United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
PERCY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the court on the plaintiff's response
to the court's order  to show cause why the instant
case should not be dismissed under the doctrines of res
judicata and collateral estoppel. For the purposes of
the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court notes that the
plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed this suit. The
plaintiff has brought the instant case under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, which provides a federal cause of action against
“[e]very person” who under color of state
authority causes the “deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and
laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons set forth
below, the instant case will be dismissed under the doctrines
of res judicata and collateral estoppel.
December 7, 2018, the court issued an order for the plaintiff
to show cause why the instant case should not be dismissed
under the doctrines of res judicata and collateral
estoppel. The court originally mislaid that response but has
now reviewed and considered it. In the interest of clarity
and ease of reference, the court will restate the contents of
the show-cause order, largely unchanged.
plaintiff, Meika DeSean Britton, filed the instant suit under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging the circumstances
surrounding his arrest on charges of contributing to the
delinquency of a minor and violating the terms of his
supervised release. The court has, however, dismissed on
summary judgment a substantially identical case that Mr.
Britton filed in 2016. See Britton v. Southaven Police
Department, et al., 3:16CV84-MPM-RP (N.D. Miss.)
an affirmative defense (such as res judicata or
collateral estoppel) must be pled, and not raised by the
court sua sponte. A court may, however, do so when
all of the relevant facts are contained in the record before
the court and are uncontested. Mowbray v. Cameron County,
Texas, 274 F.2d 269 (5th Cir. 2001). In that
situation, “we may not ignore their legal effect, nor
may we decline to consider the application of controlling
rules of law to dispositive facts, simply because neither
party has seen fit to invite our attention by technically
correct and exact pleadings.” Am. Furniture Co. v.
Int'l Accommodations Supply, 721 F.2d 478, 482
(5th Cir. Unit A Mar.1981). In the present case,
the facts are uncontested, and the legal outcome appears
unambiguous. The instant case is remarkably similar to a case
the plaintiff previously brought in this court - and which
the court decided against him on the merits.
Britton's Previous Case
previous case, the court set forth the following undisputed
On May 5, 2011, Britton pled guilty to the charge of Child
Exploitation and was sentenced to serve five years in the
custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections,
followed by ten years of post-release supervision under the
MDOC. Doc. 63 at 5. Britton was incarcerated until December
2015. On March 16, 2016 a police report was filed by an
individual concerned that Britton had inappropriate contact
with his 14 year old daughter. Id. at 9. Detective
Brannon Rushing of the Southaven Police Department asked the
parent for permission to use the daughter's phone and to
pose as the daughter to communicate with Britton, and the
parent and the minor consented. Id. at 11.
After beginning his investigation, Detective Rushing
discovered Britton was a registered sex offender, and was
currently under supervision with MDOC for a ten year period,
reporting to Probation Officer Frank Caswell. Id. On
March 22, 2016, a juvenile female told Rushing that Britton
had given liquor to minor children present at a gathering.
Doc. 77 at 16. After several days of communicating, Detective
Rushing arranged a meeting with Britton via his probation
officer, Frank Caswell. Id. at 11. On March 24,
2016, Britton met with Detective Rushing and Probation
Officer Caswell at the MDOC office in Hernando, Mississippi.
Id. During the interview, Probation Officer Caswell
asked Britton to produce his phone, and Britton stated he did
not want Caswell to look in the phone and began to press
buttons on the phone. Id. Detective Rushing, worried
that Britton could be deleting incriminating evidence, took
the phone for evidentiary purposes. Id. at 11-12.
Detective Rushing informed Britton he could pick up a receipt
for the seized property at the Southaven Police Department.
On the same date, March 24, 2016, Detective Rushing applied
for and obtained a search warrant for the contents of the
phone. Id. at 13. A forensic analysis was then
performed on the phone and its contents extracted.
Id. at 15. On March 28, 2016 Britton was charged and
arrested for Child Exploitation and Contributing to the
Delinquency of a Minor. Id. at 16-19. On April 4,
2016, an Affidavit and Warrant were filed for Violation of
Post Release Supervision due to the new charges. Id.
at 24-25. Following a revocation hearing, the Circuit Court
of DeSoto County, Mississippi, held that Britton had violated
the terms of his supervised release, and imposed the
remaining ten years of his sentence to be served in the
custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Britton's version of the facts in this case differs from
the defendants' only slightly. He notes insignificant
differences (less than 30 minutes) in the timing of events
surrounding his questioning and the seizure of his phone. He
also alleges that, when he entered the Hernando building for
questioning, he did not have his phone and went to retrieve
it only when Caswell and Rushing requested a list of phone
numbers. He also seems to dispute whether he was pushing keys
on his phone at the time Detective Rushing seized it.
