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Hartsoe v. State

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

June 29, 2017

JOHN HARTSOE, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff John Hartsoe moves for the entry of a default judgment against Defendants Sam and Barbara Marshall. For the reasons discussed, however, the Court finds Hartsoe's federal claims against the Marshalls are barred by the doctrine of res judicata and should be dismissed.

         I Background

         Plaintiff John Hartsoe, appearing pro se, commenced this action against private individuals, state and local governmental employees, and judicial officers for their alleged violations of his rights during the course of criminal proceedings instituted against him in Montana state court in 2008. He also alleges certain Defendants are liable for violations of his rights in relation to prior civil litigation matters stemming from marital dissolution proceedings between he and Defendant Donna Heisel.

         The majority of Hartsoe's claims allege specific Defendants, while acting under color of state law, violated the rights secured him by the United States Constitution. Thus, Hartsoe sufficiently invokes the Court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. And to the extent any of Hartsoe's claims are asserted under the laws of the State of Montana, or jurisdiction of those claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) to the extent any such state law claims form part of the same case or controversy as that of the federal claims over which the Court has jurisdiction.

         This civil action constitutes yet another installment in a successive series of lawsuits Hartsoe has filed against many of the same Defendants in state and federal courts for the identical conduct relative to the same prior civil and criminal proceedings against Hartsoe. Therefore, numerous Defendants have successfully moved for the dismissal of Hartsoe's claims advanced against them in this action based on the doctrine of res judicata or claim preclusion.

         The claim's Hartsoe advance against Sam and Barbara Marshall arise from their alleged conduct in preparing a transcript in their capacity as court reported of a hearing in a prior civil action between Hartsoe and Defendant Donna Heisel. The referenced prior civil action was prosecuted in the Montana Twentieth Judicial District Court, Lake County, Montana, and is identified as Heisel v. Hartsoe, , Cause No. DV-10-353 (Heisel case). On August 24, 2011, a summary judgment hearing was conducted in the Heisel case, and Sam and Barbara Marshall were the court reporters responsible for preparing a transcript of the hearing. Hartsoe contends the Marshalls did not prepare a true and correct transcript of everything that transpired during the August 24, 2011 hearing. Specifically, he alleges the transcript the Marshalls prepared inserted two "pauses" in the transcript of the hearing thereby omitting and allegedly covering up alleged illegal conduct committed by the presiding judge at the hearing. Hartsoe asserts that during the hearing his sister, Lilie Morris, asked the presiding judge where Hartsoe was because Hartsoe was not present at the hearing. The presiding judge allegedly responded by informing Morris that Hartsoe did not need to be at the hearing. Hartsoe complains that the Marshalls omitted from the transcript that conversation between Morris and the presiding judge. Therefore, Hartsoe alleges the Marshalls are liable to him for violations of various federal statutory and constitutional provisions, and for violations of Montana law, based on their conduct in allegedly altering the transcript. (See Doc. 1-6.)

         The Court finds that Hartsoe presented the exact factual allegations against the Marshalls in a prior federal action which Hartsoe commenced in this Court, identified as Hartsoe v. Sam and Barbara Marshall, Cause No. CV 14-225-M-DLC (D. Mont. September 16, 2014) (hereinafter referred to as "Marshall F). In Marshall I Hartsoe alleged that the Marshalls omitted from the transcript of the summary judgment hearing the exact same conversation his sister, Lilie Morris, had with the same presiding judge regarding Hartsoe's absence from the hearing. Morris's affidavit filed in support of the complaint in Marshall I is the identical affidavit filed in support of Hartsoe's claims against the Marshalls in this case. (Compare Marshall I, Doc. 2-1 at 2 of 2, with Doc. 1-6 at 5 of 5 filed in this case.) In Marshall I Hartsoe alleged the Marshalls' conduct in omitting the discussion between Morris and the presiding judge from the transcript violated his rights under both federal law and Montana law.

         In Marshall I, the Court reviewed the merits of Hartsoe's allegations and legal claims against the Marshalls. The Court found that Hartsoe's federal claims under both the Freedom of Information Act at 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), and criminal statutes at 18 U.S.C. §§ 1001, 1017 and 1018 all failed to state a legal claim upon which relief could be granted by the Court. Therefore, by Order entered December 1, 2014, the Court dismissed Hartsoe's federal claims in Marshall I for failure to state a claim for relief, and it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Hartsoe's claims advanced under Montana law. (Marshall I, Doc. 6.) Judgment was entered against Hartsoe on December 1, 2014, and his complaint was dismissed.

         II. Discussion

         Because Hartsoe is proceeding pro se the Court must construe his pleading liberally, and the pleading is held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]" Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). See also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). Nonetheless, the Court concludes Hartsoe's action against the Marshalls is barred by res judicata.

         A. Hartsoe's Federal Claims

         Although a federal court must be cautious in raising a preclusion bar sua sponte, it is appropriate to do so in special circumstances. Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392, 412(2000).

[I]f a court is on notice that it has previously decided the issue presented, the court may dismiss the action sua sponte, even though the defense has not been raised. This result is fully consistent with the policies underlying res judicata: it is not based solely on the defendant's interest in avoiding the burdens of twice ...

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