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Tackett v. University of Kansas

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 27, 2017




         Plaintiff Daisy Tackett (“Tackett”) filed this action in state court against defendant University of Kansas (“KU”) pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, alleging a hostile educational environment and retaliation. KU removed Tackett's lawsuit to this court, and argues the doctrine of res judicata bars her claims. This matter is before the court on KU's motion to dismiss (Dkt. 52). For the reasons provided below, the court denies KU's motion.

         I. Background

         On March 11, 2016, a group of plaintiffs-which included Tackett's parents, but excluded Tackett-filed a class action lawsuit against KU pursuant to the Kansas Consumer Protection Act (“KCPA”), Kan. Stat. Ann. § 50-623, et seq., James Tackett, et al. v. University of Kansas, Case No. 2016-CV-103 (the “KCPA lawsuit”). The plaintiffs claimed that Tackett was sexually assaulted in Jayhawker Towers while she was a student at KU. The plaintiffs alleged that KU repeatedly represented to them and other students and their family members that KU's residence halls were safe, but these representations were false.

         Ten days after the KCPA lawsuit was filed, on March 21, 2016, Tackett filed the instant Title IX lawsuit against KU in Douglas County, Kansas. On April 25, 2016, KU removed the Title IX lawsuit to federal court.

         Two months later, on June 28, 2016, Tackett joined in the KCPA lawsuit. KU also moved to dismiss the KCPA lawsuit in June 2016, for lack of standing and failure to state a claim.

         On March 17, 2017, the Douglas County District Court, Judge Kay Huff, granted KU's motion to dismiss the KCPA lawsuit. Judge Huff held that the parent-plaintiffs did not have statutory standing because they had not signed the contracts with KU, thereby failing to meet the statutory definition of consumers under the KCPA. On the other hand, the state court found that the student-plaintiffs were parties to the consumer transaction, but lacked standing to seek declaratory or injunctive relief because-as former students-they did not allege that they were in danger of suffering a present or future injury.

         On March 23, 2017, KU amended its answer to the Second Amended Complaint to add the affirmative defense of res judicata, which is the subject of KU's present motion to dismiss.[1]

         II. Res Judicata

         When a court makes a judgment, the preclusive effect of that judgment is defined by both claim preclusion and issue preclusion, collectively known as “res judicata.” Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008). Claim preclusion precludes parties to a lawsuit from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in prior actions. Haynes v. Kansas, 261 F. App'x 87, 89 (10th Cir. 2008).[2] The purpose of res judicata is to protect parties and the court from multiple lawsuits, minimizing inconsistent decisions, and conserving judicial resources. Id. Claim preclusion is an affirmative defense, and KU bears the burden to plead and prove this defense. Pelt v. Utah, 539 F.3d 1271, 1283 (10th Cir. 2008).

         “In determining whether res judicata applies, a federal court gives the state court judgment the same effect that it would be given by the state where the judgment was handed down.” Cubie v. Bryan Career Coll., Inc., 244 F.Supp.2d 1191, 1199-200 (D. Kan. 2003). Both the Tenth Circuit and Kansas require satisfaction of three elements for dismissal to be proper: “(1) a final judgment on the merits in an earlier action; (2) identity of parties or privies in the two suits; and (3) identity of the cause of action in both suits.” Pelt, 539 F.3d at 1281 (quoting MACTEC Inc. v. Gorelick, 427 F.3d 821, 831 (10th Cir. 2005); Cubie, 244 F.Supp.2d at 1199. Within these elements, “Kansas considers whether the parties were fully heard, whether the decision was supported by a reasoned opinion and whether the decision was subject to or reviewed on appeal.” Cubie, 244 F.Supp.2d at 1199-200.

         It is undisputed that Tackett's Title IX lawsuit contains the same parties as the KCPA lawsuit. It is also undisputed that Judge Huff's decision was a final judgment.[3]However, the parties disagree whether Judge Huff's dismissal of the KCPA lawsuit for lack of standing was a decision on the merits.

         III. Standing

         “[P]arties in a judicial action must have standing as part of the Kansas case-or-controversy requirement imposed by the judicial power clause of Article 3, § 1 of the Kansas Constitution.” Sierra Club v. Moser, 298 Kan. 22, 29, 310 P.3d 360, 367 (2013) (citing State ex rel. Morrison v. Sebelius, 285 Kan. 875, 895-96, 179 P.3d 366, 382-83 (2008)). Consequently, “standing is a component of subject matter jurisdiction . . . .” Id. (citing Cochran v. Kan. Dept. of Agric., 291 Kan. 898, 903, 249 P.3d 434, 440 (2011)). A plaintiff must also have statutory standing under the applicable statute governing the cause of action. See, e.g., Sierra Club, 298 Kan. at 29, 310 P.3d at 367 (“The parties agree that a multilevel analysis-(1) statutory standing and (2) common-law or ...

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