Gear v. City of Des Moines

Decision Date22 May 1981
Docket NumberCiv. No. 79-108-1.
Citation514 F. Supp. 1218
PartiesLinda GEAR, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF DES MOINES et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Shirley G. Steele, Des Moines, Iowa, for plaintiff.

Earl W. Roberts, City Sol., Des Moines, Iowa, for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

STUART, Chief Judge.

This matter is before the Court pursuant to defendants' motion for summary judgment, filed May 5, 1981, and resisted by plaintiff on May 11, 1981. Said motion came on for hearing before the Court on May 11, 1981. Having carefully considered the file in the above-entitled case together with the arguments of counsel, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, the Court enters the following Order.

Ms. Gear seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, as well as the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, for her allegedly discriminatory discharge. As delineated in the amended complaint, the factual issues which form the basis for plaintiff's constitutional challenge are as follows: (1) the circumstances surrounding plaintiff's failure to report to work in October of 1978, and whether she voluntarily terminated her employment with the Des Moines Police Department shortly thereafter; (2) whether Lieutenant Paul Gillespie made sexual advances toward or otherwise harassed plaintiff; (3) whether Ms. Gear was compelled to request permission of male superiors before leaving her work station to utilize restroom facilities; (4) whether plaintiff's final paycheck was wrongfully withheld; (5) whether her work schedule was revised without notice; and (6) whether Police Chief Wendell Nichols was directly responsible for creation of an allegedly biased and prejudicial attitude toward women, which tended to encourage the conduct described above.

It is defendants' contention, premised on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Allen v. McCurry, ___ U.S. ___, 101 S.Ct. 411, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980), that the issues of fact previously enumerated were either dispositive of or essential to matters previously determined by a hearing officer of the Iowa Department of Job Service in a contested case proceeding conducted pursuant to the provisions of the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act, Chapter 17A of the 1977 Iowa Code. Accordingly, defendants urge application of principles of issue preclusion to bar plaintiff's reassertion of the identical issues raised collaterally.

By way of response, plaintiff argues that Allen is inapposite to the case at bar, since the Supreme Court's holding accords a preclusive effect in section 1983 actions to state judicial proceedings alone. Citing Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 39 L.Ed.2d 147 (1974), plaintiff further maintains that she is not estopped from relitigating those factual questions attendant upon her discharge which were resolved against her by the state administrative officer, for the reason that said officer did not consider whether defendants' conduct deprived her of constitutional protections.

There is no dispute between the parties as to the procedural history of this lawsuit. Following termination of her employment with the Des Moines Police Department in October of 1978, Ms. Gear applied to the Iowa Department of Job Service for unemployment compensation. Benefits were denied by a claims deputy on the basis of his finding that plaintiff had left her employment voluntarily and without good cause which could be ascribed to the employer within the meaning of section 96.5(1) of the 1977 Iowa Code. An appeal was thereafter taken, and an evidentiary hearing held on December 21, 1978.

In accordance with section 96.6(3) of the Iowa Employment Security Act, the department hearing officer conducted the proceeding under guidelines outlined in the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act, Chapter 17A. All parties were notified of the hearing, given an opportunity to offer both oral and documentary evidence and argument and to secure legal representation. While plaintiff did not retain counsel, she appeared at hearing and presented witnesses who testified on her behalf, as did defendants.

After weighing conflicting evidence relevant to the cause for plaintiff's separation from employment, the hearing officer ruled that plaintiff had not established that said separation was attributable to the employer under section 96.5(1). This adverse ruling became a final administrative order within fifteen days by virtue of plaintiff's failure to appeal to the department appeal board. Judicial review in state district court was not sought, although statutorily provided for. Thereafter plaintiff commenced this action to redress alleged deprivations of constitutional rights guaranteed by sections 1983 and 1985 based on the same alleged acts.

Generally speaking, the term "collateral estoppel" refers to the judicially-promulgated policy of repose preventing relitigation of a particular dispositive fact which was necessarily or actually decided with finality in a previous suit involving at least one of the parties on a different cause of action. See Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153, 99 S.Ct. 970, 973, 59 L.Ed.2d 910 (1979). In Allen v. McCurry, supra, the Supreme Court adopted the view that the concepts of res judicata and collateral estoppel apply fully to suits initiated pursuant to section 1983, but reiterated the well-established axiom that judicial rules of preclusion should not be inexorably enforced against a party to a prior proceeding when a "full and fair" opportunity to litigate a specific issue in that proceeding was lacking. Allen v. McCurry, 101 S.Ct. at 415, citing Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, 402 U.S. 313, 328-329, 91 S.Ct. 1434, 1442-1443, 28 L.Ed.2d 788 (1971).

