This case is captioned Crooked Creek Properties, Inc. v. Ensley, pending in the Middle District of Alabama. Crooked Creek filed the case to contest to reclaim a Section 8 Housing Complex. The problem for the was that it had been filed and rejected at least four times previously.
The court first held that res judicata barred the claims of Crooked Creek. Then it awarded sanctions to the defendants, in the form of an injunction prohibiting further litigation. The court’s opinion is entertaining:
Small children usually learn fairly early on that if one parent says “no” to a request, it is best not to go behind his or her back and ask the other parent for the same thing. What the first says, goes. Res judicata is based on the same principle.“The elements of res judicata, or claim preclusion, are (1) a prior judgment on the merits, (2) rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) with substantial identity of the parties, and (4) with the same cause of action presented in both suits.” Dairyland Ins. Co. v. Jackson, 566 So. 2d 723, 725 (Ala. 1990). “If these essential elements are met, any issue that was or could have been adjudicated in the prior action is barred from further litigation.” Hughes v. Allenstein, 514 So. 2d 858, 860 (Ala. 1987) (emphasis original).
Unfortunately for Defendants, this court, and everyone else involved, Crooked Creek never learned that tried and true lesson of upbringing. Like a spoiled child, Crooked Creek has not only asked both parents (state and federal) for relief; it has asked repeatedly. However, at every turn, up and down the state and federal systems—including twice by this court—judges, like exasperated parents, have responded resoundingly, “No!” Additionally, those courts and this one have explained the effect of res judicata on this case. Undeterred, Crooked Creek responds that res judicata does not apply. Well, Crooked Creek, to quote the late philosopher Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
By now, Crooked Creek should recognize these findings as common themes: that the Autauga County suit resulted in a final judgment on the merits; that the Autauga County circuit court is a court of competent jurisdiction; that Crooked Creek, Richard Ensley, and Anita Liles are the same litigants from the Autauga County suit for res judicata purposes; and that this case presents the same cause of action as the Autauga County suit for res judicata purposes. At the end of the day, if Crooked Creek feels like it is re-living a nightmare, join the club. Crooked Creek has no case as it relates to this property, now or in the future. Its claim was resolved by the Autauga County circuit court, and affirmed on appeal. Defendants’ motion to dismiss is due to be granted.
The court then took time to explain the rationale for the sanctions, again in entertaining fashion:
Crooked Creek’s claims are patently frivolous. A claim is objectively frivolous if it lacks a reasonable factual or legal basis. See In re Mroz, 65 F.3d 1567, 1573 (11th Cir. 1995). This court has gone above and beyond to explain to Crooked Creek that there is no legal basis for its claims, all to no avail. Three times, this court has explained alternative bases for denying redress to Crooked Creek from the Autauga County suit, including twice on the basis of res judicata. See Crooked Creek III, 2015 WL 12940177; Crooked Creek II, 2010 WL 3629818; Crooked Creek I, 2009 WL 3644835.
Additionally, John Norris, plaintiff’s initial attorney in Crooked Creek III, should have been aware that Crooked Creek’s claims are frivolous. Whether an attorney should have been aware of his or her client’s frivolous claim(s) depends upon whether he or she would have been made aware of their frivolity upon a reasonable inquiry. See Worldwide Primates, 87 F.3d at 1254 (“In other words, we must inquire whether she would have been aware that it was frivolous if she had conducted a reasonable inquiry.”). In this case, a reasonable inquiry into the factual and legal grounds for Crooked Creek’s Complaint would have revealed the frivolous nature of Crooked Creek’s claims. A cursory review of Crooked Creek’s legal history—or even a simple Google search—would have alerted the most inauspicious lawyer about Crooked Creek’s storied history of vexatious filing related to the ownership of Danya Park Apartments.
Moreover, this court took great pains to warn Crooked Creek—and future lawyers—about the potential for sanctions if Crooked Creek brought this suit again. In Crooked Creek’s last failed attempt, this court remarked, “Plaintiff is forewarned that serious consideration will be given as to whether Rule 11 or other sanctions are appropriate if a future lawsuit is filed in this court on the same factual predicate as the two prior lawsuits.” Crooked Creek III, 2015 WL 12940177, at *2 n.3. Accordingly, John Norris should have been aware that Crooked Creek’s claims are frivolous, and therefore, sanctions are appropriate for purposes of this case.
The court then enjoined Crooked Creek from filing further litigation.
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.