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Martin v. Akerson

August 31, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Plaintiff, Andy Martin, brought suit in Illinois state court alleging breach of contract and violation of various federal debt and credit statutes. As Defendants, Martin named every member of the American Express Company's Board of Directors, as well as two subsidiary banks and some of their employees ("Defendants"). Defendants removed the case to federal court and then moved to dismiss it. When Plaintiff failed to respond to that motion, the court ultimately did dismiss the case for want of prosecution and denied Martin's motion to vacate the dismissal order. Martin then filed a largely identical complaint in state court, but added some new allegations and defendants and dropped his federal law claims. Defendants nevertheless again removed the case to this court, and now move for an antisuit injunction against further proceedings in state court. Martin, for his part, again asks that the court reconsider the order dismissing his earlier action. For the reasons set forth here, Defendants' motion is granted and Plaintiff's is denied.


Andy Martin, also known as Anthony Martin-Trigona, is well known to federal and state courts for the remarkable volume of frivolous and vexatious civil suits he has filed over the last several decades.*fn1 By 1983, Judge Jose Cabranes of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut had concluded that Martin's litigation practice was so burdensome that the court issued a permanent injunction requiring Martin to obtain leave to file any new lawsuit in federal court and apprise state courts of his litigation history. See In re Martin-Trigona, 573 F. Supp. 1245 (D.Conn.1983) (summarizing Martin's abuse of the federal court system to that point), aff'd in part and remanded in part, 737 F.2d 1254 (2d Cir.1984), on remand, 592 F. Supp. 1566 (D.Conn.1984), aff'd, 763 F.2d 140 (1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1061 (1986). To address Martin's penchant for re-filing claims previously adjudicated, the injunction also required that in any new lawsuit, Martin affirmatively certify whether or not he had previously presented his claim in any other forum. In re Martin-Trigona, 592 F. Supp at 1572.*fn2 The injunction does not appear to have dissuaded Martin. See, e.g., Martin v. State, 747 So. 2d 386 (Fla. 2000).

In June 2008, Martin, who attended the University of Illinois College of Law, filed this pro se lawsuit in the Circuit Court of DuPage County, Illinois, Eighteenth Judicial Circuit, claiming breach of contract and violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Fair Credit Billing Act (the "First Action"). Named as Defendants were American Express Centurion Bank, FSB; American Express Centurion Bank;*fn3 the entire board of directors of American Express Company;*fn4 and Vaughn Gunning and Judy Bisgard, two employees of another wholly-owned subsidiary of American Express Company (collectively, "Defendants"). (Defendants' Memorandum in support of Motion to Dismiss First Action [9] (hereinafter "Defs.' Memo"), at 4.)

Martin's claims in this case arise from Defendants' suspension and cancellation of a credit account Martin held with American Express Centurion Bank and American Express Bank, FSB. (First Action Complaint, at 4-5.) As Martin's claims included alleged violations of federal law, Defendants removed the case to this court, invoking federal-question jurisdiction. After removal, on July 10, 2008, Defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and FED R. CIV. P. 41(b) for Martin's noncompliance with the terms of the permanent injunction against him. The court set a deadline of August 12, 2008 for Martin's response. Three days after that deadline, Martin moved for an extension to September 19, 2008 of the time to respond, but neglected to notice this motion for presentment as required by Local Rule 5.3. The court directed Martin to notice his motion for presentment, but on October 21, 2008 Martin had yet to comply with that order, and the court dismissed the federal- and state-law claims with prejudice for failure to prosecute. Martin did not appeal.

On January 20, 2009, Martin filed motions asking the court to vacate its October 21, 2008 dismissal order and, at the same time, for the judge to recuse on grounds of bias. Finding no reason to alter the earlier judgment and concluding that the bias allegation was baseless, the court denied those motions on January 26. This time, Martin appealed, but the Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal for failure to timely pay the required docketing fee, pursuant to Circuit Rule 3(b).

On January 29, 2009 Martin filed "new" claims in the Circuit Court of DuPage County, Illinois, Eighteenth Judicial Circuit, Case No. 2009MR000165 ("Second Action"). In this Second Action, Martin alleged that Defendants continued to harass him in the time following this court's October 21 dismissal order. Martin's complaint in the Second Action omitted any mention of his federal law claims, but, in addition to the allegations of further harassment, otherwise reasserted the allegations he made in the First Action. In addition to the original Defendants, Martin also named the attorneys who had represented Defendants in the First Action-Ruth Bahe-Jachna and Louis Smith and their law firm, Greenberg Traurig, LLP-as well as the Defendants' alleged "agents," Robert Pettway and NCO Financial Systems, Inc. In response, Defendants filed a motion in this court for an order enjoining the state court proceeding. The state court has voluntarily stayed further proceedings and reportedly awaits this court's disposition of the motion. (Defs.' Reply Br., 3; Defs.' Reply Br., Ex. A.)


I. Legal Standard

Defendants ask this court to exercise its inherent power to enjoin the state court proceedings initiated by Martin. The Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, prohibits a federal court from enjoining state court proceedings "except . . . where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments." Those exceptions, Defendants contend, clearly apply here, because (1) Martin's claim has been finally decided on the merits and is thus res judicata; (2) the issues Martin raises have already been litigated and are therefore barred under the doctrine of collateral estoppel; and (3) the claim is nothing more than the attempt of a notorious vexatious litigator to harass Defendants. For the reasons discussed below, the court finds it appropriate to grant Defendants' motion in a modified form.

The Anti-Injunction Act "represents Congress' considered judgment as to how to balance the tensions inherent" in a dual system of federal and state courts. Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140, 146 (1988). As noted, the Act generally forbids federal courts from enjoining proceedings in state court except, inter alia,*fn5 where necessary "to protect or effectuate its judgments." 28 U.S.C. § 2283. The Supreme Court has interpreted this exception as authority for a federal court to enjoin relitigation in state court of certain claims and issues already decided in federal court. Chick Kam Choo, 486 U.S. at 147. Specifically, the federal court may issue an injunction where the traditional doctrines of res judicata (claim preclusion) and collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) apply. Thus, in Chick Kam Choo, the Court concluded that where a state law claim had been decided by a federal court, the federal court was permitted to enjoin a proceeding in state court seeing litigation of that same claim. Cf. Ramsden v. AgriBank, FCB, 214 F.3d 865, 868 (7th Cir. 2000) (injunction to bar relitigation in state court was improper where the state court had already explicitly rejected the res judicata defense).

II. Res judicata

Defendants argue that Martin's state court claim falls within the relitigation exception to the Anti-Injunction Act because it is barred by res judicata. The doctrine of res judicata is available when there is (1) a final adjudication on the merits in an earlier action; (2) identity of the cause of action between the earlier and later suit; and (3) an identity of the parties or privies in the two suits. Tartt v. Northwest Cmty. ...

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