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Monday, October 18, 2010

Doctrine of collateral estoppel may bar making of new findings of fact in an administrative hearing

Doctrine of collateral estoppel may bar making of new findings of fact in an administrative hearing
Foster v Commissioner of Labor, 262 AD2d 899

The Carthage Central School District dismissed Sharon Foster after a Section 75 disciplinary hearing officer found her guilty of misconduct in the operation of her school bus. The hearing officer found that Foster had backed up her school bus on a state highway on numerous occasions, although she knew that such a maneuver was unsafe.

Following her dismissal, Foster was denied unemployment insurance benefits on the grounds that she was terminated from her position for “disqualifying misconduct.”

After a number of procedural steps had been completed, an Unemployment Insurance Administrative Law Judge concluded that he was bound by the factual findings of the Section 75 proceeding and held that Foster’s action constituted disqualifying misconduct. The Appellate Division agreed, sustaining the Unemployment Insurance Board’s determination.

The Appellate Division also rejected Foster’s claim that she did not get a fair hearing before the Unemployment Insurance Board’s ALJ because she was not permitted to present a witness who was available to testify. The Appellate Division said that the witness’s testimony was irrelevant once the ALJ concluded that the underlying facts had been established by the final determination in the Section 75 proceeding.

According to the ruling, Foster, who was represented by counsel in the Section 75 disciplinary proceeding, had a full and fair opportunity to litigate all the factual issues concerning the charges of misconduct.

The court said that the factual findings made in during the Section 75 hearing were entitled to be given a collateral estoppel effect and thus Foster was “precluded from relitigating the factual issues” in the course of her unemployment insurance hearing.

In a parallel type of situation, if an employee is found guilty in a court of law of a crime such as stealing, and disciplinary charges are filed related to that same incident of theft, there is no lawful way for an administrative disciplinary hearing officer to find the employee not guilty of stealing. This was the holding in Kelly v. Levin, 440 NY2d 424, a case that challenged the acquittal an employee in an administrative disciplinary action earlier found guilty of a criminal act involving the same allegations.
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