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Bates v. Monarch Dental Services

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

October 9, 2019

VICKI BATES, Plaintiff,
v.
MONARCH DENTAL SERVICES, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ED KINKEADE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Monarch Dental Services' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 6). The Court has carefully considered the motion, the response, the reply, the applicable law, and the relevant portions of the record. Because Plaintiff's case is barred by res judicata, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion.

         I. Factual Background

         As alleged in her Complaint for Declaratory Judgment (“Complaint”), Plaintiff Vicki Bates (“Plaintiff”) purchased prosthodontic “goods and services” from Defendant Monarch Dental Services (“Defendant”) on April 25, 2015. Plaintiff contends there was an implied warranty by Defendant that it would “provide prosthodontic goods and services by a qualified prosthodontists [sic] that was a specialist” in certain areas. Plaintiff states that the dental treatment Defendant provided was begun by “qualified prosthodontists” as warranted by Defendant, but it was ultimately finished by a “regular Dentist”. (It is unclear from the pleadings whether Plaintiff's treatment occurred in one visit or over multiple visits.) Plaintiff contends that because a general dentist completed her treatment “the goods and services rendered were defective, ” and she was forced to seek corrective work from an independent prosthodontist at additional expense to Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in state court on April 28, 2017, asserting Defendant violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“DTPA”) based on the prosthodontic treatment she received from Defendant. Subsequently, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment in state court which the presiding judge granted on all grounds on January 3, 2018, dismissing Plaintiff's case with prejudice. On January 31, 2019, Plaintiff filed this suit against Defendant in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment based on the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”), alleging Defendant breached an implied warranty under Texas state law. Plaintiff asks the Court to “declare that Defendant as [sic] acted in violation of the provisions of the [MMWA]” and seeks “specific declaratory relief” of a judgment for $168, 614 in damages. Defendant then filed this motion to dismiss.

         II. Analysis

         A. Legal Standard and Applicable Law

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must determine whether the plaintiff has sufficiently stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A well-pleaded complaint must allege facts upon which the claims are based and not be a conclusory recitation of the elements of a cause of action. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint must state sufficient facts such that the “claim has facial plausibility” and is not merely “possible.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A plaintiff pleads a claim with facial plausibility when the “factual content . . . allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable.” Id. The complaint must allege sufficient facts to “give the defendant fair notice” of plaintiff's claims against the defendant. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The alleged facts must be facially plausible such that the facts nudge the plaintiff's claims “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 570. The Court “accept[s] all well-pleaded facts as true and view[s] those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Stokes v. Gann, 498 F.3d 483, 484 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam). The Court “do[es] not accept as true conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions.” Ferrer v. Chevron Corp., 484 F.3d 776, 780 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Plotkin v. IP Axess Inc., 407 F.3d 690, 696 (5th Cir. 2005)).

         The Court must generally determine a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim based solely on the pleadings, including any attachments thereto. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 2000). The Fifth Circuit also allows the district court to consider documents attached to the motion to dismiss when those documents “are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to [the plaintiff's] claim.” Id. at 498-99 (quoting Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993)).

         “[W]hen a successful affirmative defense appears on the face of the pleadings, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may be appropriate.” Kansa Reinsurance Co., Ltd. v. Cong. Mortg. Corp. of Tex., 20 F.3d 1362, 1366 (5th Cir. 1994); see Hall v. Hodgkins, 305 Fed.Appx. 224, 227-28 (5th Cir. 2008) (“If, based on the facts pleaded and judicially noticed, a successful affirmative defense appears, then dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper.”). Res judicata is an affirmative defense which provides that “a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action.” Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94 (1980). Therefore, “[d]ismissal on res judicata grounds may be appropriate when the elements of res judicata are apparent on the face of the pleadings.” Avila v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, Cause No. SA-14-CA-0460-OLG, 2014 WL 12580450, at *2 (W.D. Tex. June 6, 2014) (citing Dean v. Miss. Bd. of Bar Admissions, 394 Fed.Appx. 172, 175 (5th Cir. 2010)).

         The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”) creates a private cause of action allowing a “consumer” to sue a warrantor for damages related to a violation of a provision of the MMWA or a breach of a written or implied warranty. 15 U.S.C. § 2310(d)(1); see Walton v. Rose Mobile Homes, LLC, 298 F.3d 470, 474 (5th Cir. 2002). The MMWA defines “implied warranty” as meaning “an implied warranty arising under State law.” § 2301(7). “The MMWA does not provide an independent basis for liability, but instead ‘provides a federal cause of action for state law express and implied warranty claims.'” Taliaferro v. Samsung Telecomms. Am., LLC, Civil Action No. 3:11-CV-1119-D, 2012 WL 169704, at *10 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 19, 2012) (quoting In re Sony Grand Wega KDF-EA10/A20 Series Rear Projection HDTV Television Litig., 758 F.Supp.2d 1077, 1101 (S.D. Cal. 2010)).

         B. Res Judicata-Claim Preclusion and Issue Preclusion

         Defendant argues first that Plaintiff's case must be dismissed because her federal lawsuit is barred by res judicata, both claim preclusion and issue preclusion. Defendant contends that claim preclusion applies because Plaintiff's federal lawsuit seeks to relitigate the same claims, or those which should have been raised, in her state court lawsuit which was dismissed with prejudice. Defendant also contends issue preclusion applies because Plaintiff seeks to relitigate the same ultimate fact of her state court lawsuit. In her response, “Plaintiff concedes that this case meets the classic requirements for issue or claims preclusion under prevailing Texas law.” Pl's Resp. (Doc. No. 11) at 1 ¶ 3. But she asserts that an exception to res judicata applies and cites Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Schneiderman, 316 F.Supp.3d 679 (S.D. N.Y. 2018), in support.

         The Court concludes Plaintiff's reliance on the Exxon case for her argument is misplaced. First, the Exxon court's analysis found issue preclusion did not apply in that case based upon Massachusetts state law. Id. at 699-700. Massachusetts state law is undeniably not applicable in the case before this Court. Additionally, the Exxon court specifically limited the exception arising under Massachusetts law to issue preclusion, finding that “[t]he same considerations do not apply to claim preclusion.” Id. at 703. With nothing more in support of this argument, ...


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