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Lawrence v. School District No. 1

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 10, 2014

JUANETTA LAWRENCE, Plaintiff,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, IN THE CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, a/k/a Denver Public Schools, and BOARD OF EDUCATION OF SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1, IN THE CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, a/k/a Denver Board of Education, Defendants.

ORDER

RAYMOND P. MOORE, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on United States Magistrate Judge Michael J. Watanabe's Recommendations ("Recommendation") (ECF No. 40) on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 23), Defendants' Motion for Sanctions (ECF No. 30), and Plaintiff's Attorney's Motion to Withdraw (ECF No. 19). Plaintiff filed an objection to the Recommendation with respect to Defendants' Motion for Sanctions. (ECF No. 41.) Defendants filed a response to Plaintiff's objection to the Recommendation with respect to Defendants' Motion for Sanctions. (ECF No. 42.)

For the reasons stated below, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's objection and ADOPTS the Recommendation with respect to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Defendants' Motion for Sanctions, as well as Plaintiff's Attorney's Motion to Withdraw. The Court DISMISSES the Complaint (ECF No. 1) with prejudice.

I. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Review of the Magistrate Judge's Reports and Recommendations

When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3) requires that the district court judge "determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's [recommendation] that has been properly objected to." In conducting its review, "[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). An objection is proper if it is filed timely in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and specific enough to enable the "district judge to focus attention on those issues - factual and legal - that are at the heart of the parties' dispute." United States v. 2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996) (quoting Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 147 (1985)). In the absence of a timely and specific objection, "the district court may review a magistrate's report under any standard it deems appropriate." Summers v. Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 Advisory Committee's Note ("When no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.").

In considering objections to non-dispositive recommendations[1] by a Magistrate Judge, such as that at issue with respect to Defendants' Motion for Sanctions (ECF No. 30), the Court may adopt the Magistrate Judge's recommendations unless it finds that the ruling is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 105 F.3d 562, 566 (10th Cir. 1997); Ariza v. U.S. West Commc'ns, Inc., 167 F.R.D. 131, 133 (D. Colo. 1996). The clearly erroneous standard "requires that the reviewing court affirm unless it on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Ocelot Oil Corp. v. Sparrow Indus., 847 F.2d 1458, 1464 (10th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The "contrary to law" standard permits "plenary review as to matters of law, " but the Court will set aside a Magistrate Judge's order only if it applied the wrong legal standard or applied the appropriate legal standard incorrectly. 12 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3069, at 350, 355 (2d ed. 1997). "Because a magistrate judge is afforded broad discretion in the resolution of non-dispositive... disputes, the court will overrule the magistrate judge's determination only if his discretion is abused." Ariza, 167 F.R.D. at 133; see also Wright et al., supra, at 350 (noting that the "contrary to law" standard appears to invite plenary review but noting that "many matters... might be better characterized as suitable for an abuse-of-discretion analysis").

B. Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do...." Id. at 555 (citations omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. A "plaintiff must nudge [] [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible' in order to survive a motion to dismiss.... Thus, the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims." Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original, internal citation and quotation omitted).

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has held "that plausibility refers to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation and citation omitted). The Tenth Circuit has further noted "that the nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context." Id. (Internal quotation and citation omitted.) Thus, the Tenth Circuit "concluded the Twombly/Iqbal standard is a middle ground between heightened fact pleading, which is expressly rejected, and allowing complaints that are no more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, which the [Supreme C]ourt stated will not do.'" Id. (Citation omitted.)

For purposes of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint as true and resolve all reasonable inferences in a plaintiff's favor. Morse v. Regents of the Univ. of Colo., 154 F.3d 1124, 1126-27 (10th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted); Seamons v. Snow, 84 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). However, "when legal conclusions are involved in the complaint the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to [those] conclusions...." Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1190 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "Accordingly, in examining a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), [the court] will disregard conclusory statements and look only to whether the remaining, factual allegations plausibly suggest the defendant is liable." Id.

C. Res Judicata

Res judicata, or more specifically at issue in this matter - claim preclusion, "applies when three elements exist: (1) a final judgment on the merits in an earlier action; (2) identity of parties or privies in the two suits; and (3) identity of the cause of action in both suits." Pelt v. Utah, 539 F.3d 1271, 1281 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting MACTEC, Inc. v. Gorelick, 427 F.3d 821, 831 (10th Cir. 2005)). Res judicata precludes parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in a prior action which has reached a final judgment on the merits. Pelt, 539 F.3d at 1281 (citing Wilkes v. Wyo. Dep't of Emp't Div. of Labor Standards, 314 F.3d 501, 503-04 (10th Cir. 2002), as amended Jan. 14, 2003). Res judicata is "designed to ensure the finality of judicial decisions." Clark v. Haas Group, Inc., 953 F.2d 1235, 1237 (10th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). If each of the res ...


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