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Robinson v. Guberman

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 4, 2018

ERIK T. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID A. GUBERMAN, Defendant.

          ORDER

          SCOTT T. VARHOLAK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This civil action is before the Court on Defendant David Guberman's Motion to Dismiss [#12], and the parties' briefing addressing whether this Court should dismiss the action or transfer it to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts [##29-31]. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, including entry of a final judgment. [## 19, 22] This Court has carefully considered the Motion and related briefings, the entire case file, and the applicable case law, and has determined that oral argument would not materially assist in the disposition of the Motion. For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED and Plaintiff Erik Robinson's Complaint [#1] is DISMISSED. Moreover, in exercising its discretion, the Court finds that transfer to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts would not be in the interests of justice.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         This action arises out of an unemployment claim that Robinson brought against his former employer and the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”) in Massachusetts state court in 2013. [#1 at 2] Robinson was employed with Scout Hotels and Scout MVY Mgt LLC (“Scout”) as a staff member for two hotels operated by Scout. [Id. at ¶ 1] After ownership of one hotel changed, and the second hotel was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, the hotels began to implement layoffs and budget cuts. [Id. at ¶ 2] As a result, Robinson was tasked with extra work, harassed about using overtime to complete his new duties, and ultimately warned that he would be laid off in the foreseeable future. [Id. at ¶ 3] In December 2012, Robinson decided to quit his job and move to Utah. [Id. at ¶¶ 1, 4] Unable to find new work, he filed an unemployment claim with the DUA in March 2013 (“Robinson I”). [Id. at ¶ 4] Robinson's claim was denied by the DUA, which found that Robinson had left his employment voluntarily and therefore did not qualify for unemployment assistance. [Id. at ¶ 5; see also A1.1[2] That determination was affirmed at a hearing. [A1.3] Robinson sought review by the DUA Board of Review, which refused that request in October 2013. [#1 at ¶ 6; A1.7]

         Robinson then filed a complaint in the Massachusetts Edgartown District Court (“Robinson II”) naming Scout and the Director of the DUA as Defendants. [#1 at ¶ 6; A1.10-11] Robinson's case was set for a hearing on February 27, 2014. [#1 at ¶ 7; A1.32] On the night before the hearing, Guberman, chief counsel for the DUA, spent the evening at a Scout-operated hotel. [#1 at ¶ 8] The state court ultimately affirmed the DUA Board of Review, finding that Robinson was not entitled to receive unemployment benefits. [A1.13, 25-30] In an addendum to his complaint, Robinson later alerted the state court of Guberman's hotel stay, based on his belief that it could “be indicative of an unwholesome and possibly illegal relationship between the Co-defendants.” [#1 at ¶ 9; A1.31-32] The DUA filed a motion to strike Robinson's addendum, noting in part that Robinson had impersonated Guberman in order to procure a copy of the hotel bill and also had made up an email address in Guberman's name. [A1.38-39] The state court set a hearing for May 2, 2014, which Plaintiff did not attend. [#1 at 9; A1.43, 45] Guberman again spent the night before the hearing at a Scout-operated hotel. [#1 at ¶ 10] The Edgartown District Court struck Robinson's addendum at the hearing. [A1.43, 45]

         On May 23, 2014, Robinson filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment and Order [A1.14], repeating allegations about Guberman's hotel stay and also claiming that on May 1, 2014, Guberman had stayed at a Scout-operated hotel for the second time. [A1.44-47] Robinson requested that the court vacate and remand its earlier decision affirming denial of his unemployment benefits and vacate its order striking his addendum. [A1.47] In the meantime, Robinson had filed a notice of appeal with the Massachusetts state appellate court (“Robinson III”). [A1.13] Robinson's entry of appeal was ultimately vacated because of his refusal to comply with the court's order that he pay a filing fee. [A1.15, 56]

