45 N.Y.2d 24, Reilly v. Reid

Citation:45 N.Y.2d 24, 407 N.Y.S.2d 645
Party Name:Reilly v. Reid
Case Date:June 13, 1978
Court:New York Court of Appeals

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45 N.Y.2d 24

407 N.Y.S.2d 645

In the Matter of Dermot C. REILLY, Appellant,


Ogden R. REID, as Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, et al., Respondents.

New York Court of Appeals

June 13, 1978.

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[407 N.Y.S.2d 646] John Cole Crary, Albany, and Dermot C. Reilly, pro se, for appellant.

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Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen. (Michael F. Colligan and Ruth Kessler Toch, Albany, of counsel), for respondent.


BREITEL, Chief Judge.

Petitioner Reilly, a former associate attorney in the Office of the Counsel of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, seeks restoration to his abolished position and back pay. In this proceeding under CPLR article 78 he alleges that the abolition of his position by respondents, the department and its commissioner, was illegal. Special Term denied respondents' motion to dismiss the petition on Res judicata grounds, but the Appellate Division unanimously reversed and dismissed. Petitioner appeals.

In an earlier petition, Reilly unsuccessfully contended that upon abolition of his position he was entitled, under section 80 of the Civil Service Law, to be appointed to a similar position in the same office. The issue presented, therefore, is whether final adjudication of the earlier proceeding is a bar, under principles of Res judicata, to the present proceeding.

There should be an affirmance. In the earlier proceeding, petitioner alleged the same foundation facts and pressed for relief nearly identical to that requested in this proceeding. The final adjudication reached in the earlier proceeding must, under principles of Res judicata, or, more precisely, claim preclusion, bar the cause of action now asserted.

Petitioner's position as associate attorney in the competitive class of the civil service was abolished, ostensibly for budgetary reasons, as of January 29, 1976. In accordance with the Civil Service Law, petitioner was offered a chance to displace an incumbent from the next lower competitive position in the office, the position of senior attorney (Civil Service Law, § 80, subd. 6). He declined the offer, and instead, brought his first proceeding seeking appointment to a noncompetitive or exempt position claimed to be the same as or similar to the

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abolished [407 N.Y.S.2d 647] competitive position (Civil Service Law, § 80, subd. 1). That proceeding was eventually dismissed on the ground that his competitive position was not, as a matter of law, similar to the exempt or noncompetitive positions sought (Matter of Reilly v. Reid, 55 A.D.2d 975, 390 N.Y.S.2d 655, mot. for lv. to app. den. 41 N.Y.2d 806, 395 N.Y.S.2d 1026, 363 N.E.2d 1386). No issue was expressly tendered or resolved whether the abolition of petitioner's position was valid. It was assumed.

While the first proceeding was pending, petitioner brought the instant proceeding, contending for the first time that abolition of his position was illegal and seeking restoration to the abolished position with back pay. The petition alleges that the "position has not been abolished, but the duties have merely been reassigned" to the noncompetitive or exempt positions, and that the abolition was "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to the law of the State of New York."

Special Term denied respondents' motion to dismiss, holding that the legality of the abolition of petitioner's position was "not material" to determining his rights upon abolition. The Appellate Division reversed, finding identity of issues in the two proceedings, and holding the proceeding barred "by the principles of Res judicata and collateral estoppel".

The doctrine of Res judicata embraces many concepts, and the differences among the concepts, it has been said, are often confused (see 5 Weinstein-Korn-Miller, N.Y.Civ.Prac., par. 5011.08). This case involves, principally, questions of claim preclusion, that is, in more traditional terms, whether petitioner's present claim, as distinguished from discrete issues previously litigated, is barred by final adjudication against him in the prior proceeding (see, generally, Matter of American Ins. Co. (Messinger), 43 N.Y.2d 184, 189, n. 2, 401 N.Y.S.2d 36, 38, 39, 371 N.E.2d 798, 801).

It is blackletter law that a valid final judgment bars future actions between the same parties on the "same cause of action" (see, e. g., 50 C.J.S. Judgments § 598). The difficulty arises in determining when a second action involves the same cause of action as an earlier one (Perry v. Dickerson, 85 N.Y. 345, 348). Many definitional verbalizations have been attempted, none with complete success. For instance, in Secor v. Sturgis, 16 N.Y. 548, 558 it was said that "(t)he true distinction between demands or rights of action which are single and entire, and those which are several and distinct is, that the

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former immediately arise out of one and the same act or contract, and the latter out of different acts or contracts."

In Schuylkill Fuel Corp. v. Nieberg Realty Corp., 250 N.Y. 304, 306-307, 165 N.E. 456, 457 Chief Judge Cardozo stated the formulation as: "A judgment in one action is conclusive in a later one * * * when the two causes of action have such a measure of identity that a different judgment in the second would destroy or impair rights or interests established by the first". But even this formulation, now a classic, does not solve the more subtle situations which arise. For one thing, the formulation defines a consequential test, rather than the premise which leads to the consequence.

The nub of the problem is that the policy bases for Res judicata, in the sense of claim preclusion, do not permit easy definition of the "same cause of action", a term which, as will be seen, is not one of single meaning in the practice.

Res judicata is designed to provide finality in the resolution of disputes to assure that parties may...

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