Unpublished Disposition, 883 F.2d 1025 (9th Cir. 1989)

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US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 883 F.2d 1025 (9th Cir. 1989)

No. 88-1907.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Before WIGGINS and KOZINSKI, Circuit Judges, and JUSTIN L. QUACKENBUSH** , District Judge.


Bruce Wester timely appeals the dismissal of his complaint in which he sought a declaratory judgment that the Maricopa County Superior Court ("defendant") had violated federal law by impermissibly altering his veteran's administration benefits in a decree of marriage dissolution. Shortly after filing his complaint the defendant brought a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) on the ground that Mr. Wester's suit was barred by the doctrine of res judicata or, alternatively, by the eleventh amendment. The defendant reasoned that the doctrine of res judicata applied because Mr. Wester could have asserted his federal law claim both at the time of the marriage dissolution proceeding and in a previous suit brought in federal court in which Mr. Wester had sought monetary and injunctive relief for civil rights violations allegedly associated with the same decree. The district court ruled that Mr. Wester's action was barred because of the res judicata effect of the suit previously filed in federal court. Mr. Wester argues that this decision was in error. We have jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1982), and we affirm.

We review de novo the district court's dismissal of Mr. Wester's complaint. Fort Vancouver Plywood Co. v. United States, 747 F.2d 547, 552 (9th Cir. 1984). The doctrine of res judicata, or specifically, claim preclusion, "bars litigation of all matters which could have been raised in support of an action previously litigated." Sidney v. Zah, 718 F.2d 1453, 1458 (9th Cir. 1983). The doctrine applies if three circumstances are met: First, the two proceedings must have involved the same parties or their privies; second, the previous action must have concluded in a valid final judgment rendered on the merits; and third, the matters presented in the second proceeding were, or might have been, litigated in the previous action. See Hooker v. Klein, 573 F.2d 1360, 1367 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 932 (1978). Each of these requirements are met with respect to the action filed previously in federal court.

That action was brought by Mr. Wester against the defendant. Obviously the same parties were involved in both proceedings. Among the bases for dismissing the previous action was the complaint's failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. For purposes of claim preclusion the dismissal of the prior action on this ground operates as a final judgment on the merits. See Restatement (Second) of Judgments Sec. 19 comment d (1982). And finally, in the prior action Mr. Wester sought monetary and injunctive relief on the ground that the decree of marriage dissolution violated his civil rights. Here he seeks a declaration that the decree violates a federal law creating certain benefits for veterans. The rule against "splitting" causes of action precludes Mr. Wester from asserting separate claims that arise out of the same "transactional nucleus of facts." Sidney, 718 F.2d at 1458. Accordingly, the district court properly ruled that Mr. Wester's action was barred by the doctrine of res judicata.



The panel finds this case appropriate for submission without argument pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 34(a) and 9th Cir.R. 34-4


Hon. Justin L. Quackenbush, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Washington, sitting by designation


This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3