Applying the Doctrine of Res Judicata [claim preclusion] and, or, the Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel [issue preclusion] in federal actions alleging unlawful discrimination
Mohamed Abdelal v Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, City Of New York, USCA, 2nd Circuit, Docket #17-1166-cv
Mohamed Abdelal, a naturalized United States citizen who was born in Egypt and is Muslim, who served as a police officer with the New York Police Department [NYPD] from 2006 until he was terminated in 2013 after having been found guilty of misconduct "after notice and hearing."
1. The hearing officer found Abdelal guilty of nine charges, dismissed two charges, and recommended the imposition of a penalty of a "one-year dismissal probation" and forfeiture of 45 vacation days.
2. The Police Commissioner adopted the factual findings of the hearing officer but rejected the hearing officer's proposed penalty and, instead, offered Abdelal a "negotiated penalty" that would require Abdelal to immediately file for vested retirement.
Abdelal rejected the penalty proposed by the Commissioner and was terminated from his position.
Abdelal subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that he had been unlawfully discriminated against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment because of his (1) Egyptian national origin, (2) Arab ancestry, and (3) Muslim religion. Abdelal appealed the district court dismissed Abdelal's complaint, ruling that (1) Abdelal's disparate treatment claims based on his termination were ʺbarred by res judicataʺ; and (2) his hostile work environment claims were time-barred.
The Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the lower court's judgment, explaining:
1. To the extent the district court relied on the doctrine of res judicata [claim preclusion], which "bars an action if the plaintiff could have raised the claim in a prior proceeding," even a plaintiff failed to do so, the Circuit Court, citing Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, said the lower court's decision was in error because the doctrine of res judicata ʺgenerally does not operate to bar a §1983 suit following the resolution of an Article 78 proceeding, since the full measure of relief available in the former action is not available in the latter.ʺ
2. Abdelal's federal claims were not barred by collateral estoppel [issue preclusion] as the doctrine of issue preclusion only applies ʺ(1) the issue in question was actually and necessarily decided in a prior proceeding, and (2) the party against whom the doctrine is asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the first proceeding.ʺ
The Circuit Court held that the Police Department failed to meet its burden of showing that the identical issues had been decided in the Article 78 proceeding, noting that the district court explicitly pointed out that that Abdelal had not raised his race and religion claims of discrimination in the Article 78 proceeding nor did the Appellate Division, First Department, mention of any discrimination claim in its decision dismissing the Article 78 petition.
The fact that the First Department concluded that the administrative record contained ʺsubstantial evidence to support the finding that [Abdelal] engaged in conduct prejudicial to the good order, efficiency and discipline of the NYPD,ʺ does not mean that the court considered and rejected Abdelal's claims that he was subjected to harassment and disproportionate punishment for discriminatory reasons.
Accordingly, Circuit Court conclude that the district court erred in holding that Abdelal's discrimination claims are precluded by the Article 78 proceeding.
Finally, disagreeing with the district court finding that Abdelal's hostile work environment claims were untimely, the Circuit Court noted that "[t]he express cause of action for damages created by §1983 constitutes the exclusive federal remedy for violation of the rights guaranteed in §1981 by state governmental units." Whether construed as a stand-alone §1981 claim or a §1983 claim that vindicates the rights guaranteed in §1981, the Circuit Court opined that Abdelal's claim "is timely either way."
The Circuit Court then remand the case to the district court "to consider, in the first instance, the merits of the claims, as to which [it expressed] no view."
The decision is posted on the Internet at: