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Patzer v. Board of Regents of University of Wisconsin System

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT


June 4, 1985

JOHN T. PATZER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM AND STATE DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 83 C 528- John C. Shabaz, Judge.

Author: Eschbach

Before: CUMMINGS, Chief Judge, ESCHBACH, Circuit Judge, and SWYGERT, Senior Circuit Judge.

ESCHBACH, Circuit Judge.

In this consolidated appeal of two orders of the district court we must decide whether an action for back pay under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), is barred by res judicata when the plaintiff earlier obtained administrative relief (not including back pay) which was affirmed on appeal to state court. We are also asked to decide whether plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees under Title VII for successfully prosecuting his discrimination claim in state proceedings. We hold that his action for back pay is not barred by res judicata but do not reach the issue of attorneys' fees, because the district court was without jurisdiction to enter an order.

In 1972 the plaintiff John T. Patzer, a white male, applied for a position as apprentice painter at the University of Wisconsin. His application was rejected on January 8, 1973, because he was not a woman or a member of any of six specified minority groups. The Director of the Bureau of Personnel had authorized the University to impose such a restriction, as he was permitted to do by a provision of the Wisconsin Administrative Code known as "Pers 27."

On January 11, 1973, Patzer filed simultaneous complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) and the Wisconsin Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (DILHR), charging that he had been discriminated against because of his sex and race. The Equal Rights Division of DILHR issued a finding of probable cause, and on February 22, 1974, a hearing examiner found in his favor. The DILHR Commissioners affirmed the hearing examiner's decision on October 31, 1974. The respondents were ordered to examine Patzer and hire him for the next available apprentice painter vacancy if his test score entitled him to be certified. He was examined and certified but he was not and never have been offered employment.*fn1

At the time Patzer filed his complaint, Wisconsin law did not authorize an award of back pay as a remedy for unlawful discrimination. Effective June 16, 1974, after the decision of the hearing examiner but before the affirmance by the Commissioners, Wisconsin law was amended to authorize an award of back pay.

The respondents sought review of the Commissioners' ruling in the state circuit court, and on May 17, 1976, the circuit court affirmed, holding that Pers 27 violated the Wisconsin constitution, as administrative action beyond the powers delegated by the legislature. Undaunted, the respondents appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which affirmed on the same grounds. State (Department of Administration) v. Department of Industry, labor and Human Relations, 77 Wis. 2d 126, 252 N.W.2d 353 (1977).

In June 1978 Patzer filed a complaint in state court alleging that he had not been offered a position in accordance with the DILHR decision and asking for $25,000 in damages for lost wages and fringe benefits and for expense incurred in finding other employment. The court dismissed the suit for want of personal jurisdiction on April 24, 1979, because the suit was against the state and Patzer had failed to comply with Wisconsin's notice of claim statute, which requires the claimant to serve written notice of the claim on the attorney general within 120 days (then 90 days) of the event causing the injury. Wis. Stat. ann. § 893.82 (West 1983). Patzer did not appeal.

Patzer now turned to the EEOC, where his claim had lain dormant. The EEOC's efforts at conciliation and settlement proved fruitless, and Patzer requested and received a right-to-sue letter in 1983. He then filed this action in district court, seeking back pay, restoration of employment, restoration of all fringe benefits, and compensatory and punitive damages of $100,000,*fn2 plus attorneys' fees and costs.

The district court dismissed the claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as time-barred. Treating the remaining Title VII claim, the court rejected the defense of laches, finding that although the ten-year delay was unreasonable, it was nevertheless excusable, and defendants had not shown prejudice. But on January 19, 1984, the court entered summary judgment for the defendants, holding that Patzer's Title VII claim was barred by res judicata as a result of the dismissal of his state court suit in 1979. Patzer v. Board of Regents, 577 F. Supp. 1553 (W.D. Wis. 1984). Patzer filed his notice of appeal on February 15, 1984, that appeal is No. 84-1267.

