Stebbins v. Keystone Insurance Company, 24658

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation481 F.2d 501
Docket Number71-1043.,No. 24658,24658
Decision Date05 June 1973

481 F.2d 501 (1973)

Emmett J. STEBBINS, Appellant,
Emmett J. STEBBINS, Appellant,

Nos. 24658, 71-1043.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

Argued October 22, 1971.

Decided June 5, 1973.

481 F.2d 502
481 F.2d 503
Emmett J. Stebbins, appellant pro se

James F. Bromley, Washington, D. C., with whom James C. Gregg, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellee, Keystone Ins. Co. and others in No. 24,658.

Thomas C. Matthews, Jr., and William R. Weissman, Washington, D. C., were on the brief for appellee, Ins. Co. of North America, and others in No. 71-1043.

Charles L. Reischel, Atty., E. E. O. C., with whom Julia P. Cooper, Chief, Appellate Section, George H. Weiler and Philip B. Sklover, Attys., E. E. O. C., as amicus curiae urging reversal.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, and LEVENTHAL and ROBINSON, Circuit Judges.

No. 24658 Argued October 22, 1971.

LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judge:

These are consolidated appeals1 in two separate actions brought by Emmett J. Stebbins, in which he alleged inter alia that the defendant insurance companies had refused to employ him on account of his race. Both claims were dismissed by the District Court, which relied on the res judicata effect of an earlier judgment that Stebbins was "so lacking in elementary financial prudence, candor, stability, meaningful interest in the business world, and definite career direction that no prudent insurance company could reasonably offer to employ him in a position of fiscal trust. . . ." Finding that, in the context of this litigation, the doctrine of collateral estoppel was improperly applied in both of these cases, we reverse.


In late 1969, Stebbins filed a class action (Civil Action No. 2848-69) against the Insurance Company of North America (INA),2 claiming racially discriminatory denial of job opportunities to himself and other blacks, in contravention of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and section 16 of the Civil Rights Act of 1870, 42 U.S.C. § 1981.3 He alleged that, as

481 F.2d 504
part of INA's discriminatory practices, the company had refused to employ him or provide him with information concerning the positions of Claims Examiner, Adjuster, Supervisor, Technical Representative, and Manager

On a record consisting of a deposition of Stebbins taken by INA, exhibits introduced by INA during this deposition, and affidavits from the company's officers, INA moved for summary judgment on three separate grounds: First, since Stebbins did not allege that he had ever applied for employment, he could not claim there had been a refusal to hire him. Moreover, the exhibits showed that INA had responded directly to his requests for job specifications and had repeatedly asked him to complete an application form, which had been mailed to him.

Second, INA contended that the record demonstrated Stebbins was unemployable in any position of fiscal trust in the insurance industry.4

Third, it was claimed that Stebbins had no standing to represent a class of aggrieved persons unless he himself had been the subject of unlawful discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) appeared at a hearing on June 17, 1970, as amicus curiae in support of INA's motion for summary judgment. Its counsel stated in oral argument that, since Stebbins had never applied for a position, the record demonstrated no Title VII violation as to him. The Commission also agreed that Stebbins' deposition showed he was unqualified for employment as an insurance adjuster or in a supervisory capacity. Finally, the EEOC argued that the court should strike the class action claims — not because Stebbins had failed to prove discrimination against himself5 — but because he was not a competent class representative as required by Rule 23(a)(4), Fed.R.Civ.P.

INA recognized the heavy burden it carried in seeking summary judgment on the broad ground of Stebbins' unemployability. It pointed out that Stebbins had not offered any counteraffidavits and had failed to respond to INA's statement of undisputed material facts. In short, Stebbins failed to contest any of the issues upon which INA sought judgment, and his only opposition was based on his stated desire to conduct extensive discovery proceedings against INA — without intimating what relationship this might bear to INA's proffered defenses.

