7th Circuit agrees Fortville water suit should be barred

May 30, 2018

A 14th Amendment complaint challenging the procedure Fortville follows when disconnecting a resident’s water service will not proceed after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the issue raised in the complaint has already been resolved through previous litigation.

Bobbi Kilburn-Winnie and Michelle Allen-Gregory v. Town of Fortville, et al., 17-2498, began in July 2014, when Michelle Allen-Gregory filed a class action complaint alleging the Town of Fortville, Fortville Waterworks and Fortville Utilities violated the class members’ 14th Amendment procedural due process rights by terminating their water service without a hearing. The parties entered into a settlement agreement in September 2015, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana subsequently dismissed as moot two pending motions for preliminary injunction filed against Fortville. The second motion challenged the town’s new hearing process for disconnecting water service, which was implemented in November 2014.

But then in November 2015, Bobbi Kilburn-Winnie, one of the original class members, filed another suit against Fortville, alleging that her water service was disconnected after she failed to pay her bill on time in March and April 2015. Allen-Gregory was added to the complaint for the same reason, and both plaintiffs maintained that the hearing procedures implemented in November 2014 were so complicated that they continued to violate 14th Amendment rights.

The district court granted summary judgment to the town, finding res judicata barred the subsequent litigation. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling on Wednesday, with Judge William Bauer writing that the claim raised in the second motion for preliminary injunction was identical to the claim raised in the second complaint. Similarly, the parties to both the preliminary injunction and the second complaint were also identical, Bauer said.  

Further, even though the preliminary injunction motions were dismissed as moot, Bauer said they were moot only in the sense that they were resolved as part of the overall settlement agreement.

“As explained above (and as Appellants concede in their brief), the claim raised in this case is materially identical to the claim that provided the basis for their second motion for preliminary injunction,” Bauer said. “By its explicit terms, the settlement agreement fully resolved that claim. Therefore, the district court’s order dismissing the case with prejudice, which specifically incorporated the release language of the settlement agreement, represented a final judgment on the merits of that claim.”


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