may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Coffy L. Moss,
Advanced Circuits, Inc.,
Filed December 22, 1998
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 97-22740
Jesse Gant III, Gant Law Office, 670 North Grain Exchange Building, 301 Fourth Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Mary L. Knoblauch, Fruth & Anthony, P.A., 3750 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and ulally, Judge.[*]
Appellant challenges the district court's dismissal of her defamation per se claim on grounds of res judicata, and the denial of her motion to amend the complaint.
This case began in federal court, where seven of Moss's eight claims were dismissed on summary judgment. Moss v. Advanced Circuits, Inc., 981 F. Supp. 1239, 1254 (D. Minn. 1997). One of the seven claims dismissed was for slander per se. Id. An eighth claim for slander was dismissed without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. Id. Moss then sued in state district court, asserting claims for defamation per se against Advanced Circuits, Mike Maxson, the United Steelworkers of America, the bargaining representatives of the employees at Advanced Circuits, and Wendy Larson, local division president for the United Steelworkers. All four were also parties to the dismissed federal suit. Id. at 1242-43.
The district court dismissed Moss's complaint under the doctrine of res judicata, and denied her motion to amend the complaint to correct a Rule 11 violation for failing to have her attorney of record sign the complaint. Moss argues that the claim for defamation per se should not have been dismissed. In the alternative, she argues that she should be permitted to amend her complaint to include a simple defamation claim, and to provide the required signature of counsel.
On appeal, whether a district court erred in applying claim or issue preclusion is a mixed question of fact and law subject to de novo review. Parker v. MVBA Harvestore Sys., 491 N.W.2d 904, 906 (Minn. App. 1992). The doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, is designed to prevent the re-litigation of causes of action already determined in a prior action. Beutz v. A.O. Smith Harvestore Prods. Inc., 431 N.W.2d 528, 531 (Minn. 1988).
A judgment on the merits constitutes an absolute bar to a second suit for the same cause of action, and is conclusive between parties and privities, not only as to every matter which was actually litigated, but also as to every matter which might have been litigated therein.
Id. (quoting The Youngstown Mines Corp. v. Prout, 266 Minn 450, 466, 124 N.W.2d 328, 340 (1963)).
The three elements of res judicata are: (1) a final judgment on the merits; (2) a second suit involving the same cause of action; and (3) identical parties or parties in privity. Minneapolis Auto Parts Co. v. City of Minneapolis, 739 F.2d 408, 409 (8th Cir. 1984). Two of these three elements are readily satisfied because the dismissed federal action was a final judgment on the merits and the parties in both cases are identical. After a final adjudication, a second suit involving the same parties, the same facts, the same claims, and the same law as an earlier suit, is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Campbell v. Glenwood Hills Hosps., Inc., 273 Minn. 525, 531, 142 N.W.2d 255, 259 (1966). In the instant case, the state and federal case involve the same claim, the same parties, and the same law.
The slander per se claim was clearly dismissed by the federal court and constitutes a final judgment. Moss, 981 F. Supp. at 1254. The remaining and determinative element is whether the suits involve the same cause of action. The cause of action is identical if the same evidence would sustain both actions. In re MedCenters Health Care, Inc., 450 N.W.2d 635, 641 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Mar. 8, 1990). A cause of action is any situation or facts entitling a party to sustain an action and seek a judicial remedy. Thompson v. Zurich Ins. Co., 309 F. Supp 1178, 1181 (D. Minn. 1970). Identical claims arise from the same transaction when "the same operative nucleus of facts is alleged in support of the claims." Anderson v. Werner Continental, Inc., 363 N.W.2d 332, 335 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. June 24, 1985).
Moss's claim is barred under the doctrine of res judicata. Her claim for defamation per se arises out of the same transaction--the federal investigation of her work place. Additionally, her federal claims for harassment and defamation involve the same nucleus of operative facts as the state law claim and therefore establish an identical cause of action. Further, Moss relies on the same facts to sustain her causes of action and obtain a remedy. Res judicata bars both the claims actually litigated and those that could have been litigated in the prior case. Hauser v. Mealey, 263 N.W.2d 803, 807 (Minn. 1978). We agree with the district court that Moss's claim for defamation per se is barred by the doctrine of res judicata.
Rule 11 of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure requires that an attorney of record shall personally sign every pleading, motion, and other paper of a party represented by an attorney. Additionally, Rule 11 mandates that a pleading "shall be stricken unless it is signed promptly after the omission is called to the attention of the pleader of movant." On January 13, 1998, attorney Gant was given notice of the Rule 11 violation. He failed to remedy the signature problem until February 11, 1998, twenty-nine days after he was given action. The district court found that this was not prompt action. Gant's failure to promptly sign the complaint coupled with the doctrine of res judicata, bars this cause of action.
Advanced Circuit's motion for sanctions and attorney fees under Minn. Stat. § 549.211, subd. 2 (Supp. 1997), is denied.
[*]Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.