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Lee v. City of Peoria

decided: August 6, 1982.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Peoria Division. No. 81-1082 -- Robert D. Morgan, Judge.

Cummings, Chief Judge, Davis, Associate Judge,*fn* and Pell, Circuit Judge.

Author: Pell

PELL, Circuit Judge.

In this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985 (1976), the appellant Robert B. Lee claims that the Peoria Police Department and the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners (Board) discriminated against, and eventually discharged, him from the police department on the basis of race. In response to the defendants' motions, the district court apparently dismissed the suit on grounds of res judicata and collateral estoppel, because it found the issue of whether Lee's discharge was racially motivated to have been determined against him in a state dismissal proceeding before the Board, in a state court proceeding affirming the Board's decision, and in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determination of no reasonable cause for Lee's subsequent EEOC charge arising out of the same facts. Lee is appealing from the district court's dismissal of the suit on these grounds.

I. Factual Background

On March 16, 1979, dismissal proceedings were instituted pursuant to Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 24, § 10-2.1-17 (1977) against Lee, who was then an officer of the Peoria Police Department. On April 11, 1979, a hearing was held before the Board on the charge filed by the Superintendent of Police that Lee had willfully given false testimony before the Board in that he claimed to have been at home ill on May 22, 1978, when he had "in fact participated in a lengthy conversation with Alva Hall in front of Commissioner Hall's office."

The only record of the hearing in the record before this court is the Board's "Findings and Decision" (Board's Decision) dated June 8, 1979. The Board's Decision indicates that Lee's only defense to the charge was that he was in fact home in bed on the date in question and that Commissioner Hall was confused about the date of their meeting. In the course of his testimony, Lee remarked that "he had begun some time previously keeping records of significant meetings as a result of his harassment within the police department." There is nothing in the record which suggests that racial discrimination was an issue in the hearing. The Board determined that Lee had given false testimony to the Board and ruled that he was to be discharged immediately.

Pursuant to Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 110, § 264 and Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 24, § 10-2.1-17 (1977), Lee filed a complaint for administrative review of the Board's Decision in the Illinois Circuit Court of Peoria County. In his complaint, Lee claimed inter alia that his discharge was the result of racial discrimination on the part of the Board as well as the city and that it otherwise was in violation of due process. In a brief order dated May 9, 1980, the court found simply that "the decision of the Defendant Board is sustained by the greater weight of the evidence and is not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence." There is no indication in the record that the court heard any new or additional evidence in evaluating Lee's claims. No further appeal was taken by Lee from the decision.

On February 20, 1980, Lee filed a charge of racial discrimination with the EEOC against the city of Peoria and the Board pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (1976). On March 3, 1980, the district director issued a determination that there was no reasonable cause to believe that the allegations of the charge were true. On February 20, 1980, Lee was issued his "Notice of Right-to-Sue" under Title VII. Lee failed to file a Title VII suit within the prescribed statutory time frame.

On June 11, 1980, however, Lee filed this civil rights suit in district court. The defendants moved to dismiss, in part on grounds of res judicata and collateral estoppel. After a hearing on the motion, the district court issued an order dismissing the suit:

Plaintiff points out that this civil rights complaint is a separate and distinct cause of action from both the administrative review proceeding and the Title VII complaint to EEOC, and that is true but it is equally clear that the single issue of fact, i.e., whether plaintiff's discharge was racially motivated is common to all three proceedings. Plaintiff allowed both prior determinations against him, after full due process of law, to become final, and now wishes to have the identical factual dispute, with the same opposition, tried over again. That is clearly barred by well-established principles of res judicata or collateral estoppel.*fn1

II. The Applicability of Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel to Civil Rights Actions in Federal Court Subsequent to State Proceedings

Ordinarily a state court judgment commands the same res judicata effect in federal court that it would have had in the state court that entered it.*fn2 Harl v. City of La Salle, 679 F.2d 123, 125 (7th Cir. 1982); 18 WRIGHT, MILLER & COOPER, FEDERAL PRACTICE and PROCEDURE § 4469, at 659-60 (1981). In Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 66 L. Ed. 2d 308, 101 S. Ct. 411 (1981), the Supreme Court established that issues resolved in state court proceedings may constitute collateral estoppel to issues subsequently raised in section 1983 proceedings in federal courts. The holding of Allen applies with equal validity to proceedings pursuant to sections 1981 and 1985. Gear v. City of Des Moines, 514 F. Supp. 1218, 1224 (S.D. Iowa 1981). The Supreme Court has also made it clear that issues of fact determined by an administrative agency acting in a judicial capacity may collaterally estop future relitigation of administratively determined issues. United States v. Utah Construction Co., 384 U.S. 394, 422, 86 S. Ct. 1545, 16 L. Ed. 2d 642 (1966); see also 23A ILLINOIS LAW and PRACTICE § 291, at 82 (1979).

The crucial distinction between the preclusive effect of res judicata and collateral estoppel is that res judicata bars not only those issues which were actually decided in the prior action but also any issues which could have been raised. Whitley v. Seibel, 676 F.2d 245, 248 (7th Cir. 1982). In Allen, the Supreme Court expressly reserved decision on whether res judicata precludes relitigation in a section 1983 suit of issues which the plaintiff could have raised but did not raise in an earlier state court suit. 449 U.S. at 97 n.10. Although reserving decision, the Allen Court explicitly approved of federal ...

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