July 13, 2018

The doctrine of collateral estoppel bars the relitigation of a legal or factual issue that was previously decided


The doctrine of collateral estoppel bars the relitigation of a legal or factual issue that was previously decided
Washington v NYC Department of Education, USCA, 2nd Circuit, 17-3776-cv

In Grieve v Tamerin, 269 F.3d 149, the Circuit Court of Appeals said that the doctrine of collateral estoppel, also termed issue preclusion, bars re-litigation of a legal or factual issue that was previously decided where:

(1) the issues in both proceedings are identical,

(2) the issue in the prior proceeding was actually litigated and actually 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, the opinion continues, “New York courts will give administrative determinations preclusive effect if made in a quasijudicial capacity and with a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue,” citing Burkybile v. Bd. of Educ. of Hastings-On-Hudson Union Free Sch. Dist., 411 F.3d 306.

In this action Janet Washington [Plaintiff] asserted that §3020-a hearings do not result in the sort of final judgment that can give rise to collateral estoppel in federal court. The Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, explaining that "it is well-settled that a “[S]ection 3020-a hearing is an administrative adjudication that must be given preclusive effect” when the elements of collateral estoppel are satisfied."

The Circuit Court ruled that Plaintiff's §3020-a hearing satisfies the elements of collateral estoppel and has preclusive effect as the issue of alleged unlawful discrimination was actually litigated and decided, and the arguments raised in the §3020-a hearing were identical to those briefed for the discrimination claim on appeal. Further, said the court,  Plaintiff acknowledges that the hearing officer "ruled decisively and specifically on whether [Plaintiff] suffered disability discrimination after considering the arguments from each side," concluding that Plaintiff's “evidence of actual animus is weak” and that “just cause exists for the termination of [Plaintiff’s] employment”.

In the words of the court, "[t]he Section 3020-a hearing also afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of discrimination. Plaintiff was permitted to request the production of material, call and cross-examine witnesses, and present relevant evidence...." The court acknowledged that Plaintiff had challenged certain of the arbitrator’s evidentiary decisions, but opined that "the proceeding is not rendered unfair or incomplete because some evidentiary rulings were unfavorable. "

Holding that the district court correctly concluded that the Plaintiff’s discrimination claims were collaterally estopped by the factual findings of her §3020-a hearing, the Circuit Court affirmed the lower court's ruling.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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