United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
December 1, 2004.
TYRONE CARTER, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Tyrone Carter filed this pro se complaint, asking the Court
to discharge his indebtedness to the defendant, the United States
Department of Education ("the Department"), for student loans
administered between 1984 and 1989. Before the Court is the
Department's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 8(a), 8(e),
10(b) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For
the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.
On April 27, 2004, Carter filed this one-sentence complaint
against the Department, which states: "I Tyrone Carter is
requesting to the Court to order the U.S. Department of Education
to discharge my debt due to negligence[,] falsify documents and
statute of limitations." In February 2001, Carter filed a nearly
identical complaint, which said: "I Tyrone Carter is filing
motion to request that the court to order the U.S. Department of
Education to discharge the balance of my debt [due] to falsify
interest rates and negligence and also request the original
agreement." See Carter v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., No. 01 C 757
(N.D. Ill. 2001) (Compl.). Carter's first suit was assigned to Judge Pallmeyer, who dismissed it on the grounds that the Higher
Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1071, does not provide a private right
of action. See Carter v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., No. 01 C 757,
2001 WL 1268570, at *1-2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 23, 2001).
THE LEGAL STANDARD
On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true
all well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint, drawing
all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. Forseth v.
Village of Sussex, 199 F.3d 363, 368 (7th Cir. 2000). No claim
will be dismissed unless "it is clear that no relief could be
granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent
with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69,
Complaints brought by pro se litigants should be "liberally
construed and not held to the stringent standards expected of
pleadings drafted by lawyers." McCormick v. City of Chicago,
320 F.3d 329, 325 (7th Cir. 1989). Nevertheless, this Court is
"not obliged to ignore facts set forth in the complaint that
undermine the plaintiff's claim or to assign any weight to
unsupported conclusions of law." R.J.R. Servs., Inc. v. Aetna
Cas. & Sur. Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir. 1989). Accordingly,
this Court will not hold Carter to the same high standard it
would expect from an experienced attorney, but it will not
sanction his cause of action simply because he is pro se.
The Department contends that this action is barred by the
doctrine of res judicata. That doctrine bars re-litigation of
issues that were, and those that could have been but were not,
decided in a prior lawsuit. Lee v. City of Peoria,
685 F.2d 196, 198 (7th Cir. 1982). Thus, "[t]he doctrine of res judicata
. . . requires litigants to join in a single suit all legal and
remedial theories that concern a single transaction." Roboserve, Inc. v. Kato Kagaku
Co., Ltd., 121 F.3d 1027, 1034 (7th Cir. 1997) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Because Carter's first
suit was filed in federal court, "the federal rule of res
judicata determines whether [that] suit bars [him] from
maintaining this action." In re Energy Coop., Inc.,
814 F.2d 1226, 1230 (7th Cir. 1987). For res judicata to apply, there
must be "(1) an identity of the parties or their privies; (2) an
identity of the causes of action; and (3) a final judgment on the
The first element is clearly met. Carter is the sole plaintiff
and the Department is the sole defendant in both the 2001 suit
and in the present case. Thus, the parties in the two cases are
The second element, identity of causes of action, is a bit more
complicated. Carter argues that the present matter differs from
the previous one in two ways: (1) the amounts and evidence
concerning his loans are different now than they were in 2001;
and (2) the current complaint contains a "statute of limitations"
claim that was not raised in the first one. Neither difference is
Causes of action are identical, for res judicata purposes, if
they derive from "a single core of operative facts." Roboserve,
121 F.3d at 1034 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
As Carter admits, both of his cases seek to nullify his debt to
the Department for the same student loans. Because the claims in
both suits arise from a single core of operative facts, they are
Carter also says the cases differ because the current complaint
includes a "statute of limitations" claim that was absent from
the first. The doctrine of res judicata, however, bars Carter
from re-litigating not only the matters that were actually
decided in the prior action, but also those that could have been
raised in it. Id. As the existence of the 2001 lawsuit
establishes, the Department's collection efforts are not a recent
development. Thus, any "statute of limitations" claim that Carter now asserts was available to him in 2001.
Carter's failure to litigate that claim in 2001 precludes him
from doing so now.
That brings us to the last element of res judicata: a final
judgment on the merits in the prior action. In the original
proceedings, Judge Pallmeyer granted the Department's motion to
dismiss on the grounds that Higher Education Act,
20 U.S.C. § 1071, does not provide a private right of action. See Carter,
2001 WL 1268570 at *1-2. That decision constituted a final
judgment on the merits of Carter's claim. See Bell v. Hood,
327 U.S. 678, 682 (1946) (stating that "the failure to state a proper
cause of action calls for a judgment on the merits"). Thus, the
last element of res judicata is met.
In sum, all three elements of res judicata are met in this
case. Accordingly, the Department's motion to dismiss is granted.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court grants the
Department's motion to dismiss [doc. 6]. This case is hereby
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