Resident Can't Relitigate Injury Claim Against PHA
Facts: A resident sued the local PHA and HUD for a fractured ankle he suffered when he slipped on a sidewalk in front of the site. The resident alleged that his lease requires the PHA “to maintain the dwelling unit and the project in decent, safe, and sanitary condition,” and that the PHA and HUD breached this lease.
The resident claimed that the PHA’s employees didn’t remove trip hazards and clean slippery substances from the sidewalk, didn’t warn the public, and, specifically, didn’t warn the resident of the dangers. Further, he stated that the PHA and HUD “had actual knowledge and notice of the dangerous conditions,” which “had existed for a sufficient length of time” and were “exacerbated by the slippery substance prior to the incident.”
The PHA asked the federal district court to dismiss the case. The resident had previously sued the PHA in state court, and the PHA argued the resident was trying to litigate the issues again.
Ruling: A New Jersey district court dismissed the claims against the PHA.
Reasoning: The resident previously had litigated his claims against the PHA in state court, where his claims were dismissed with prejudice. “Res judicata” is the principle that a cause of action may not be relitigated once it has been judged on the merits. According to the court, this principle bars “repetitious suits involving the same cause of action once a court of competent jurisdiction has entered a final judgment on the merits.” It’s a rule founded on the general public policy that once a court has decided a contested issue, the litigation may not be renewed in another court. And although the resident was concurrently appealing the state court’s decision, under state law “the state trial court’s resolution of [the matter] is ‘final’ for preclusion purposes” even if an appeal is pending.
In addition, the court found that both lawsuits arose out of the same occurrence. The federal complaint had facts that were almost verbatim the allegations raised in the state court action. The state complaint alleged that resident was caused to slip and fall due to the PHA’s negligent maintenance of the sidewalk, which caused him to suffer a fractured ankle. And like the present complaint, the resident alleged that the PHA was negligent and breached the lease, which is allegedly governed by the Housing Act of 1937 and the public housing assessment system.
- Edwards v. HUD, January 2019