         While Robinson's appeal remained pending in the Massachusetts state appellate court, he filed a new suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging that the DUA failed to make an impartial decision in violation of his Due Process rights, and naming the DUA, Guberman, and Scout as defendants (“Robinson IV”). [#1 at ¶ 12; A1.64-71] The case was assigned to Judge Allison Burroughs. [#1 at ¶ 12] Judge Burroughs issued an order to show cause why the action should not be dismissed for the court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction, reasoning that Robinson's claims against the DUA were likely barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, and that Robinson's claims against Guberman and Scout appeared to be barred by res judicata since Robinson had litigated, and lost, his claim that an alleged conspiracy between Guberman and Scout had denied him fair proceedings before the DUA. [A2.91-93] Robinson filed an amended complaint and a memorandum in response to the order to show cause, and the court allowed Robinson's claims to proceed. [A1.59]

         The defendants moved to dismiss Robinson's claims in July 2016. [A1.61] In October 2016, Judge Burroughs granted the motions and dismissed Robinson's complaint. [A2.96-106] Judge Burroughs held, in part, that Plaintiff's claims against all defendants were barred by issue and claim preclusion, finding that “the state court's consideration and rejection of Robinson's allegations that a conspiracy existed between the DUA defendants and Scout MVY, or that any relationship between the two parties impermissibly tainted the administrative proceedings, precludes relitigation of the matter in this Court.” [A2.102]

         Robinson later discovered that Judge Burroughs had stayed at a Scout-operated hotel in October 2014, when proceedings in Robinson IV were already underway. [#1 at ¶ 16; A2.108-09] Citing to that hotel stay, Robinson filed a “Motion to Vacate, Recuse and Reassign or Transfer, ” seeking to vacate the order dismissing his case, and claiming that Judge Burroughs failed to recuse herself and “properly clear herself of any potential conflict of interest.” [A2.108; see also #1 at ¶¶ 18-22] Robinson filed a “Reiterated Motion to Vacate, Recuse and Reassign or Transfer” a few months later, repeating arguments from the original motion to vacate. [A2.112-14] The court denied both motions, and Judge Burroughs noted that even if she had stayed at the hotel identified by Plaintiff, “this would not likely cause an objective, knowledgeable member of the public to doubt [her] impartiality.” [A1.62, 63; see also #1 at ¶ 22] Judge Burroughs also stated that she had “no recollection of ever staying at that hotel, ” and that she “d[id] not believe” that a hotel billing receipt submitted by Robinson “reflect[ed] a visit” by her. [A1.63; see also #1 at ¶ 22]

         Robinson appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, again arguing that the district court had erred in finding that his claims were barred by res judicata and that Judge Burroughs should have recused herself (“Robinson V”). [A2.118-24] The First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Robinson's case, “for substantially the same reasons” stated by the district court. [A2.129] Robinson subsequently filed a Petition for Rehearing En Banc [A2.131-43], which the First Circuit denied [A2.144]. Robinson additionally filed a complaint of judicial misconduct against Judge Burroughs, which the First Circuit held was “baseless and not cognizable.” [A2.146; see also A2.147 (“The reviewed record and the misconduct complaint are devoid of any information suggesting that the judge was biased or otherwise engaged in misconduct.”)]

         Robinson filed the instant suit on December 18, 2017. [#1] Robinson's allegations are essentially identical to his claims raised in Robinson IV and V, though now he alleges violations of the Fifth Amendment and seeks $3 million in damages. [See #1 at 8] Pursuant to a stipulated dismissal, Scout was terminated as a defendant on February 6, 2018. [#11] Robinson filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, dismissing his claim against Judge Burroughs, on February 20, 2018. [#16] Accordingly, Guberman is the sole remaining Defendant in this matter. Guberman filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on February 6, 2018. [#12] Robinson has filed a response in opposition to the Motion. [#15]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must “accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations . . . and view these allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1124 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th Cir. 2009)). Nonetheless, a plaintiff may not rely on mere labels or conclusions, “and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). 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.'” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “The burden is on the plaintiff to frame a ‘complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' that he or she is entitled to relief.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The ultimate duty of the court is to ...


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