Britton v. Southaven Police Department, supra
(Memorandum Opinion of May 31, 2017).
upon these facts, Mr. Britton claimed:
(1) Defendants Caswell and Rushing did not have probable
cause to call him to a meeting;
(2) Defendants Caswell and Rushing did not have probable
cause to seize and search his cellular phone; and
(3) Defendant Bonita Clark is responsible in her role as
supervisor for the seizure and search of Mr. Britton's
court then held:
[T]he plaintiff's claim [regarding the propriety of the
search and seizure] fails on the merits, as the defendants
had ample justification for seizing his phone and searching
it for evidence of improper communication with minors. [In
addition], as Bonita Clark had no direct involvement in the
seizure and search of the plaintiff's cellular phone, he
has sued her solely in her capacity as supervisor, and a
plaintiff cannot sustain a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
based upon a respondeat superior theory.
Britton v. Southaven Police Department, et al.,
supra, Doc. 82 at 5-6. Mr. Britton challenged these
rulings on direct appeal. The Fifth Circuit discussed these
claims on the merits, upheld this court's decision, and
dismissed the appeal as frivolous. Britton v. Southaven
Police Department, et al., 17-60432 (April 2, 2017).
These issues have been fully litigated.
present case, Mr. Britton acknowledges that he has largely
restated the allegations and claims from his previous case:
[T]he majority of this suit consist[s] of the illegal actions
of the Southaven Police Department and violations of my
rights and substantive rights such as providing false
statements to obtain warrants and known perjured testimony.
Also manufactured exigent circumstances.
at 6. His legal issues in the present case are the same as
those in the previous one:
My cellular phone was illegally seized by detective Rushing
creating a violation of my 4th Amendment right[s].
Frank Caswell conspired with Rushing[, ] helping him avoid
the warrant requirement on March 24, 2016.
[The victim] provided detective Rushing with knowingly false
statements which [led]
to my illegal incarceration.
[Judge] David Delgado set a bond of [$]125, 000 for a
misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a
minor [- which Britton believes is excessive under state and
Bonita Clark allowed her employee to conspire in a subterfuge
of a probation meeting to investigate criminal activity.
Doc. 1 at 7-10.
section of his complaint, Mr. Britton includes facts which he
claims were unavailable to him in his previous case: (1)
defendant Rushing's statement that he believed Britton
was deleting evidence from his phone; and (2) the victim
knowingly provided the defendants with false statements,
causing Britton to be arrested. Initially, the court notes
that Mr. Britton knew of defendant Rushing's statement
regarding potential destruction of evidence in the previous
case, as the defendants included it as part of their summary
judgment evidence in that case. Indeed, the court recited
this fact in the memorandum opinion granting summary judgment
to the defendants (and it is contained above in the quote
outlining the facts from the previous case).
question, the gravamen of Mr. Britton's current case is
the same as that of the previous one: his belief that the
defendants did not have legal authority to detain him, seize
his cellular phone, search it, and arrest him.
Britton's Response to the Show-Cause Order
Britton argues in his response to the show-cause order that
Detective Rushing “created or manufactured an exigent
circumstance to obtain a search warrant.” He also
alleges that the arrest warrant and the affidavit supporting
the search warrant contained “reckless and falsified
statements” and “misleading statements.” He
alleges further that the victim in the revocation proceeding
“made false statements implicating Britton in a crime
that never occurred.” Mr. Britton argues that he did
not have knowledge of these statements until March 2017, when
he found them in discovery documents from his previous suit.
Mr. Britton offers the following allegations as newly
discovered facts that would preclude dismissal of this case
on res judicata grounds (restated here for clarity):
(1) Detective Rushing misrepresented the contents of the
Facebook chats used to support the affidavit charging Mr.
Britton with violation of Miss. Code Ann § 97-5-33,
Child Exploitation. Mr. Britton argues that Detective Rushing
made a false statement in the affidavit by stating that Mr.
Britton told “a seventeen year old male to send him a
photograph of his penis, ” when the Facebook chat
stated only “I want to see your, ” rather than
the word “penis” or a slang equivalent.
