Tort - Res Judicata - Motion to Dismiss - Defamation.


Byline: North Carolina Lawyers Weekly Staff

Johnson v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (Lawyers Weekly No. 14-04-0731, 8 pp.) (Max O. Cogburn Jr., J.) 3:14-cv-00235; W.D.N.C.

Holding: The court dismissed the plaintiff's claim with prejudice because the defendants met the three requirements for the application of res judicata.

Plaintiff Sylvester Johnson filed this lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Randy Hargrove in his capacity as national media relations director for the corporate defendants, contending that he was defamed by defendant, Hargrove, because Hargrove made statements that were published in The Nation just weeks before this court tried plaintiff's previous action, Johnson v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, et al., 3:10-cv-659 (W.D.N.C. 2013) ("Johnson I"). It. The plaintiff initiated contact with The Nation, provided the magazine with a six-hour interview, and told the reporter that Wal-Mart discharged him from employment for unlawful reasons, including racial discrimination. The defendants then issued a statement through Hargrove claiming that Wal-Mart rejects Johnson's allegations. "We conducted a thorough investigation and have detailed information outlining his misconduct, and, based on the facts, he was terminated for violating company policy." Although the defendants made numerous claims for dismissal, the court dismisses the instant action based on the defendant's claim of res judicata. The court states under res judicata, "a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 354 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Federated Dep't Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981) (further citations omitted)).

The defendants must show that three requirements are met for the application of res judicata: "(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit; (2) an identity of the cause of action in both the earlier and the later suit; and (3) an identity of parties or their privies in the two suits." Id. at 354-55 (citing Nash Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Biltmore Co., 640 F.2d 484, 486 (4th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 878 (1981)).

First, the court has considered whether there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior case. In the prior case, examination of the pleadings reveals that there was a final judgment on the merits between these...

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