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CARTER v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division


December 1, 2004.

TYRONE CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
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.

BACKGROUND

  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, 73 (1984).

  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.

  DISCUSSION

  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 merits." Id.

  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 identical.

  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 dispositive.

  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 identical.

  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.

  CONCLUSION

  For the reasons set forth above, the Court grants the Department's motion to dismiss [doc. 6]. This case is hereby terminated.

  SO ORDERED.

20041201

© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.



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