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I am stuck, I have been researching case laws where a litigant is granted to proceed informa pauperis and gets dismissed sua sponte at the screening process of pleading before defendants are served and required to answer.. for failure to state a claim 28 USC § 1915(e)(2)(ii),    I can't find case laws clearly stating that dismissal of complaint sua sponte without the benefit of reaching the merits of defendants response is not on the merits. 

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9 hours ago, foolish said:

I am stuck, I have been researching case laws where a litigant is granted to proceed informa pauperis and gets dismissed sua sponte at the screening process of pleading before defendants are served and required to answer.. for failure to state a claim 28 USC § 1915(e)(2)(ii),    I can't find case laws clearly stating that dismissal of complaint sua sponte without the benefit of reaching the merits of defendants response is not on the merits. 

 

28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(ii) simply directs the court to dismiss the lawsuit if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and the standard for that is the same as reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under FRCP 12(b)(6). When granted, the court’s dismissal of the case for failure to state claim operates as an ajudication on the merits unless the court expressly says otherwise. See FRCP 41(b), which states:

 

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If the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it. Unless the dismissal order states otherwise, a dismissal under this subdivision (b) and any dismissal not under this rule—except one for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or failure to join a party under Rule 19—operates as an adjudication on the merits.

 

Note the second sentence of the rule. It tells you that any dismissal under the first sentence of (b) along with any other dismissal by the court that is not under Rule 41 “operates as an adjudication on the merits” except for dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or failure to join a party under Rule 19. The only dismissals discussed in Rule 41 outside of (b) are dismissals that are voluntary dismissals by a party, Rules 41(a) and (c).  In short, Rule 41(b) says that all dismissals of a case operate as an adjudication on the merits unless the court says otherwise except for (1) voluntary dismissals by a party under Rule 41 and (2) dismissals for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or failure to join a party under Rule 19.

 

Applying that Rule as written means that dismissals for failure to state a claim would act as an adjudication on the merits. A NY federal District Court held just that, explaining:

 

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Finally, the prior decision was on the merits. Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a dismissal of an action upon a motion by the defendant, unless otherwise specified by the court dismissing the action, shall constitute an adjudication on the merits. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 776, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946); Weston Funding Corp. v. Lafayette Towers, Inc., 550 F.2d 710, 712–15 (2d Cir.1977); Exchange National Bank of Chicago v. Touche Ross & Co., 544 F.2d 1126, 1130–31 (2d Cir.1976) (“judgments under Rule 12(b)(6) are on the merits, with res judicata effects....”). Since plaintiff's action before Judge Kram was dismissed upon motion of the defendants pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) with no specification that that dismissal was not on the merits, it is clear that plaintiff's previous action was dismissed on the merits, and that this action is barred by res judicata.

 

Sadler v. Brown, 793 F. Supp. 87, 90 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). The court cites in the opinion the Supreme Court’s decision in Bell v. Hood. That case did not discuss Rule 41(b) but specifically addresses the issue of the effect of a dismissal for failure to state a claim:

 

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For it is well settled that the failure to state a proper cause of action calls for a judgment on the merits and not for a dismissal for want of jurisdiction. Whether the complaint states a cause of action on which relief could be granted is a question of law and just as issues of fact it must be decided after and not before the court has assumed jurisdiction over the controversy. If the court does later exercise its jurisdiction to determine that the allegations in the complaint do not state a ground for relief, then dismissal of the case would be on the merits, not for want of jurisdiction.

 

Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682, 66 S. Ct. 773, 776, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946). In a later case, the Supreme Court did comment on Rule 41(b) generally, though not specifically about dismissals for failure to state claim, and it reiterates the view that dismissals that are not jurisdictional in nature are generally adjudications on the merits unless the court specifies otherwise:

 

