University of Tennessee v. Elliott, No. 85-588

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II, and III of which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS
Citation92 L.Ed.2d 635,106 S.Ct. 3220,478 U.S. 788
PartiesUNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE, et al., Petitioners v. Robert B. ELLIOTT
Docket NumberNo. 85-588
Decision Date07 July 1986

478 U.S. 788
106 S.Ct. 3220
92 L.Ed.2d 635
UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE, et al., Petitioners

v.

Robert B. ELLIOTT.

No. 85-588.
Argued April 21, 1986.
Decided July 7, 1986.
Syllabus

When petitioner University of Tennessee informed respondent, a black employee, that he would be discharged for inadequate work performance and misconduct on the job, he requested an administrative hearing. Prior to the commencement of the administrative proceedings, respondent filed suit in Federal District Court against the University and others (also petitioners), alleging that his proposed discharge was racially motivated and seeking relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Reconstruction civil rights statutes. The court allowed the administrative proceedings to go forward, resulting in a ruling by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (affirmed by a University Vice President on appeal) that respondent's proposed discharge was not racially motivated. Instead of seeking state-court review of the administrative proceedings, respondent returned to the District Court, which granted summary judgment for petitioners on the ground that the ALJ's ruling was entitled to preclusive effect. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that respondent's Title VII claim was governed by Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 102 S.Ct. 1883, 72 L.Ed.2d 262, which held that final state-court judgments are entitled to full faith and credit in Title VII actions, but indicated that unreviewed determinations by state agencies do not preclude trial de novo in federal court on Title VII claims. As regards respondent's claims under the other civil rights statutes, the court held that 28 U.S.C. § 1738, which accords a state-court judgment the same full faith and credit in federal courts as it would have in the State's courts, does not require that federal courts be bound by the unreviewed findings of state administrative agencies. The court also declined to fashion a federal common law of preclusion.

Held:

1. Title 28 U.S.C. § 1738 is not applicable to the unreviewed state administrative factfinding at issue here. However, federal common-law rules of preclusion have been frequently fashioned in the absence of a governing statute. Because § 1738 antedates the development of administrative agencies it does not represent a congressional determination that state administrative agency decisions should not be given preclusive effect. Pp. 794-795.

Page 789

2. The Court of Appeals correctly held that Congress did not intend unreviewed state administrative proceedings to have preclusive effect on Title VII claims, and thus a federal common-law rule of preclusion would not be appropriate. The analysis in Kremer, supra, and Chandler v. Roudebush, 425 U.S. 840, 96 S.Ct. 1949, 48 L.Ed.2d 416, of the language and legislative history of Title VII supports this conclusion. Pp. 795-796.

3. However, when a state agency acting in a judicial capacity resolves disputed issues of fact properly before it which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to litigate, federal courts in actions under the Reconstruction civil rights statutes must give the agency's factfinding the same preclusive effect to which it would be entitled in the State's courts (a matter for resolution on remand here). In enacting those statutes, Congress did not intend to create an exception to general rules of preclusion, or to foreclose the adaptation of those rules to such subsequent developments as the use of administrative adjudication. Giving preclusive effect in federal courts to the factfindings of state administrative bodies acting in a judicial capacity serves both the value of enforcing repose, which underlies general principles of collateral estoppel, and the value of federalism. Pp. 796-799.

766 F.2d 982, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II, and III of which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 799. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Beauchamp E. Brogan, Knoxville, Tenn., for petitioners.

Ronald L. Ellis, New York City, for respondent.

Page 790

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

A state Administrative Law Judge determined that petitioner University of Tennessee (hereafter petitioner or University) was not motivated by racial prejudice in seeking to discharge respondent. The question presented is whether this finding is entitled to preclusive effect in federal court, where respondent has raised discrimination claims under various civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

I

In 1981, petitioner informed respondent, a black employee of the University's Agricultural Extension Service, that he would be discharged for inadequate work performance and misconduct on the job. Respondent requested a hearing under the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, Tenn.Code Ann. § 4-5-101 et seq. (1985), to contest his proposed termination. Prior to the start of the hearing, respondent also filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, alleging that his proposed discharge was racially motivated and seeking relief under Title VII and other civil rights statutes, including 42

Page 791

U.S.C. § 1983.1 The relief sought included damages, an injunction prohibiting respondent's discharge, and classwide relief from alleged patterns of discrimination by petitioner.

The District Court initially entered a temporary restraining order prohibiting the University from taking any job action against respondent, but later lifted this order and permitted the state administrative proceeding to go forward. App. to Pet. for Cert. A27. There followed a hearing at which an administrative assistant to the University's Vice President for Agriculture presided as an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The focus of the hearing was on 10 particular charges that the University gave as grounds for respondent's discharge. Respondent denied these charges, which he contended were motivated by racial prejudice, and also argued that the University's subjecting him to the charges violated his rights under the Constitution, Title VII, and other federal statutes. The ALJ held that he lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate respondent's federal civil rights claims, but did allow respondent to present, as an affirmative defense, evidence that the charges against him were actually motivated by racial prejudice and hence not a proper basis for his proposed discharge. Id., at A44-45.

