The City of Raleigh, plaintiff herein, sued defendant, College Campus Apartments, Inc., claiming that defendant violated the Raleigh City Code by replacing the siding on a house in an historic district with aluminum siding. Plaintiff claimed that the house, located on Cutler Street, was subject to certain restrictions which prevented changes from being made on the house's exterior without prior approval by the Historic Properties Commission. Plaintiff alleged that defendant failed to obtain a "certificate of appropriateness" from the Commission before it replaced the original siding. Plaintiff sought an injunction and an order forcing defendant to remove the aluminum siding and to restore the original siding.
Prior to filing the present suit, plaintiff filed two complaints involving the same claim as the claim in the present action. In the first suit, filed 11 March 1987, plaintiff sued Jeffrey Pinto, the present defendant's sole shareholder and registered agent. Plaintiff took a voluntary dismissal without prejudice on 24 September 1987 after discovering that the Cutler Street house was owned by the defendant corporation and not by Mr. Pinto. At the time the dismissal was taken Mr. Pinto had not yet answered, having filed only a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. On 27 October 1987, plaintiff refiled the suit against the defendant corporation, merely substituting the corporation for Mr. Pinto as defendant. The summons issued in the second case was of the type used in condemnation actions under N.C. Gen.Stat. § 40A-41 (1984). The summons informed defendant that it had 120 days, rather than 30 days, in which to answer. After discovering that the wrong type of summons was issued, plaintiff filed another voluntary dismissal without prejudice on 21 January 1988. On 5 January 1988, 16 days before dismissing the second action, plaintiff filed the present action against the defendant corporation.
After filing an answer on 2 February 1988, defendant moved for summary judgment on 18 February 1988. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff appealed.
The issue raised by plaintiff's appeal is whether plaintiff's second voluntary dismissal of the claim constituted an adjudication on the merits under N.C.Gen.Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 41(a)(1), thus barring plaintiff from bringing the third action on this claim. We hold that it does and affirm summary judgment for defendant.
Rule 41(a)(1) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure provides:
N.C.Gen.Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 41(a)(1) (1988) (emphasis supplied). The portion of Rule 41(a)(1) quoted above is identical to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1). See 9 C. Wright and A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure 147 (1971), (hereinafter cited as Wright and Miller) and W. Shuford, N.C. Civil Practice and Procedure § 41-1 at 320-21 (2d ed.1981) (hereinafter cited as Shuford). "This `two dismissal' rule, as it is
Nevertheless, plaintiff would have us read into the statute a requirement that the two dismissal rule does not apply unless the defendants were the same or in privity in both actions. Following that argument, plaintiff contends the statute should not apply because the dismissals were not taken against the same defendant. In the first suit Jeffrey Pinto was the sole defendant. In the second suit his corporation, College Campus Apartments, Inc., was the named defendant.
There is some precedent in the federal courts for plaintiff's argument. See, e.g., Friedman v. Washburn Co., 145 F.2d 715 (7th Cir.1944). Moreover, Professors Wright and Miller, noted authorities on civil procedure, have said that,
Wright and Miller, § 2368 at 190. In the Robertshaw case referred to above, plaintiff filed suit against a New York corporation in federal district court in New York. Plaintiff discovered that the patent in dispute was owned by a Maryland corporation. Plaintiff dismissed the New York suit and filed suit in Maryland against the Maryland corporation. The Maryland and New York corporations merged. The New York corporation survived and owned rights in the patent. Plaintiff then dismissed the suit filed in Maryland against the Maryland corporation and refiled against the New York corporation on the same claim. Robertshaw-Fulton Controls Co. v. Noma Electric Corp., 10 F.R.D. 32, 33-34 (E.D.Md.1950). The court rejected plaintiff's argument that for the two dismissal rule to apply the defendants in both suits had to be the same. Id. at 35. The court reasoned:
Likewise, North Carolina's Rule 41(d) limits the awarding of costs to the defendant for previously dismissed suits to cases in which the defendant was the same in both actions. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule
Furthermore, even if we were to hold that both dismissals had to be against the same defendants or substantially the same defendants, although such a requirement is not demanded by statute or by the holding of this case, there is a close identity between Mr. Pinto and the defendant corporation.
In the first case, Jeffrey Pinto was named the sole defendant. In the second case, Mr. Pinto's wholly owned corporation, College Campus Apartments, Inc., the defendant herein, was the only defendant. Mr. Pinto is the corporation's only stockholder, and he is its registered agent. Mr. Pinto was served with the summons in all three cases. Therefore, there is a close identity between the defendants in both of the previously dismissed suits.
The purpose of the two dismissal rule— to prevent abuse and harassment by plaintiff securing numerous dismissals without prejudice—is advanced in this case. Because of the close identity between Mr. Pinto and the corporate defendant, Mr. Pinto has undoubtedly expended considerable time and money to defend three lawsuits by plaintiff on the same claim. See Crowe v. Blue Cross Hospital Service, Inc., 84 F.R.D. 623, 626 (E.D.Mo.1979).
Moreover, the rule's potential harshness is mitigated in this case because in the first case plaintiff could have amended its complaint and joined the defendant corporation as a party defendant. Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 15(a), plaintiff could have amended its complaint as a matter of right because Mr. Pinto had not yet filed a responsive pleading to the complaint when plaintiff took its voluntary dismissal. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 15(a) (1988). Mr. Pinto had filed only a Rule 12 motion, which is not a responsive pleading. Shuford, § 15-4 at 134. The defendant corporation should have been joined under Rule 19(a) as a necessary party in plaintiff's first suit. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 19(a) (1988); Shuford, § 19-3 at 173. Plaintiff could have amended its complaint instead of taking a dismissal.
In the second suit, in which the defendant corporation was properly named but the summons issued was improper, plaintiff could have amended the summons under Rule 4(i) "[a]t any time, before or after judgment ...." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 4(i) (1988) (emphasis added). Plaintiff argues that the summons was so defective that the action was not commenced. We disagree. The action was commenced when plaintiff filed its complaint. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 3 (1988). The summons issued was one intended for a condemnation action and indicated that defendant had 120 days in which to answer. Nevertheless, the summons was sufficient to confer jurisdiction. The summons gave Mr. Pinto notice, as the defendant's registered agent, that plaintiff had instituted an action in Wake County Superior Court, and that the defendant corporation had to file an answer in the clerk's office of the Wake County Superior Court within a specified—albeit wrong—time. Harris v. Maready, 311 N.C. 536, 541-42, 319 S.E.2d 912, 916 (1984).
For the foregoing reasons, we hold plaintiff's second voluntary dismissal operated as an adjudication on the merits, and summary judgment was properly granted to defendant. The trial court's order is
EAGLES, J., concurs.
GREENE, J., dissents.
GREENE, Judge, dissenting.
The majority construes Rule 41(a) to make the second dismissal without prejudice a final adjudication upon the merits, even though the defendants are not the same. I disagree. I believe the "two dismissal" rule applies only when the defendants
As the plaintiff's claim was against two different defendants, it was not the "same claim" as that term is used in Rule 41(a). To hold otherwise would bar a plaintiff's action against a defendant for breach of contract simply because plaintiff had previously entered "two dismissals" of a like claim against another defendant for breach of the same contract.
Additionally, the fact that Jeffrey Pinto was the only stockholder of College Campus Apartments, Inc., and its registered agent, is not, in my opinion, sufficient evidence that the parties are "substantially the same or in privity." Accordingly, I would hold the plaintiff's second voluntary dismissal did not operate as an adjudication on the merits and that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment for the defendant.