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Thomas v. Bzoskie

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 30, 2017

Desean Lamont Thomas, Plaintiff,
Pastor James Bzoskie, Lieutenant Verby, Lieutenant Heart, John Doe, Dakota County Minnesota, Defendants.

          Desean Lamont Thomas, pro se

          plaintiff Helen R. Brosnahan, Esq., and Jeffrey A. Timmerman, Esq., Dakota County Attorney's Office, counsel for defendants



         This matter (“Thomas II”) is before the Court on the Defendants' motion to dismiss, [Thomas II, ECF No. 12], and the Plaintiff Desean Lamont Thomas' motion for voluntary dismissal, [Thomas II, ECF No. 35]. Because there was substantial overlap between this action and another lawsuit Mr. Thomas filed in 2015 (Thomas v. Bzoskie, No. 15-cv-2197 (JRT/KMM) (“Thomas I”)), the Court stayed this litigation pending resolution of a motion for summary judgment in the previous case. [Thomas II, Order, ECF No. 25.] The Court instructed the parties to file supplemental briefing upon resolution of the summary judgment motion in Thomas I. [Id.] The District Court has since granted summary judgment to the Defendants in Thomas I, and the Defendants filed a supplemental brief seeking dismissal of Mr. Thomas' claims in this case with prejudice. [Thomas II, Defs.' Suppl. Br., ECF No. 32.] For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that this action be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Factual Background

         Thomas I and Thomas II are clearly related. They involve many of the same defendants and both cases concern Mr. Thomas' allegations that the Defendants prohibited him from freely exercising his religion while he was confined at the Dakota County Law Enforcement Center, though he has since disavowed any connection to Islam.[1]

         In his pleadings[2] in Thomas II, Mr. Thomas makes the following allegations. He states that Pastor Bzoskie, the volunteer chaplain working at the jail, prohibited Muslims at the institution from having religious gatherings, prohibited him from accessing Islamic worship materials and literature, and denied him access to an Imam. [Thomas II, Compl. ¶¶ 3-6, 8, ECF No. 1-1; id., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-13.] He also alleges that Pastor Bzoskie's actions violated his equal protection rights. [Thomas II, Compl. ¶ 7; id., Am. Compl. ¶ 11.] Mr. Thomas made the same allegations against Pastor Bzoskie in Thomas I. [See Thomas I, May 8, 2017 R&R at 2-3, ECF No. 198 (describing allegations in the complaint).]

         Mr. Thomas makes similar allegations against other Dakota County LEC employees he has named as Defendants. Lieutenant Verby allegedly denied Mr. Thomas access to Islamic worship materials and denied him access to Islamic literature. [Thomas II, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 13.] Lieutenant Heart “contributed to the banning of Islamic services and gatherings, ” and denied him access to Islamic literature. [Id. ¶¶ 10, 13.] Again, Mr. Thomas made the same allegations against these Defendants in Thomas I. [See Thomas I, May 8, 2017 R&R at 2-3, ECF No. 198 (describing allegations in the complaint).]

         Finally, Mr. Thomas alleges that an unidentified Defendant referred to as John Doe retaliated against him “for filing a federal lawsuit against Defendants.” [Thomas II, Am. Compl. ¶ 14.] On June 21, 2015, Mr. Thomas alleges that John Doe confiscated his legal mail and did not return his documents. [Id.] John Doe also allegedly slammed Mr. Thomas' finger in a cell tray slot and “[b]reached a Ramadan observance contract in June of 2015.” [Id. ¶¶ 15-16.] Long after the deadline for amending the pleadings in Thomas I had passed, and without showing good cause for the untimely request, Mr. Thomas unsuccessfully sought leave to amend his pleadings in Thomas I to assert his retaliation claim against John Doe. [See Thomas I, Nov. 29, 2016 Order, ECF No. 170.]

         In Thomas I, this Court recommended that the Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted and that Mr. Thomas' claims be dismissed. [Thomas I, May 8, 2017 R&R, ECF No. 198.] The District Court adopted the recommendation and granted the Defendants judgment as a matter of law on Mr. Thomas' First Amendment free exercise claims against Pastor Bzoskie and Lieutenant Heart for allegedly preventing Mr. Thomas from gathering with other Muslims in the jail. The Court also granted summary judgment to Pastor Bzoskie and Lieutenant Verby on Mr. Thomas' claim that they violated his free exercise rights by preventing him from having access to Islamic worship materials. And the District Court granted judgment as a matter of law to Pastor Bzoskie and Lieutenant Verby on Mr. Thomas' equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment for alleged differential treatment from followers of other religions. [See generally Thomas I, Aug. 4, 2017 Order, ECF No. 204.] Finally, the Court rejected Mr. Thomas' argument that the jail violated his constitutional rights by preventing Islamic gatherings led by an imam. [Id. at 3-4.]

         II. Discussion

         The Defendants seek dismissal of the free-exercise, equal-protection, and mail-based retaliation claims asserted in Thomas II on the basis of res judicata. [Thomas II, Defs.' Supp. Br. at 6-10.] They also argue that Mr. Thomas' retaliation claim against John Doe, which concerns having his finger slammed in a cell tray slot, fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. [Id. at 10-11.] And, if the Court chooses to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any remaining state law claims, the Defendants argue that Mr. Thomas' fiduciary duty claim, his breach of contract claim, and his statutory “tort” claims should all be dismissed for failure to state a claim. [Id. at 11-13.]

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 571 (2007). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 545. This standard “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].” Id. at 556. The Court assumes all facts in the complaint to be true and construes all reasonable inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the complainant. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986). However, the Court need not accept as true wholly conclusory allegations, Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir.1999), or legal conclusions drawn by the pleader from the facts alleged, Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir.1990).

         A complaint may be dismissed based on the affirmative defense of res judicata if “‘the facts that establish the defense [are] definitively ascertainable from the allegations in the complaint, the documents (if any) incorporated therein, matters of public record, and other matters of which the court may take judicial notice.'” Baratto v. Citizens Auto. Fin., Inc., No. 11-cv-105, 2011 WL 3678676, at *2 (D. Minn. Aug.1, 2011) (quoting Rabo Agrifinance, Inc. v. Wachovia Capital Fin. Corp., No. 10-cv-983, 2011 WL 601157, at *2 (D. Minn. Feb. 11, 2011)).

         A. Res Judicata - Free Exercise and Equal Protection Claims

         The Supreme Court has explained the applicability of the doctrines prohibiting relitigation of issues ...

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