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Brown v. Florida Gulf Coast University Board of Trustees

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

November 20, 2019

L. YVONNE BROWN, Plaintiff,

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]


         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Brown's Original Complaint and Defendants' Request for Judicial Notice (Doc. 45) filed on September 19, 2019. Plaintiff was warned that the Court would rule on the Motion to Dismiss without the benefit of a response. (Doc. 53). No. response was filed by Plaintiff pro se L. Yvonne Brown, although she was allowed time to do so. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted, and the case will be administratively closed pending a ruling on Defendants' Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 54).


         On October 26, 2018, Plaintiff L. Yvonne Brown filed a nine-count Complaint (Doc. 1) alleging in the only federal claim that Defendants violated Title IX[2] by dismissing her from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) women's basketball team based on academic ineligibility without due process. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 45) for failure to state a claim, arguing that Plaintiff's claims are barred by res judicata and that Defendants are protected by sovereign immunity. Indeed, this is not Brown's first pro se suit surrounding her unconstitutional dismissal from FGCU's basketball team. Brown litigated a case in this Court against mostly the same Defendants as here for the past year and a half. See Brown v. Florida Gulf Coast University, et al., Case 2:18-cv-157-JES-MRM (“Brown I”). That case was filed on March 9, 2018, and after two iterations of the Complaint, the Court dismissed the case on the merits but allowed Plaintiff a final opportunity to amend. She failed to do so, and Judgment was entered on July 15, 2019.


         When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept all factual allegations as true and view them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This consideration is limited “to the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto[.]” Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000). However, a complaint listing mere “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2008). Likewise, “[f]actual allegations that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability” are insufficient. Chaparro v. Carnival Corp, 693 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted). And the allegations must not force the court to speculate or operate on mere suspicion. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In contrast, the Court will not dismiss a complaint where the Plaintiff pleads facts that make the claim facially plausible. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. A claim is facially plausible when the court can draw a reasonable inference, based on the facts pleaded, that the opposing party is liable for the alleged misconduct. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. This plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Thus, when the complaint contains “well-pleaded allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.


         A. Judicial Notice

         As an initial matter, Defendants request that the Court take judicial notice of certain court records from Brown I, specifically, the documents attached to their Motion to Dismiss.[3] (Doc. 45 at 3-4). A district court may consider extrinsic evidence in ruling on a motion to dismiss “if it is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim, and (2) its authenticity is not challenged.” SFM Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Amer. Secs., LLC, 600 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2010); see also Trustmark Ins. Co. v. ESLU, Inc., 299 F.3d 1265, 1267-68 (11th Cir. 2002). The public records in Brown I comply with both requirements. Thus, Defendants' motion to dismiss need not be converted to a motion for summary judgment. Harper v. Lawrence County, 592 F.3d 1227, 1232 (11th Cir. 2010); Jones v. Auto. Ins. Co. of Hartford, 917 F.2d 1528, 1531-32 (11th Cir. 1990). Additionally, “a court may take notice of another court's order...for the limited purpose of recognizing the ‘judicial act' that the order represents or the subject matter of the litigation.” United States v. Jones, 29 F.3d 1549, 1553 (11th Cir. 1994). Therefore, the Court takes judicial notice of those documents that were filed in Brown I, as requested.

         B. Res Judicata

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claims (except the Title IX claim against Defendant Homer in her individual capacity) are barred by res judicata (claim preclusion) because of Plaintiff's prior federal court action in Brown I in which judgment on the merits was entered.

         “It is by now hornbook law that the doctrine of res judicata bars the filing of claims which were raised or could have been raised in an earlier proceeding.” Maldonado v. U.S. Atty. Gen., 664 F.3d 1369, 1375 (11th Cir. 2011). To prove that res judicata bars a claim, a movant must show that the following four elements are met: “(1) the prior decision must have been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) there must have been a final judgment on the merits; (3) both cases must involve the same parties or their privies; and (4) both cases must involve the same causes of action.” Lobo v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 704 F.3d 882, 887 (11th Cir. 2013). “The court next determines whether the claim in the new suit was or could have been raised in the prior action; if the answer is yes, res judicata applies.” In re Piper Aircraft Corp., 244 F.3d 1289, 1296 (11th Cir. 2001). When deciding res judicata, federal courts “apply the preclusion law of the state whose courts rendered the first decision.” Agripost, LLC v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 525 F.3d 1049, 1052 n.3 (11th Cir. 2008).

         1. The Final Judgment in Brown I Was Rendered by a Court of Competent Jurisdiction

         In Brown I, the Court rendered a final judgment against Brown. In the final iteration of her complaint in Brown I, Brown alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the federal Administrative Procedure Act, and the federal Higher Education Act of 1965, as well as claims for retaliation and declaratory and injunctive relief. (Doc. 45-4). The Court had federal-question jurisdiction over Brown's federal claims, and supplemental jurisdiction over her state-law claims. Thus, the Court had jurisdiction to render its final judgment in Brown I and therefore the first element is satisfied.

         2. The Final Judgment in Brown I Was a Final Judgment on the Merits

         In Brown I, the Court's Opinion and Order dated May 13, 2019, dismissed some of Brown's claims with prejudice and others without prejudice pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), with leave to amend. When Brown failed to amend her pleading within the time allowed by the Court, the Court directed the Clerk to enter judgment and close the case, and Judgment was entered. A final judgment entered after the Court dismisses a plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) - and after a plaintiff fails to file an amended pleading within the allotted time - is a final judgment on the merits. See Hertz Corp. v. Alamo Rent-a-Car, Inc., 16 F.3d 1126, 1128, n.3 (11th Cir. 1994). Therefore, the second element is satisfied.

         3. Both Cases Involve the Same Parties and Their Privies

         In both Brown I and this case, Brown sued FGCU Board of Trustees, Ken Kavanagh, Karl Smesko, Roderick Rolle, and Kelly Brock in their official and individual capacities. Thus, these Defendants may invoke res judicata here. The sole difference being that in this case, Brown has also sued Jessica Homer in her official (as FGCU's ...

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