Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corporation

Decision Date17 May 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-6045,80-6045
Citation102 S.Ct. 1883,72 L.Ed.2d 262,456 U.S. 461
PartiesRubin KREMER, Petitioner v. CHEMICAL CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

Title 28 U.S.C. § 1738 (as did its predecessors dating back to 1790) requires federal courts to afford the same full faith and credit to state court judgments that would apply in the State's own courts. Petitioner filed an employment discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the EEOC, as required by the Act, referred the charge to the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYHRD), the agency charged with enforcing the New York law prohibiting employment discrimination. The NYHRD rejected the claim as meritless and was upheld on administrative appeal. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court affirmed. Subsequently, a District Director of the EEOC ruled that there was no reasonable cause to believe that the discrimination charge was true and issued a right-to-sue letter. Petitioner then brought a Title VII action in Federal District Court. Ultimately, the District Court dismissed the complaint on res judicata grounds, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held : The District Court was required under 28 U.S.C. § 1738 to give preclusive effect to the state court decision upholding the state administrative agency's rejection of the employment discrimination claim. Pp. 466-485.

(a) Where under New York law the New York court's determination precludes petitioner from bringing any other action based on the same grievance in the New York courts, § 1738, by its terms, precludes him from relitigating the same question in federal courts. Pp. 466-467.

(b) There is no "affirmative showing" of a "clear and manifest" legislative purpose in Title VII to deny res judicata or collateral estoppel effect to a state court judgment affirming that an employment discrimination claim is unproved. An exception to § 1738 will not be recognized unless a later statute contains an express or implied partial repeal. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 101 S.Ct. 411, 66 L.Ed.2d 308. Here, there is no claim that Title VII expressly repealed § 1738, and no implied repeal is evident from the language, operation, or legislative history of Title VII, there being no manifest incompatibility between Title VII and § 1738. Pp. 468-476.

(c) While initial resort to state administrative remedies does not deprive an individual of a right to a federal trial de novo on a Title VII claim, this does not mean that a prior state court judgment can be disregarded. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 39 L.Ed.2d 147, distin- guished. The comity and federalism interests embodied in § 1738 are not compromised by the application of res judicata and collateral estoppel in Title VII cases. Rather, to deprive state judgments of finality not only would violate basic tenets of comity and federalism but also would reduce the incentive for States to work toward effective and meaningful systems prohibiting employment discrimination. Pp. 476-478.

(d) The procedures provided in New York for the determination of employment discrimination claims, complemented by administrative as well as judicial review, offer a full and fair opportunity to litigate the merits and thus are sufficient under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. State proceedings need do no more than satisfy the minimum procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause in order to qualify for the full faith and credit guaranteed by federal law. Section 1738 does not allow federal courts to employ their own rules of res judicata in determining the effect of state judgments, but rather goes beyond the common law and commands a federal court to accept the rules chosen by the State from which the judgment is taken. Here, petitioner received all the process that was constitutionally required in rejecting his employment discrimination claim. Pp. 479-485.

623 F.2d 786 (2nd Cir.), affirmed.

David A. Barrett, New York City, for petitioner.

Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D. C., for the U. S. and E. E. O. C. as amici curiae, by special leave of Court.

Robert Layton, New York City, for respondent.

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

As one of its first acts, Congress directed that all United States courts afford the same full faith and credit to state court judgments that would apply in the State's own courts. Act of May 26, 1790, ch. 11, 1 Stat. 122, 28 U.S.C. § 1738. More recently, Congress implemented the national policy against employment discrimination by creating an array of substantive protections and remedies which generally allows federal courts to determine the merits of a discrimination claim. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp.IV). The principal question presented by this case is whether Congress intended Title VII to supersede the principles of comity and repose embodied in § 1738. Specifically, we decide whether a federal court in a Title VII case should give preclusive effect to a decision of a state court upholding a state administrative agency's rejection of an employment discrimination claim as meritless when the state court's decision would be res judicata in the State's own courts.

I

Petitioner Rubin Kremer emigrated from Poland in 1970 and was hired in 1973 by respondent Chemical Construction Corp. (Chemico) as an engineer. Two years later he was laid off, along with a number of other employees. Some of these employees were later rehired, but Kremer was not although he made several applications. In May 1976, Kremer filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), asserting that his discharge and failure to be rehired were due to his national origin and Jewish faith. Because the EEOC may not consider a claim until a state agency having jurisdiction over employment discrimination complaints has had at least 60 days to resolve the matter, § 706(c), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c),1 the Commission re- ferred Kremer's charge to the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYHRD), the agency charged with enforcing the New York law prohibiting employment discrimination. N.Y.Exec.Law §§ 295(6), 296(1)(a) (McKinney 1972 and Supp.1981-1982).

After investigating Kremer's complaint,2 the NYHRD concluded that there was no probable cause to believe that Chemico had engaged in the discriminatory practices complained of. The NYHRD explicitly based its determination on the findings that Kremer was not rehired because one employee who was rehired had greater seniority, that another employee who was rehired filled a lesser position than that previously held by Kremer, and that neither Kremer's creed nor age was a factor considered in Chemico's failure to rehire him. The NYHRD's determination was upheld by its Appeal Board as "not arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion." Kremer again brought his complaint to the attention of the EEOC and also filed, on December 6, 1977, a petition with the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court to set aside the adverse administrative determination. On February 27, 1978, five justices of the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the Appeal Board's order. Kremer could have sought, but did not seek, review by the New York Court of Appeals.

Subsequently, a District Director of the EEOC ruled that there was no reasonable cause to believe that the charge of discrimination was true and issued a right-to-sue notice.3 The District Director refused a request for reconsideration, noting that he had reviewed the case files and considered the EEOC's disposition as "appropriate and correct in all respects."

Kremer then brought this Title VII action in District Court, claiming discrimination on the basis of national origin and religion.4 Chemico argued from the outset that Kremer's Title VII action was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The District Court initially denied Chemico's motion to dismiss. 464 F.Supp. 468 (SDNY 1978). The court noted that the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had recently found such state determinations res judicata in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Mitchell v. National Broadcasting Co., 553 F.2d 265 (1977), but distinguished Title VII cases because of the statutory grant of de novo federal review. Several months later the Second Circuit extended the Mitchell rule to Title VII cases. Sinicropi v. Nassau County, 601 F.2d 60 (per curiam), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 983, 100 S.Ct. 488, 62 L.Ed.2d 411 (1979). The District Court then dismissed the complaint on grounds of res judicata. 477 F.Supp. 587 (SDNY 1979). The Court of Appeals refused to depart from the Sinicropi precedent and rejected petitioner's claim that Sinicropi should not be applied retroactively. 623 F.2d 786 (1980).

A motion for rehearing en banc was denied, and petitioner filed for a writ of certiorari. We issued the writ, 452 U.S. 960, 101 S.Ct. 3107, 69 L.Ed.2d 970 (1981), to resolve this important issue of federal employment discrimination law over which the Courts of Appeals are divided.5 We now affirm.

II

Section 1738 requires federal courts to give the same preclusive effect to state court judgments that those judgments would be given in the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged.6 Here the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court has issued a judgment affirming the decision of the NYHRD Appeals Board that the discharge and failure to rehire Kremer were not the product of the discrimination that he had alleged. There is no question that this judicial determination precludes Kremer from bringing "any other action, civil or criminal, based upon the same grievance" in the New York courts. N.Y.Exec.Law § 300 (...

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