On February 3, 1984, Patzer filed a motion in the district court seeking attorneys' fees in accordance with New York Gaslight Club, Inc. v. Carey, 447 U.S. 54, 64 L. Ed. 2d 723, 100 S. Ct. 2024 (1980), for successfully prosecuting his state administrative claim. On March 8, 1984, the court denied the motion on the grounds that Patzer could have requested attorneys' fees in his state action; the dismissal of that action therefore precludes him from seeking attorneys' fees now. Patzer filed his notice of appeal from that order on March 13, 1984; that appeal if No. 84-1411. IIA. The Action for Back pay (No. 84-1267) 1. The Holding of the District Court

The district court based its holding on Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 72 L. Ed. 2d 262, 102 S. Ct. 1883 (1982), in which the Supreme Court held that Title VII did not repeal the requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1738 that federal courts afford the same full faith and credit to state court judgments that would apply in the state's own courts. The district court reasoned that because Patzer could have joined his Title VII claim to his state court action, the dismissal of that action would bar him under Wisconsin principles of res judicata from prosecuting his Title VII claim in state court now. Hence, the court concluded, Kremer and § 1738 bar him from prosecuting his Title VII claim in federal court also.

The flaw in the district court's reasoning lies in its assumption that the courts of Wisconsin would give preclusive effect to the dismissal of Patzer's action by the state court in 1979, so as to bar the subsequent litigation of a Title VII claim in state court. Under Wisconsin law only a final judgment on the merits has preclusive effect. Krueger v. Winters, 37 Wis. 2d 204, 211, 155 N.W.2d 1, 5 (1967). The 1979 dismissal was a final judgment, but it was not on the merits. Patzer's suit was dismissed for want of personal jurisdiction because he failed to comply with the notice of claim statute, a condition precedent to obtaining personal jurisdiction over state defendants.*fn3 Wisconsin law would classify this dismissal as an involuntary nonsuit, which does not have preclusive effect. Id. Accordingly, we must reject the reasoning of the district court.

This does not end our inquiry, however, because there was another state court judgment: the 1976 judgment affirming the administrative decision in favor of Patzer. Under Kremer and 28 U.S.C. § 1738, we must determine whether the courts of Wisconsin would treat the 1976 judgment as a bar to a later Title VII suit.*fn4 If they would, then so must the federal courts.

Under Wisconsin law of res judicata, a final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction is conclusive in all subsequent actions between the same parties as to all matters which were litigated or which might have been litigated in the former proceedings. DePratt v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., 113 Wis. 2d 306, 311, 334 N.W.2d 883, 885 (1983); Gohr v. Beranek, 266 Wis. 605, 609-10, 64 N.W.2d 246, 249 (1954). In order for the first action to bar the current action, there must be an identity of parties and identity of causes of action or claims in he two cases. DePratt, 113 Wis. 2d at 311, 334 N.W.2d at 885. Wisconsin has adopted the transactional view of claim or cause of action set forth in Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 24 comment a (1982). Id. at 311-12, 334 N.W.2d at 886. The claim is coterminous with the transaction, regardless of the number of substantive theories or variant forms of relief flowing from these theories; the transaction is the basis of the litigative unit or entity which may not be split. Id. at 311, 334 N.W.2d at 886 (quoting Restatement). A plaintiff's second claim is barred even though he or she is prepared in the second action to seek remedies or forms of relief not demanded in the first action. Id. at 312, 334 N.W.2d at 886 (quoting Restatement).

If a Wisconsin court applied these principles straightforwardly to a Title VII suit by Patzer, there is no doubt that the suit would be barred. It is clear that the Title VII claim arises out of the same "transaction" as the administrative complaint; they are therefore the same claim. The Title VII suit would simply be another theory of recovery, in search of additional remedies.

Patzer argues that his Title VII claim is not a matter that might have been litigated in the state court proceeding, because he could not have introduced it in the administrative proceeding or in the state court review; consequently, it is not barred. The fallacy in this argument is that the claim he makes in his Title VII suit is identical for purposes of res judicata to the claim he made in the administrative proceedings; that claim has therefore already been litigated. The "might have been litigated" provision comes into play only for claims or cause of action distinct from the one actually litigated.

Patzer tries to avoid this result by distinguishing his claim of liability his claim for back pay. He contends that only the former and not the latter was actually litigated. But the "claim of liability" is just his claim, the same in the administrative action and in the Title VII suit. His "claim for back pay" is not a claim at all, for purposes of res judicata; it is but a request for one form of relief. It is clear under Wisconsin law that one cannot relitigate the same claim in order to obtain additional relief. DePratt v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., 113 Wis. 2d 306, 311-12, 334 N.W.2d 883, 886 (1983).