(2) The victim knowingly made false statements to Detective
Rushing regarding a tablet sold to Britton that contained a
pornographic video of a minor. The victim made those
statements to avoid prosecution for creating the videos.
support of the first alleged “new” fact, Mr.
Britton provides the same Facebook chat screenshots he
submitted in his previous case - and the same denial that the
four blanks stood for a slang term for the word
“penis.” Hence, that information is not newly
discovered, and the claim is identical in both cases. In
support of the second alleged new fact, Mr. Britton provides
screenshots of several Facebook Messenger chat sessions,
purportedly between the victim's friends (who are twins),
the victim, Mr. Britton, and an unidentified person. Mr.
Britton argues that these chat sessions show that the victim
lied to the police about his communication with Britton. The
chat sessions took place from March 28, 2016, through January
1, 2017 - the day of the search and seizure of the cellular
phone at issue and the time afterwards. Mr. Britton was
arrested on March 28, 2016.
Judicata and Collateral Estoppel
the claims the plaintiff brings in this case are barred by
the doctrine of res judicata, (claim preclusion),
and by the related doctrine of collateral estoppel (issue
preclusion). Res judicata means “a thing
decided;” the doctrine states that a final judgment on
the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction is
conclusive as to the parties and their privies; therefore,
attempts to litigate the matter further are barred.
Cromwell v. County of Sac., 94 U.S. 351, 352 (1876),
Kaspar Wire Works, Inc. v. Leco Eng'g & Mach.,
Inc., 575 F.2d 530, 535 (5th Cir. 1978).
Res judicata bars a plaintiff from bringing a second
suit based upon the same event or series of events by
asserting additional facts or proceeding under a
different legal theory; the doctrine prevents
“litigation of all grounds for, or defenses to,
recovery that were previously available to the parties,
regardless of whether they were asserted or determined in the
prior proceeding.” Brown v. Felsen, 442 U.S.
127, 131, 99 S.Ct. 2205, 60 L.Ed.2d 767 (1979); see also
Goldberg v. R. J. Longo Constr. Co., 54 F.3d 243, 246
(5th Cir. 1995) (res judicata bars claims
that were or could have been raised in prior actions).
Fifth Circuit res judicata bars a claim if: (1) the
parties are the same in both actions, (2) the prior judgment
is rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) the
prior judgment was final on the merits; and (4) the cases
involve the same cause of action. Travelers Ins. Co. v.
St. Jude Hospital of Kenner, 37 F.3d 193, 195
(5th Cir. 1994). Two cases involve the same cause
of action if both cases arise out of the same nucleus of
operative facts. Id. Collateral estoppel, or issue
preclusion, on the other hand, precludes relitigation of
issues actually adjudicated, and essential to the judgment,
in prior litigation involving a party to the first case.
Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 101 S.Ct. 411, 66
L.Ed.2d 308 (1980).
Britton's allegations in this case are precluded by the
doctrine of res judicata because: (1) The same
parties are involved in this claim: Britton, Rushing,
Caswell, and Clark; (2) This court had jurisdiction over the
previous matter; (3) The prior judgment was final and on the
merits; and (4) The allegations in this case arise out of the
same nucleus of operative facts: Mr. Britton's meeting
with defendants Caswell and Rushing, the seizure of his
phone, and his subsequent arrest.
issues in the present case were actually adjudicated in the
previous case, essential to the judgment, and involved Mr.
Britton, the party against whom estoppel would operate. Thus,
collateral estoppel also precludes relitigation of these
issues. To afford Mr. Britton due process, the court provided
him the opportunity to brief the matter, and he has done so.
Plaintiff's Claims Would Fail on the Merits, Even if the
Court Accepted the Plaintiff's “New”
court found in Mr. Britton's previous case, the
defendants had ample evidence to establish probable cause to
search his phone and arrest him:
[A] father had observed his 14-year-old stepdaughter's
communications with Britton, who was 45 years old at the
time. Britton had asked her to come babysit for him,
requested a photograph of her, and told her that her
“short friend was cute.” He also asked about one
of the young girl's friends who liked black guys,
describing the attraction as “jungle fever.” The
girl's father was clearly concerned about the
inappropriate nature of the communications: repeated efforts
to have his young daughter come to Britton's home, his
request for a photograph of her, the discussion of his
attraction to the young lady's friend, and sexual
innuendo regarding another of her minor female friends. Based
on this information, Detective Rushing conducted an
investigation, communicating with Britton while ...