting as Ms.
Fernando's “attorney-in-fact” by virtue of a
“Power of Attorney” - provided Defendant
Popolizio with documents allegedly showing that Ms.
Sapukotana's marriage to Mr. Sapukotana was a sham.
(Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 25, 29, 197-99; see
also Kennell Decl., Ex. K (“Ranasinghe I
Summ. J. Order”) at 3-4). The Arizona District Court,
however, denied Ms. Fernando's motion to intervene.
(Ranasinghe I Summ. J. Order at 2-3). On appeal, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
affirmed, concluding that “[Ms.] Fernando is not [Mr.]
Sapukotana's surviving wife.” (See Id. at
4). In June 2012, Ms. Sapukotana's wrongful death suit
settled. (Wrongful Death Case Docket at 14; Third Am. Compl.
2013, Ranasinghe, represented by counsel, filed a lawsuit
(“Ranasinghe I”) in the United States
District Court for the Eastern District of New York
(“E.D.N.Y.”) against Popolizio, Jones Skelton,
and another Jones Skelton attorney, Phillip H. Sanfield
(together, the “Jones Skelton Defendants”), as
well as Great West. (Kennell Decl., Ex. G
(“Ranasinghe I Dismissal Order”) at 1;
Third Am. Compl. ¶ 40). Ranasinghe asserted
breach-of-contract claims against Great West and malpractice
claims against the Jones Skelton Defendants. (Ranasinghe
I Dismissal Order at 1). Specifically, Ranasinghe
alleged that Great West had breached an agreement to
compensate Ms. Fernando for Mr. Sapukotana's death and
that the Jones Skelton Defendants had orally agreed to
compensate him for providing documents showing that Ms.
Sapukotana was not Mr. Sapukotana's surviving spouse.
(Id. at 2-3; Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30).
The E.D.N.Y. Court dismissed Ranasinghe's claims against
the Jones Skelton Defendants for lack of personal
jurisdiction. (Ranasinghe I Dismissal Order at 4-5;
Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-44). When Ranasinghe refiled
his claims against the Jones Skelton Defendants in the
District of Arizona, the E.D.N.Y. Court transferred the
remaining breach-of-contract claim against Great West to
Arizona. (Kennell Decl., Ex. H at 1; Kennell Decl., Ex. J
(“Ranasinghe I Ariz. Case Docket”) at
9-10; Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 45-46).
January 2015, the Arizona District Court granted summary
judgment to Great West, holding that “Ranasinghe's
testimony and evidence do not present a coherent picture of
the terms of the parties' alleged contract” and
that “a contract cannot be enforced.”
(Ranasinghe II Summ. J. Order at 13; Third Am.
Compl. ¶ 139). The next month, the Court dismissed
Ranasinghe's claims against the Jones Skelton Defendants
on the ground that Ranasinghe “fail[ed] to state a
claim for relief.” (Docket No. 59 (“Bauer
Aff.”), Ex. F at 1, 8; see also Bauer Aff.,
Ex. G at 4; Third Am. Compl. ¶ 221). Thereafter,
applying Arizona state law, the Court ordered Ranasinghe to
pay Great West $234, 498.70 in attorneys' fees.
(Ranasinghe I Ariz. Case DocketJ at 16; Ex. M at 6;
Third Am. Compl. ¶ 88). Ranasinghe then filed three
motions - the first two through counsel and the third, after
withdrawal of counsel, on his own behalf - seeking
reconsideration of the Arizona District Court's orders
and judgment. (Bauer Aff., Ex. S at 2; Third Am. Compl.
¶¶ 79-80). In the motions (and other submissions),
Ranasinghe repeatedly argued that Great West and its counsel
had filed a “false and fabricated affidavit” from
Popolizio. (See, e.g., Kennell Decl., Ex. O at 4, 6;
Ex. P at ¶ 19; Ex. R at 5-9). Notably, in its order
denying the first motion, the Arizona District Court held
that Ranasinghe had “not presented any understandable
basis for revisiting the summary judgment order.”
(Kennell Decl., Ex. Q at 2). And in its order denying the
second motion, the Court went further, observing that
Ranasinghe had presented “arguments previously made and
rejected as well as new arguments that have no legal or
factual basis.” (Kennell Decl., Ex. T at 1). The Court
continued, bluntly warning that Ranasinghe's
“filings cannot continue” and that, if he did
file “additional motions similar to his previous
motions, the Court will pursue sanctions against both
[Ranasinghe] and his counsel.” (Id.).
proceeding pro se, appealed the Ranasinghe
I judgment and various orders to the Ninth Circuit,
arguing, among other things, that the Arizona Court had erred
in relying on the allegedly fabricated affidavit. (Kennell
Decl., Ex. Y at 5). That appeal remains pending. See
Ranasinghe v. Great West Cas. Co., No. 15-15247 (9th
Cir. filed July 18, 2013). Since the appeal was filed, Great
West has tried in vain to collect the $234, 498.70 from
Ranasinghe. (See, e.g., Docket No. 55 (“Great
West Mem.”) at 12-13). On multiple occasions, Great
West was forced to seek judicial relief, prompting at least
two warnings to Ranasinghe that failure to comply with his
post-judgment discovery obligations might result in contempt.
(Id. at 12; Kennell Decl., Exs. DD & EE). Around
the same time, Great West offered to settle the matter for a
nominal sum, but Ranasinghe refused, demanding $100, 000 in
cash to settle. (Great West Mem. 13; Kennell Decl., Ex. GG
(“Ranasinghe Email Exchange”) at 1). Ranasinghe
threatened that, if Great West did not agree to his terms, he
would bring a new lawsuit and name Great West's attorneys
as well. (See Ranasinghe Email Exchange 1). On
January 13, 2016, he filed the present lawsuit in New York
state court, making true on his threat to add Great
West's counsel in Ranasinghe I - Patrick M.
