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June 16, 2014

Motion to dismiss a cause of action based on a defense of collateral estoppel and res judicata rejected


Motion to dismiss a cause of action based on a defense of collateral estoppel and res judicata rejected
2014 NY Slip Op 02999, Appellate Division, Third Department

A former teacher [Teacher] challenged a decision by the Board of Education [Board] reinstating another former teacher whose name was on the preferred list ahead of Teacher to fill a vacant teaching position.

Teacher complained that the Board had improperly calculated her seniority to her detriment with respect the placement of her name on the preferred list. The Board, however, moved to dismiss the proceeding on grounds, among other reasons, collateral estoppel and res judicata, contending that the dismissal of a prior proceeding challenging the earlier reinstatement of a different former teacher rather than Teacher to fill another vacant position barred the instant proceeding.

The earlier proceeding had been dismissed based on, among other things, Teacher's failure to commence the proceeding within four months of the determination to recall the other teacher. Supreme Court granted the Board's motion to dismiss Teacher’s instant action on collateral estoppel grounds and Teacher appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling, explaining that in order for collateral estoppel to apply, there must be an identity of a decisive issue between the present and prior proceedings which was necessarily decided in the prior proceeding, and the party who will be estopped must have been afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior proceeding.

Here, however, although Teacher raised an issue identical to the one she had raised in her earlier action, -- was she is entitled to more seniority credit than the Board gave her -- that issue has never been decided on the merits as it had been dismissed on procedural ground, having been untimely filed.

Citing Town of Oyster Bay v Commander Oil Corp., 96 NY2d 566, the Appellate Division ruled that [b]ecause the issue of whether [Teacher] is entitled to more seniority has not been decided, it is not barred by collateral estoppel and remanded the matter to Supreme Court for further proceedings “not inconsistent with" its ruling.

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