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August 25, 2017

The Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel bars relitigating an issue raised and decided by a judicial tribunal in a prior action or proceeding involving the same parties


The Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel bars relitigating an issue raised and decided by a judicial tribunal in a prior action or proceeding involving the same parties
2017 NY Slip Op 06264, Appellate Division, Second Department

In an action to recover damages for alleged unlawful discrimination, unlawful retaliation, and maintaining a hostile work environment in violation of Executive Law §296 [NYSHLR] and §8-107 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York [NYCHRL], Supreme Court determined that the plaintiff's claims under color of NYSHRL and NYCHRL were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

The plaintiff appealed the court's ruling, contending that the court erred in dismissing his claims brought under NYCHRL. The Appellate Division, citing Ryan v New York Tel. Co., 62 NY2d 494, sustained the lower court's decision, explaining that the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars a party from "relitigating in a subsequent action or proceeding an issue clearly raised in a prior action or proceeding and decided against that party or those in privity [to such party], whether or not the tribunals or causes of action are the same."

Noting that a  party seeking to invoke the doctrine of collateral estoppel has the burden to show the "identity of the issues," while the party trying to avoid application of the doctrine must establish "the lack of a full and fair opportunity to litigate," the Appellate Division explained that four conditions must be met to trigger application of the Doctrine:

(1) The issues in both proceedings must be identical;

(2) The issue in the prior proceeding must have been 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, in the event a federal court declined to exercise jurisdiction over a plaintiff's state law claims, collateral estoppel may still bar litigating those state claims in state court if the federal court decided issues identical to those raised in the plaintiff's state claims.

In plaintiff's earlier federal action, a federal District Court determined that the defendant-employer had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its employment actions, it was not motivated by retaliatory animus, its reasons were not a pretext for discrimination, and the plaintiff was not treated differently than other employees. The District Court's determinations in this regard were affirmed by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division found that "the determinations rendered by the federal courts are dispositive of the plaintiff's claims under NYSHRL and NYCHRL, even under the broader standard of NYCHRL" and concluded that Supreme Court properly determined that the plaintiff's claims under NYSHRL and NYCHRL were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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