Patzer also argues that because he won in the state proceedings, the federal court should give full faith and credit to the state cour judgment in his Title VII suit and on that basis enter summary judgment in his favor. He contends, in effect, that the state court ruling on the issue of liability collaterally estops the defendants to deny liability in the Title VII suit, but because the state court made no ruling as to back pay, that issue is properly before the federal court. It is true that if an issue is determined unfavorably to a party in an action that reaches final judgment on the merits, that party is bound by the prior determination in subsequent litigation between the same parties to which that issue is material. See, e.g., State ex rel. Flowers v. Department of Health and Social Services, 81 Wis. 2d 376, 387, 260 N.W.2d 727, 734 (1978). But subsequent litigation can arise only if it is not barred by res judicata. In this case, what Patzer calls the "issue of liability" is nothing but the question whether his claim of discrimination is meritorious. That question was answered in the affirmative by the state court, and that judgment bars Patzer from relitigating the same question in a second lawsuit. It does not avail for Patzer to argue that he does not want to relitigate that question but only to litigate the issue of back pay for the first time. The federal court cannot get to the issue of back pay without adjudicating his claim of liability, and res judicata bars the court from making that adjudication. It does not matter that Patzer does not seek adversary proceedings on the claim of liability; even the entry of summary judgment on the basis of a prior state court judgment would be an adjudication.

We conclude that under the Wisconsin law of res judicata, Patzer's Title VII suit would be barred by the 1976 judgment affirming the administrative decision in his favor.

We are persuaded that the courts of Wisconsin would recognize an exception to the general rule of res judicata on he peculiar facts of this case. Wisconsin law does not treat res judicata as an ironclad rule which must be implacably applied whenever its literal requirements are met, regardless of any countervailing considerations. See Wendland v. Wendland, 29 Wis. 2d 145, 157, 138 N.W.2d 185, 191-92 (1965) (making exception in child custody case); McCourt v. Algiers, 4 Wis. 2d 607, 611, 91 N.W.2d 194, 196 (1958) (doctrine of res judicata based on proposition that repeated litigation of identical issues is undesirable where not necessary to prevent unfairness). While cases admitting exceptions to the rule are rare, we believe that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin would not turn a deaf ear to argument that in a particular sort of case the policy reasons for allowing an exception override the policy reasons for applying the general rule.

Title VII embodies a deliberate policy of giving state agencies the first opportunity to resolve complaints of discrimination. An aggrieved person may not even file a charge with the EEOC until sixty days after proceedings had been commenced under state law (unless the proceedings are terminated earlier). 42 U.S.C. § 200e-5(c), see Love v. Pullman Co., 404 U.S. 522, 30 L. Ed. 2d 679, 92 S. Ct. 616 (1972). If a member of the EEOC files a charge, the commission may take no action on it without notifying appropriate state officials and, on their request, allowing them a reasonable time (at least sixty days) to act. 42 U.S.C. - 2000e-5(d).

Consistently with this policy of referral and deferral to state agencies, proceedings under Title VII have been characterized as supplementary to available state remedies for employment discrimination. New York Gaslight Club, Inc. v. Carey, 447 U.S. 54, 65, 64 L. Ed. 2d 723, 100 S. Ct. 2024 (1980); Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 48-49, 39 L. Ed. 2d 147, 94 S. Ct. 1011 (1974). Initial resort to state and local remedies is mandated, and recourse to the federal forums is appropriate only when the State does not provide prompt or complete relief.

New York Gaslight Club, 447 U.S. at 65 (emphasis added).Title VII explicitly leaves the States free, and indeed encourages them to exercise their regulatory power over discriminatory employment practices. Title VII merely provides a supplemental right to sue in federal court if satisfactory relief is not obtained in state forums.

Id. at 67 (emphasis added).If state proceedings result in an injunction in favor of the complainant, but no award of backpay because state law does not authorize it, the complainant may proceed in federal court to "supplement" the state remedy.

Id. at 68 (emphasis added).