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We do not discern in Rule 41(b) a purpose to change this common-law principle with respect to dismissals in which the merits could not be reached for failure of the plaintiff to satisfy a precondition. All of the dismissals enumerated in Rule 41(b) which operate as adjudications on the merits—failure of the plaintiff to prosecute, or to comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure, or to comply with an order of the Court, or to present evidence showing a right to the relief on the facts and the law—primarily involve situations in which the defendant must incur the inconvenience of preparing to meet the merits because there is no initial bar to the Court's reaching them. It is therefore logical that a dismissal on one of these grounds should, unless the Court otherwise specifies, bar a subsequent action. In defining the situations where dismissals ‘not provided for in this rule’ also operate as adjudications on the merits, and are not to be deemed jurisdictional, it seems reasonable to confine them to those situations where the policy behind the enumerated grounds is equally applicable. Thus a sua sponte dismissal by the Court for failure of the plaintiff to comply with an order of the Court should be governed by the same policy. Although a sua sponte dismissal is not an enumerated ground, here too the defendant has been put to the trouble of preparing his defense because there was no initial bar to the Court's reaching the merits.


Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 286–87, 81 S. Ct. 534, 545, 5 L. Ed. 2d 551 (1961). 

 

Of course, there are limits to the extent of the res judicata effect. The dismissal for failure to state a claim won't bar a plaintiff from bringing an entirely different claim against the same defendant:

 

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The Court went on to state that under Rule 41(b) the question remains a close one, and held that under 41(b) if the dismissal is general, i.e., without prejudice then it is res judicata as to then existing claim which it appears plaintiff was attempting to state. This seems to us decisive as to the case at bar because here the case which plaintiff is now seeking to state was not stated in his civil rights action. We must bear in mind that the plaintiff here is a layman proceeding pro se. In 12-73 Erie, he was attempting to state a claim under the Civil Rights Act. Now he is attempting to state a diversity claim for malpractice. We therefore hold that the dismissal in 12-73 is not res judicata upon the merits with respect to this separate claim which is now involved in 73-107 against defendant Adam Gorski.


Starr v. Gorski, 378 F. Supp. 193, 195 (W.D. Pa. 1974), aff'd, 527 F.2d 645 (3d Cir. 1976).

 

Finally, these decisions all relate to dismissals entered by federal courts. A federal court considering the dismissal entered in a state court will have a different analysis. 

 

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A federal court sitting as the trial judge did here must accord a state court dismissal the same effect as would the state courts. See Angel v. Bullington, 330 U.S. 183, 67 S.Ct. 657, 91 L.Ed. 832 (1947). Inasmuch as the Texas courts do not treat a dismissal for failure to prosecute as an adjudication on the merits, see Gracey v. West, 422 S.W.2d 913 (Tex.1968), we decline to do so in this instance. Hence no res judicata effect attaches to the state court dismissal.


Hornsby Oil Co. v. Champion Spark Plug Co., 714 F.2d 1384, 1397 (5th Cir. 1983).

 

This ought to help you get your research going in the right direction — you can find other cases that say the same thing.

 

I’m guessing you are asking this in connection with the previous post you made mentioning prior FOIA cases that you filed. (I’ll try to get back to that post later.) Look at the dismissal of the prior FOIA case. If it was dismissed for failure to state a claim and the court did not expressly say it was without prejudice (or did not otherwise expressly say it was not a decision on the merits) then under Rule 41(b) it is likely that if you bring the same claim again you will get it kicked out under the principle of res judicata. I’m not your lawyer though and haven’t read the prior dismissal and what you might want to file now so I cannot opine on the effect of the prior decision. You may want a lawyer in your state who litigates civil cases in federal court to review it to determine exactly what the preclusive effect would be. 

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Thank's for the all time in clarifying my question, this helped a lot in that it confirmed that res-judicata does not apply to FOIA case at hand, which defendant agency themselves never brought it up, nor does it apply since prior decisions primary defendant in this action was not party to the sua sponte dismissal, additionally, defendant is finally party because it finally acted on my recent request filed them, in the past the court dismissed claims against defendants before any ruling because they didn't process the request. It has an open referral policy https://www.ice.gov/foia/overview that my request was automatically referred to USCIS for processing. The present case was filed with them and was as matter of policy was referring my request to USICS as matter of course, it took numerous emails transmission to convince them to act my request.  . . .   

 

Thanks again, I understand that any communications on this board, does not form client lawyer relationship, that's why I jealously guard vital information about my case causing my questions to be direct with just enough information for the question which seems cryptic at times to the reader.  

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