Gulf Inland Contractors, Inc. v. Hanover Ins. Co.

Decision Date29 June 2016
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO.: 15-00458-BAJ-RLB
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Louisiana

Before the Court is a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 23), filed by Defendant, The Hanover Insurance Company ("Hanover"). Hanover seeks to dismiss the claims of Plaintiff, Gulf Inland Contractors, Inc. ("Gulf Inland"), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 23). Gulf Inland filed an opposition, (Doc. 24), and Hanover filed a reply, (Doc. 27). Oral argument is not necessary. Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.


In March of 2010, DQSI, LLC ("DQSI") contracted with the United States to replace guide walks and construct new dolphins1 at the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway, Bayou Sorrel Lock in Iberville Parish, Louisiana ("the Project"). (Civil Action 13-00720-BAJ-RLB, Doc. 1 at ¶ 5). Western Surety Company ("Western Surety") provided bonds for the Project pursuant to the Miller Act, 40 U.S.C. § 3133, which requires contractors bidding on government projects to post performance bonds andpayment bonds covering the costs of labor and materials. (Id. at ¶ 6). Subsequently, DQSI subcontracted with Sun Coast Contracting, LLC/Sun Coast Contracting Services, LLC ("Sun Coast") to do most of the work, (id. at ¶ 7), and Hanover provided the requisite bonds on behalf of Sun Coast for the Project, (id. at ¶ 8). Sun Coast later entered into a subcontract with Gulf Inland to complete crane barge services on the Project. (Id. at ¶ 9). Sun Coast allegedly did not pay Gulf Inland for the work it provided on the Project and Gulf Inland claims it is owed $144,269.50. (Id.).

On November 5, 2013, Gulf Inland filed Civil Action No. 13-00720 against DQSI, Western Surety, Sun Coast, and Hanover. U.S. ex rel. Sun Coast Contracting Servs., LLC v. DQSI, LLC, No. 13-00297-BAJ-RLB, 2014 WL 5431373, at *1 (M.D. La. Oct. 22, 2014). Gulf Inland alleged the following causes of action: 1) the Miller Act; 2) breach of contract; 3) open account pursuant to La. R.S. § 9:2781; 4) penalties pursuant to La. R.S. § 9:4814; 5) detrimental reliance; and 6) unjust enrichment. Id.

On January 23, 2014, the Court consolidated that action with Civil Action No. 13-00297, which also addressed claims arising out of the Project. (Civil Action 13-00720-BAJ-RLB, Doc. 5). On October 22, 2014, the Court granted DQSI and Western Surety's motion to dismiss, dismissing Gulf Inland's claims against all defendants with prejudice. Sun Coast, 2014 WL 5431373, at *5. The Court found that Gulf Inland was precluded from proceeding under the Miller Act because it had not provided defendants with the requisite notices mandated by the Miller Act. Id. at *4. As a result, the Court found that federal jurisdiction was no longer proper for the state law claims. Id.

On June 16, 2015, Gulf Inland initiated the instant action against Hanover in the 19th Judicial District Court for East Baton Rouge Parish. (Doc. 1-1 at p. 5). In the Petition for Damages, Gulf Inland asserted a singular claim that Hanover, as surety for Sun Coast, was obligated to pay it for the work it completed pursuant to the subcontract agreement with Sun Coast. (Id. at ¶ 6). On July 14, 2015, Hanover removed this action to federal court under diversity jurisdiction. (Doc. 1). On April 19, 2016, Hanover filed the subject motion seeking to dismiss Gulf Inland's claims pursuant to the doctrine of res judicata. (Doc. 23). Hanover avers that the Court's dismissal of the prior action, with prejudice, precludes Gulf Inland's claim. (Id.).


A motion to dismiss under rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8, which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district court generally "must limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including attachments thereto." See Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 2000).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint stated a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. "[F]acial plausibility" exists "when theplaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Hence, the complaint need not set out "detailed factual allegation," but something "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" is required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. When conducting its inquiry, the Court must "accept[] all well-pleaded facts as true and view[] those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bustos v. Martini Club Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted).