Final adjudicative decisions of administrative agencies are often re judicata as the the claims decided. See, e.g., Senior Accountants, Analysts and Appraisers Ass'n v. City of Detroit, 399 Mich. 449, 249 N.W.2d 121, 124-25 (1976) (it is established law in Michigan that doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel apply to administrative determinations which a method of appeal is provided, and where it is clear that it was the legislative intention to make the determination final in the absence of an appeal).*fn5 We are convinced, however, that the courts of Wisconsin would not threat an unappealed final decision of DILHR in favor of the complainant as barring a subsequent Title VII suit.*fn6 While it is an unsettled question whether state courts have jurisdiction over Title VII actions, see supra, note 4, there is no doubt that state administrative agencies have no jurisdiction.*fn7 In general, res judicata does not operate to bar matters that were not raised before the administrative agency and over which it did not have jurisdiction. E.g., McKee v. County of Ramsey, 310 Minn. 192, 245 N.W.2d 460, 462 (1976).

If an unappealed state administrative decision on an employment discrimination claim were res judicata as to a Title VII action based on the same facts, then the function of Title VII as a supplement to state remedies would be frustrated. A Title VII action in state court could succeed only if it proceeded to final judgment before the state administrative agency rendered a final decision. Since the statute requires that the state agency be given a substantial head start, a Title VII judgment would be virtually impossible to obtain in state court. We are confident that the courts of Wisconsin would not apply its rules of res judicata so as to defeat the purpose of Title VII in this way.

In general, a judgment affirming an administrative decision is res judicata as to the claims adjudicated, no less than a judgment entered after a trial on the merits. Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 480 n.21, 72 L. Ed. 2d 262, 102 S. Ct. 1883 (1982). But to treat a judgment affirming a decision of DILHR in favor of the complainant as a bar to a Title VII action based on the same facts would frustrate the supplementary purpose of Title VII as surely as treating the administrative decision itself as a bar.*fn8 In addition, it would create the following anomaly: a complainant who prevailed before DILHR without suffering an appeal to state court would be entitled to seek supplementary Title VII remedies in state court, but one who prevailed before DILHR and prevailed again on appeal in state court could not. We think it would appear to the Wisconsin Supreme Court wholly arbitrary to treat the state court affirmance of an administrative decision favorable to the complainant as an absolute bar to his cause of action under Title VII, when a similarly situated complainant whose case was not submitted to state court review by the losing respondent is free to litigate his claim.

The doctrine of res judicata was developed judicially to prevent the oppression of defendants and the burdening of the courts with multiple lawsuits by the same plaintiff based on the same set of facts. These are important considerations. But we are convinced that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin would find them to be overridden in the narrow circumstances of this case. While even an adjudged wrongdoer has a right to eventual repose, it is national policy that Title VII remedies be available to supplement state remedies for employment discrimination. We do not believe that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin would deny effect to that policy because of the fortuity that the wrongdoer took an appeal and lost a second time.

We accordingly hold that under Wisconsin law the 1976 state court judgment in favor of Patzer does not bar Patzer from bringing a Title VII action for supplementary remedies in state court.*fn9 consequently, he is not barred from bringing such an action in federal court.

B. The Motion for Attorneys' Fees (No. 84-1411)

The timely filing of a notice of appeal of a final judgment divests the district court of jurisdiction over the case appealed. Lenard V. Argento, 699 F.2d 874 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 815, 78 L. Ed. 2d 84, 104 S. Ct. 69 (1983); United States v. Bastanipour, 697 F.2d 170, 173 (7th Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1091, 76 L. Ed. 2d 358, 103 S. Ct. 1790 (1983). There are exceptions for certain actions serving to preserve the status quo pending the appeal, United States v. El-O-Pathic Pharmacy, 192 F.2d 62, 79 (9th Cir. 1951), or to assist the court of appeals in its determination. United States v. Lafko, 520 F.2d 622, 627 (3d Cir. 1975). The rule does not operate when there is a purported appeal from a non-appealable order. Bastanipour, 697 F.2d at 173.

The district court's dismissal of Patzer's Title VII suit was a final judgment and therefore appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Patzer filed his notice of appeal within the allowed 30-day period. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1). The district court entered its order denying Patzer's motion for attorneys' fees after Patzer's timely filing of the notice of appeal. None of the exceptions to the general rule stated above applies. Therefore, the district court was without jurisdiction to enter its order on Patzer's motion. Its order is thus void ab initio.

III

For the reasons stated above, in No. 84-1267 the order of the district court is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings.*fn10 In No. 84-1411 the order of the district court is vacated. Costs in both appeals are taxed to the appellees.

SO ORDERED.


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