Kennell and his law firm at the time, Nelson Brown & Co.
(“Nelson Brown”), as well as Kennell's
current firm, Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck (“Kaufman
Dolowich”) - as Defendants. (Kennell Decl., Ex HH at
1). After Ranasinghe amended his complaint to add a claim
under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations
(“RICO”) Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et
seq., Defendants removed the action to this Court.
(Kennell Decl., Ex. JJ; Docket No. 1 (notice of removal)).
Thereafter, Ranasinghe amended his complaint again (dropping
his RICO claim), and Defendants filed the present motions.
(See Third Am. Compl.; Docket Nos. 53, 57,
MOTIONS TO DISMISS
light of Ranasinghe I, the present suit can and
should be swiftly dismissed. It is well established that
district courts have broad discretion to stay or dismiss
duplicative litigation. See Colorado River Water
Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817
(1976) (“As between federal district courts, . . .
though no precise rule has evolved, the general principle is
to avoid duplicative litigation.”); see also Curtis
v. Citibank, N.A., 226 F.3d 133, 138 (2d Cir. 2000)
(“As part of its general power to administer its
docket, a district court may stay or dismiss a suit that is
duplicative of another federal court suit.”); Adam
v. Jacobs, 950 F.2d 89, 92 (2d Cir. 1991)
(“[W]here there are two competing lawsuits, the first
suit should have priority, absent the showing of balance of
convenience . . . or . . . special circumstances . . . giving
priority to the second.”). A comparison of
Ranasinghe's briefs in the Ninth Circuit appeal and the
Third Amended Complaint in this action make plain that
Ranasinghe's claims here are fundamentally the same as
the claims that he is still litigating in Ranasinghe
I. (See Great West Mem. 24 (chart comparing
issues alleged in Ranasinghe I and the instant
action)). He may have repackaged them slightly and added new
legal theories (for example, a violation of New York
Judiciary Law Section 487), but the gravamen of the claims is
identical: that Defendants submitted a false and fraudulent
affidavit in the underlying contract action in the Arizona
District Court. There is no reason to entertain those claims
here when they are still pending before the Ninth Circuit.
(Compare Kennell Decl., Exs. Y & AA,
with Third Am. Compl. ¶¶ 73-75, 133-35,
137, 181, 215). On that basis alone, the case can be and is
and apart from being duplicative, however, Ranasinghe's
claims are barred by the related doctrines of res
judicata and collateral estoppel. “Under res
judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action
precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating
issues that were or could have been raised in that
action.” Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94
(1980).“Under collateral estoppel, once an
issue is actually and necessarily determined by a court of
competent jurisdiction, that determination is conclusive in
subsequent suits based on a different cause of action
involving a party to the prior litigation.” Montana
v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979). The former
doctrine applies “where an earlier decision was (1) a
final judgment on the merits, (2) by a court of competent
jurisdiction, (3) involving the same cause of action; and (4)
in a case involving the same parties or their privies.”
Gertskis v. New York Dep't of Health and Mental
Hygiene, No. 13-CV-2024 (JMF), 2014 WL 2933149, at *4
(S.D.N.Y. June 27, 2014). For collateral estoppel to apply,
“(1) the issues of both proceedings must be identical,
(2) the relevant issues [must have been] actually
litigated and decided in the prior proceeding, (3) there must
have been ‘full and fair opportunity' for the
litigation of the issues in the prior proceeding, and (4) the
issues [must have been necessary] to support a valid and
final judgment on the merits.” Leather v.
Eyck, 180 F.3d 420, 425-26 (2d Cir. 1999). Finally, to
the extent relevant here, the doctrine of non-mutual estoppel
allows a defendant who was not party to the previous
litigation to rely on res judicata or collateral
estoppel to bar claims or issues raised in subsequent
litigation, assuming the issue was fully and fairly litigated
in the first instance. See Austin v. Downs, Rachlin &
Martin Burlington St. Johnsbury, 270 F. App'x 52, 54
(2d Cir. 2008); see also Blonder-Tongue Labs., Inc. v.
Univ. of Illinois Found., 402 U.S. 313, 329 (1971)
(“Permitting repeated litigation of the same issues as
long as the supply of unrelated defendants holds out reflects
either the aura of the gaming table or a lack of discipline
and of disinterestedness on the part of the lower
courts.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
doctrines are applicable here. First, Ranasinghe had a full
and fair opportunity to litigate the issues and claims that
he presses here in Ranasinghe I. Indeed, Ranasinghe
challenged the veracity of Popolizio affidavit on at least
three separate occasions before the Arizona District Court:
in his opposition to Great West's motion for summary
judgment (Bauer Aff. ¶ 20; Bauer Aff., Ex. J, at 7,
9-12); in his motion for reconsideration of the grant of
summary judgment (Bauer Aff. ¶ 23; Bauer Aff., Ex. M at
3-6, 11-12); and in his motion to vacate the summary judgment
order (Bauer Aff. ¶ 27; Bauer Aff., Ex. P at 10-15). In
each instance, the Arizona District Court rejected
Ranasinghe's arguments and those rejections are final for
purposes of res judicata and collateral estoppel
notwithstanding the pending appeal. See, e.g.,
Yeiser v. GMAC Mortg. Corp., 535 F.Supp.2d 413, 421
(S.D.N.Y. 2008) (“It is long settled in this Court . .
. that a summary judgment dismissal is considered a decision
on the merits for res judicata purposes.”);
see also ...