The Supreme Court has noted that Rule 12(b)(6) requires dismissal whenever a claim is based on an invalid legal theory:

Nothing in Rule 12(b)(6) confines its sweep to claims of law which are obviously insupportable. On the contrary, if as a matter of law it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations, a claim must be dismissed, without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one.

Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989) (quotation marks and citations omitted). However, "[f]ederal pleading rules . . . do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 135 S. Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).


"Claim preclusion, or res judicata, bars the litigation of claims that either have been litigated or should have been raised in an earlier suit." Test Masters Educ. Serv, Inc. v. Singh, 428 F.3d 559, 571 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing Petro-Hunt, L.L.C. v. UnitedStates, 365 F.3d 385, 395 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting In re Southmark Corp., 163 F.3d 925, 934 (5th Cir. 1999))). It is well settled that a res judicata determination is not contingent upon whether the prior judgment was correct or not. Federated Dep't Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981) (holding that the res judicata consequences of a final un-appealed judgment on the merits are not altered by the fact that the judgment may have been wrong or rested on a legal principle subsequently overruled in another action).

"The preclusive effect of a prior federal court judgment is controlled by federal res judicata rules." Michael v. United States, 616 F. App'x 146, 147 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ellis v. Amex Life Ins. Co., 211 F.3d 935, 937 (5th Cir. 2000)), cert. denied, No. 15-8283, 2016 WL 728380 (U.S. May 16, 2016). Under federal res judicata rules, res judicata is appropriate if each of the following four elements are met: "1) the parties to both actions are identical (or at least in privity); 2) the judgment in the first action is rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; 3) the first action concluded with a final judgment on the merits; and 4) the same claim or cause of action is involved in both suits." Id. Because the parties do not dispute the second element, the Court shall only review the first, third, and fourth elements.


In order for res judicata to apply, the parties in both lawsuits must be identical. United States v. Shanbaum, 10 F.3d 305, 310 (5th Cir. 1994). Gulf Inland contends that the parties are not identical because the prior action involved more defendants than the instant action. (Doc. 24 at p. 4). However, "[t]he bare fact that other partieswere involved in the prior action and are not involved in the later action does not oust preclusion as to parties participating in both actions." Carey v. Sub Sea Int'l, Inc., 121 F. Supp. 2d 1071, 1074 (E.D. Tex. 2000) (quoting 18 Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 4449 (3d ed. 1998)), aff'd, 285 F.3d 347 (5th Cir. 2002). It is only required that those parties that were in the last action be represented in the same capacities in the current action as they were before. See Damascus v. Five Unknown Named Agents for U.S. Atty. Generals Off., 892 F.2d 1045, 1990 WL 356 (Westlaw table) (9th Cir. 1990) ("[T]he fact that . . . additional parties are brought into the second action whose conduct allegedly contributed to the same wrong as that involved in the first action will not preclude the application of res judicata.").

Hanover and Gulf Inland were parties to both actions, and they were represented in the same capacities. See Stone v. Louisiana Dept. of Revenue, 996 F. Supp. 2d 490, 500 (E.D. La. 2014), aff'd in part, rev'd on other grounds and remanded, 590 F. App'x 332 (5th Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 2814 (2015) (holding that because plaintiff and defendant were involved in both actions in the same capacities, the parties were identical for the purposes of res judicata). The mere subtraction of three defendants did not change the identities of the parties.2 Therefore, the parties are identical for the purposes of res judicata.


Hanover claims that the Court's dismissal of Gulf Inland's claims "with prejudice" constituted a final judgment on all of Gulf Inland's claims, not just the one related to the Miller Act.3 (Doc. 23-1 at pp. 5-6). However, an examination of the order, in conjunction with the reasoning therein, demonstrates that the prior...

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