Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals Fifth District, Iron
County The Honorable Judge Marvin D. Bagley No. 150500081
B. Ayres, Daniel Baczynski, Draper, for petitioner
M. Hoagland, Jesse C. Trentadue, Salt Lake City, for
Justice Pearce authored the opinion of the Court in which
Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice
Himonas, and Justice Petersen joined.
Haylee Cheek seeks to bring claims in state court against the
Iron County attorney, despite having previously sued him in
federal court, where her claims were dismissed with
prejudice. The state district court dismissed Cheek's
claims, concluding that res judicata principles barred her
from reasserting them. Cheek argued to the court of appeals
that the prior federal judgment was not "on the
merits" and should have no preclusive effect. The court
of appeals concluded otherwise. We agree and affirm.
"On appeal from a district court's decision granting
a motion to dismiss, we view the facts pled in the complaint
and all reasonable inferences from them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff." Scott v. Universal
Sales, Inc., 2015 UT 64, ¶ 4, 356 P.3d 1172. We
recite the facts accordingly, but not with great depth or
detail; the legal issue on appeal here is not highly
fact-driven. Additional background regarding the history of
this proceeding can be found in the court of appeals opinion.
See Cheek v. Iron Cty., 2018 UT App 116,
¶¶ 2-7, 427 P.3d 522.
Cheek filed suit in federal district court alleging federal
constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and
state constitutional violations based on article I, section
9, of the Utah Constitution. She asserted her claims against
several defendants, including Iron County and Iron County
Attorney Scott Garrett. Cheek sued Garrett as well as the
other individual defendants in their official capacities.
Garrett moved to dismiss the claims against him under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
The federal court dismissed the claims, reasoning that
"[a]n official-capacity suit is another way of pleading
an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.
What's more, a person sued in his official capacity has
no stake, as an individual, in the outcome of the
litigation." (Citations omitted.) (Internal quotation
marks omitted.) The district court's order stated that
the claims were dismissed with prejudice, and the order had
the effect of freeing Garrett from the federal litigation.
The federal court subsequently dismissed Cheek's
remaining claims-the federal claims with prejudice and the
state-law claims without prejudice. Cheek then refiled her
suit in state court, alleging state constitutional violations
against, among others, Garrett. Garrett again moved to
dismiss. This time, he pointed to the federal court order
dismissing the claims against him. And asserted that the
order was a final judgment on the merits that barred Cheek
from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised
in the federal action. The district court agreed and
dismissed with prejudice, concluding that "[Cheek's]
claims against [Garrett] are barred by res judicata."
Cheek appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed.
Cheek, 2018 UT App 116, ¶¶ 16-19. The
court of appeals noted that "[t]he district court's
decision rested on the claim preclusion branch" of the
res judicata doctrine. Id. ¶ 16. Cheek had not
challenged the "first two prongs of the claim-preclusion
test," which are that "both cases must involve the
same parties or their privies," and "the claim that
is alleged to be barred must have been presented in the first
suit or be one that could and should have been raised in the
first action." Id. ¶¶ 16-17 (citation
omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The court of appeals then addressed Cheek's sole
assertion that, under the third prong of the res judicata
analysis, the order dismissing the claims against Garrett was
not a final judgment on the merits. Id. ¶¶
17-19. The court of appeals turned to our decision in
Mack v. Utah State Department of Commerce, 2009 UT
47, 221 P.3d 194, which held that a "district court
action, which was resolved under Utah Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), resulted in a final judgment on the merits."
Id. ¶ 29. The court of appeals then reasoned
that "even though it does not involve the usual
hallmarks of a resolution on the merits, a successful motion
to dismiss for failure to state a claim results in a final
judgment on the merits." Cheek, 2018 UT App
116, ¶ 19. And given the limited briefing and record