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This award recognizes exemplary employees of New York State serving in the Executive Branch.

Nominations must be submitted no later than December 15, 2017 and may be completed online.

For more information about the Empire Star Public Service Award, visit www.ny.gov/EmpireStarPublicService.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Applying the Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel


Applying the Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel
Clifford v County of Rockland, 2016 NY Slip Op 05112, Appellate Division, Second Department

The doctrine of collateral estoppel bars a party from relitigating an issue clearly raised in an action or proceeding and decided against that party in a subsequent action or proceeding regardless of whether or not the tribunals or causes of action are the same.

This doctrine was applied in litigation brought by Deirdre A. Clifford in a New York State court seeking to recover damages for an alleged breach of contract and discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of New York’s Executive Law §296, the State's Human Rights Law.

Clifford, an employee of County of Rockland, commenced this action against the County in Supreme Court. Rockland, however, moved to dismiss Clifford’s complaint as barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, citing the dismissal of her claims against it in an earlier federal action she had brought in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.*

Clifford, on the other hand, claimed that her State action should go forward because the Federal District Court had declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her State law claims.

Supreme Court granted the County's motion to dismiss Clifford’s petition, which ruling was affirmed by the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division explained that the doctrine of collateral estoppel comes into play when four conditions are met:

(1) The issues in both proceedings are identical;

(2) The issues in the prior proceeding were actually litigated and decided;

(3) There was a full and fair opportunity to litigate in the prior proceeding: and

(4) The issue previously litigated was necessary to support a valid and final judgment on the merits.

Further, said the Appellate Division, the party attempting to invoke the doctrine has the burden of demonstrating the identity of the issues, while the party seeking to avoid the court’s application of the doctrine must establish the lack of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the earlier proceeding. Stated another way, the doctrine will be applied where the initial tribunal, having jurisdiction, declined to exercise its jurisdiction over a plaintiff's claims but decided issues identical to those raised by the plaintiff in his or her subsequent action before another tribunal.

Here, said the Appellate Division, Clifford’s breach of contract claim in her State action alleged that certain terms of a disciplinary action settlement agreement disposing of certain disciplinary charges filed against her were violated. However, said the court, those allegations which she now raised in her State action were considered and rejected in the federal action.

With respect to Clifford’s claims under New York State’s Human Rights Law [NYSHRL], the Appellate Division said that "the standards for recovery under the New York Human Rights Law are in nearly all instances identical to Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] and other federal law" and the Federal District Court determined that Rockland County had “legitimate, independent, and nondiscriminatory reasons for its employment actions, and that those reasons were not a pretext for discrimination.”

This determination, said the court, was dispositive of Clifford’s NYSHRL claims.

Finding that [1] Rockland County had met its burden of demonstrating that the issues Clifford raised in her State action were identical to those decided against her in the federal action and [2] Clifford failed to demonstrate that she did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate these issues in her federal action, the Appellate Division held that Supreme Court properly granted the County's motion to dismiss Clifford’s State complaint.

* Clifford v County of Rockland, 2012 WL 2866268, 2012 US Dist LEXIS 98783 [USDC SD NY, 10 CV 9679 (VB)], affirmed 528 Fed Appx 6 [2d Cir]).

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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