January 23, 2019

Applying the Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel


Applying the Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel
Roth v. County of Nassau, United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Index#18-966-cv, Summary order

Rulings by summary order do not have precedential effect.

Craig Roth appealed the federal district court's granting summary judgment dismissing his claims that Nassau County had subjected him to unlawful discrimination after finding that Roth was collaterally estopped from asserting his discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL).

The Second Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals said that it:

1. reviews a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo and that the judgment may be affirmed on any ground fairly supported by the record;

2. in reviewing a district court’s application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel de novo, the Second Circuit accepts "all factual findings of the district court unless clearly erroneous; and

3. under New York law, collateral estoppel a. “may be invoked to preclude a party from raising an issue (1) identical to an issue already decided (2) in a previous proceeding in which that party had a full and fair opportunity to litigate”; and b. “the issue that was raised previously must be decisive of the present action.”

Roth conceded that he is collaterally estopped from arguing that he could perform the “essential functions” of a police officer’s job but argued that he was not collaterally estopped from arguing that he could perform the essential functions of the job “with or without reasonable accommodation.” Roth claimed that the state court’s Article 78 order did not adequately address the issue of accommodation, and that he is not barred from demonstrating that he was able to perform the essential duties of the police officer job with or without such accommodation.*

The Second Circuit held that the District Court correctly concluded that Roth’s ADA and NYSHRL claims are precluded under the doctrine of collateral estoppel explaining that Roth’s complaint in this appeal seeks to relitigate issues that were fully and fairly decided during his Article 78 proceeding in New York Supreme Court as his Verified Petition before the New York Supreme Court specifically asserted that his disqualification violated Section 296(1)(a) of the NYSHRL and “may be actionable pursuant to the American’s [sic] with Disabilities Act as that Act protects individuals from employment discrimination based upon an actual or perceived disability.”

Roth's memorandum and reply memorandum in support of his Verified Petition filed with the State Supreme Court claimed to have “established a prima facie case of discrimination" that the County medically disqualified him for the position of police officer because of his medical disability.” In order to demonstrate a “disability” within the meaning of the NYSHRL, said the court, a plaintiff must show that he or she was able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. Nassau County's medical experts’ medical conclusions was that there was a significant risk that Roth could become mentally or physically incapacitated during bursts of severe exertion, including in pursuing suspects, using force, and rescuing individuals.

Considering the "particular nature of those functions" and Roth’s conceded failure to request any accommodation, the Circuit Court ruled that "absent a clear indication to the contrary the New York Supreme Court reasonably concluded that there was 'substantial evidence' to support a determination that it would have been impossible to provide any reasonable accommodation for those particular essential functions" of a police officer

In the words of the Second Circuit, "Roth’s discrimination claims fail because he is precluded under the doctrine of collateral estoppel from arguing that he was able to perform the essential functions of a police officer with or without a reasonable accommodation."

* Both the NYSHRL and the ADArequire a plaintiff to demonstrate as an element of his or her claim that he or she was able to perform the essential duties of his or her job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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