At the conclusion of the June 17 hearing, the trial court orally advised Stebbins that the motion for summary judgment would be granted on the grounds

481 F.2d 505
that Stebbins had not applied for a job and was "not employable in the insurance industry." One June 30, 1970, the court issued a memorandum6 delineating the facts established by INA that were not in dispute. Based on these facts, the court concluded that the defendants had not engaged in unlawful employment practices under section 703(a)(1) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e — 2(a)(1).7 Two separate grounds were cited for this conclusion: "by reason of the fact that plaintiff has refused to file an application for employment with INA," and because "plaintiff is so lacking in elementary financial prudence, candor, stability, meaningful interest in the business world and definite career direction that no prudent insurance company could reasonably employ him in a position of fiscal trust. . . ."8

Stebbins took no appeal from this judgment.


A. The INA and EEOC Litigation

On July 8, 1970, Stebbins filed an independent action, which he styled "Complaint in the Nature of a Bill of Review," against INA and its subsidiaries, the EEOC, and certain of its officials (Civil Action No. 2036-70). He alleged that various improprieties had occurred in the earlier litigation, which vitiated its effect. In addition, he set forth a new claim, alleging that on June 18, 1970 — one day after the trial judge had stated from the bench that summary judgment would be granted in the first INA suit — he had filed a formal employment application with INA and that the company had refused to hire him.

The District Court dismissed this action as to INA on November 9, 1970, relying on the res judicata effect of the June 30 judgment to bar Stebbins from relitigating the issue of his employability against the same defendants. Stebbins then filed a notice of appeal in forma pauperis, which the trial court denied as patently frivolous. Subsequently, when his claim against the EEOC was dismissed on January 5, 1971, Stebbins filed another notice of appeal and paid the filing fee on January 18.

This case has consistently been treated as a joint appeal against both INA and the EEOC. We pass by the motions ascribable to Stebbins' limited means,9 and examine the issues he has raised.

481 F.2d 506

B. The Keystone Litigation

On December 19, 1969, Stebbins filed suit against the Keystone Insurance Company (Keystone) and its affiliates (Civil Action No. 3588-69), also alleging violations of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. His complaint focused on two letters he had received from Keystone — in May of 1968 and in November of 1969 — refusing to employ him. This suit and Stebbins' first action against INA were pursued concurrently in different trial courts. Stebbins and Keystone cross-moved for summary judgment; and their motions were heard on July 1, 1970 — the day after the memorandum was issued in the INA case.

The court ruled orally — and in writing on July 8, 1970 — that Keystone's refusal to hire, based on the fact that Stebbins had engaged in litigation against the company, violated 42 U.S.C. § 2000e — 3(a); and Stebbins was granted partial summary judgment. But the remainder of Stebbins' complaint was dismissed on the ground that, as a predicate to claiming discrimination in hiring, the plaintiff must be qualified for the position he seeks. The court held that the issue of Stebbins' employability had been decided adversely in the first INA case and that Stebbins was therefore collaterally estopped to relitigate the matter against Keystone, citing Lober v. Moore, 135 U. S.App.D.C. 146, 417 F.2d 714 (1969). Finally, the court stated that "plaintiff's lack of qualifications deprive him of any right to claim damages under any aspect of the complaint."

Stebbins appeals from: (1) the ruling on collateral estoppel; (2) failure to award injunctive relief or punitive damages; and (3) failure to award counsel fees.


A. Collateral Estoppel

The central question, common to both appeals, is whether the judgment entered on June 30, 1970, in the first suit against INA bars Stebbins from relitigating the issue of his employability in the cases presently before us, his second action against INA, and his action against Keystone. Both of these cases relate to instances of discrimination distinct from that involved in the first INA suit. This question must be settled under principles not of res judicata,10 but of collateral estoppel, the doctrine that governs the impact of the disposition of one controversy upon a different cause between the same parties, and which had led to an extension of that doctrine, invoked by Keystone (as a different party), that sameness of issue suffices if the party seeking to relitigate has already lost it after full opportunity to make his maximum effort.11

Broadly speaking, collateral estoppel bars a party from contesting in a subsequent proceeding any issue of fact actually litigated in and determined by a previous final judgment rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction. The judgment is not conclusive, however, as to issues that might have been litigated and determined in the earlier action, but were not; nor as to any matter not essential to judgment in the prior adjudication.12

481 F.2d 507

For years, the commentators have put it that, when a...

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