While courts were at one time reluctant to extend the doctrine of res judicata, of which collateral estoppel is a component, see Restatement (Second) Judgments XV (Tent.Draft No. 1, 1973), to administrative decisions, this attitude has since been modified. In 1966, the Supreme Court expressly applied the doctrine in the administrative law context, stating:

When an administrative agency is acting in a judicial capacity, and resolves disputed questions of fact properly before it which the parties have had an opportunity to litigate, the courts have not hesitated to enforce repose. (Citations omitted.)

United States v. Utah Construction and Mining Co., 384 U.S. 394, 421, 422, 86 S.Ct. 1545, 1559, 1560, 16 L.Ed.2d 642 (1966). See Industrial Commission of Wisconsin v. McCartin, 330 U.S. 622, 67 S.Ct. 886, 91 L.Ed. 1140 (1947). Relitigation of factual issues determined by the Board of Advisory Appeals was thus barred in a subsequent suit for breach of contract where (1) the Board was functioning as an adjudicative body when it considered those issues, (2) such issues were properly before the Board, and (3) both parties were afforded a "full and fair opportunity to argue their version of the facts and an opportunity to seek court review of any adverse findings." Id. 384 U.S. at 422, 86 S.Ct. at 1560. Based on the foregoing factors, the court concluded, "There is, therefore, neither need nor justification for a second evidentiary hearing on those matters already resolved as between these two parties." Id.

Bearing in mind that the doctrine of collateral estoppel should be employed more selectively and with a greater degree of flexibility when an administrative finding is involved, see United States v. Smith, 482 F.2d 1120, 1123 (8th Cir. 1973); Grose v. Cohen, 406 F.2d 823, 824-825 (4th Cir. 1969); Housworth v. Glisson, 485 F.Supp. 29, 34 (N.D.Ga.1978), aff'd, 614 F.2d 1295 (5th Cir. 1980), the inquiry herein must therefore focus upon whether the issues sought to be estopped were within the statutory jurisdiction of a state agency acting in a judicial capacity, where both parties were provided a fair opportunity to litigate said issues and to appeal the administrative decision to a judicial tribunal. Additional related factors which must figure in the Court's analysis include the deference accorded opinions of a particular administrative entity by the state courts, the intention of that entity and the expectations of the parties regarding judicial retrial of factual questions determined in administrative proceedings. See Taylor v. New York City Transit Authority, 309 F.Supp. 785, 791 (S.D.N.Y.1970), aff'd sub. nom., 433 F.2d 665 (2d Cir.). See also Mitchell v. National Broadcasting Co., 553 F.2d 265, 269 (2d Cir. 1977).

Under the circumstances of this case, the Court is persuaded that the agency adversarial process was adjudicative in nature. United States v. Utah Construction and Mining Co., supra. See Taylor v. New York City Transit Authority, 433 F.2d 665, 667 (2d Cir. 1970). Section 17A.12 of the 1977 Iowa Code required that written notice specifying the particular statutory and rule sections involved and the matters in issue was to be served upon all parties, either by personal service, as in civil actions, or by certified mail. See Groom v. Kawaski Motors Corp., 344 F.Supp. 1000, 1002 (W.D.Okl. 1972). All subpoena powers conferred by its enabling act or other statutes, in conjunction with those set forth in section 17A.13 were vested in the department. See Id. Discovery procedures applicable to civil actions could be utilized by all parties to a contested case under Chapter 17A.

Evidentiary rules mandating exclusion of irrelevant, immaterial or unduly repetitious evidence and prescribing the manner in which objections must be made and noted in the record were enforced. Admittedly, there was no statutory bar to admission of hearsay, however, this factor alone is not conclusive. See Bowen v. United States, 570 F.2d 1311, 1322 (7th Cir. 1978). Each party enjoyed the right to present evidence through documentation and examination of witnesses, to cross-examine opposing witnesses and to offer argument on all...

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