After hearing extensive evidence,2 the ALJ found that the University had proved some but not all of the charges against respondent, and that the charges were not racially motivated. Id., at A177-179. Concluding that the proposed discharge of respondent was too severe a penalty, the ALJ ordered him transferred to a new assignment with supervisors other than those with whom he had experienced conflicts. Id., at A179-181. Respondent appealed to the University's

Page 792

Vice President for Agriculture, who affirmed the ALJ's ruling. Id., at A33-35. The Vice President stated that his review of the record persuaded him that the proposed discharge of respondent had not been racially motivated. Id., at A34.

Respondent did not seek review of these administrative proceedings in the Tennessee courts; instead, he returned to federal court to pursue his civil rights claims. There, petitioner moved for summary judgment on the ground that respondent's suit was an improper collateral attack on the ALJ's ruling, which petitioner contended was entitled to preclusive effect. The District Court agreed, holding that the civil rights statutes on which respondent relied "were not intended to afford the plaintiff a means of relitigating what plaintiff has heretofore litigated over a five-month period." Id., at A32.

Respondent appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which reversed the District Court's judgment. 766 F.2d 982 (1985). As regards respondent's Title VII claim, the Court of Appeals looked for guidance to our decision in Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 102 S.Ct. 1883, 72 L.Ed.2d 262 (1982).3 While Kremer teaches that final state-court judgments are entitled to full faith and credit in Title VII actions, it indicates that unreviewed determinations by state agencies stand on a different footing. The

Page 793

Sixth Circuit found the following passage from Kremer directly on point:

"EEOC review [pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b) ] of discrimination charges previously rejected by state agencies would be pointless if the federal courts were bound by such agency decisions. Batiste v. Furnco Constr. Corp., 503 F.2d 447, 450, n. 1 (CA7 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 928, 95 S.Ct. 1127, 43 L.Ed.2d 399 (1975). Nor is it plausible to suggest that Congress intended federal courts to be bound further by state administrative decisions than by decisions of the EEOC. Since it is settled that decisions by the EEOC do not preclude a trial de novo in federal court, it is clear that unreviewed administrative determinations by state agencies also should not preclude such review even if such a decision were to be afforded preclusive effect in a State's own courts. Garner v. Giarrusso, 571 F.2d 1330 (CA5 1978), Batiste v. Furnco Constr. Corp., supra; Cooper v. Philip Morris, Inc., 464 F.2d 9 (CA6 1972); Voutsis v. Union Carbide Corp., 452 F.2d 889 (CA2 1971), cert. denied, 406 U.S. 918, 92 S.Ct. 1768, 32 L.Ed.2d 117 (1972)." Id., 456 U.S., at 470, n. 7, 102 S.Ct., at 1891, n. 7.

The court accordingly...

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1085 practice notes
  • Decisions and Orders:
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    • Federal Register October 03, 2011
    • October 3, 2011
    ...in DEA administrative proceedings. Christopher Henry Lister, P.A., 75 FR 28,068, 28,069 (DEA 2010) (citing Univ. of Tenn. v. Elliot, 478 U.S. 788, 797-98 (1986) (``When an administrative agency is acting in a judicial capacity and resolves disputed issues of fact properly before it which th......
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    ...456 U.S. at 481-82). Section 1738, however, does not apply to unreviewed state agency determinations. Univ. of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 794 (1986). Nevertheless, such determinations are frequently granted preclusive effect under federal common law. Id. at 797-99. Specifically, un......
  • Hadad v. Croucher, No. 1:87 CV 1211.
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    • January 28, 1997
    ...requesting the court to revisit Judge White's holding based on administrative res judicata. In University of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 106 S.Ct. 3220, 92 L.Ed.2d 635 (1986), the Supreme Court concluded that although 28 U.S.C. § 1738 does not apply to state administrative determina......
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    • January 28, 2016
    ...adversary proceeding involves facts previously determined by a state agency, not a state court. In University of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 796, 106 S.Ct. 3220, 92 L.Ed.2d 635 (1986), the Supreme Court held that 28 U.S.C. § 1738 does not apply to unreviewed state administrative fac......
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1065 cases
  • United States v. E. River Hous. Corp., 13 Civ. 8650 (ER)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 2, 2015
    ...456 U.S. at 481-82). Section 1738, however, does not apply to unreviewed state agency determinations. Univ. of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 794 (1986). Nevertheless, such determinations are frequently granted preclusive effect under federal common law. Id. at 797-99. Specifically, un......
  • Hadad v. Croucher, No. 1:87 CV 1211.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • January 28, 1997
    ...requesting the court to revisit Judge White's holding based on administrative res judicata. In University of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 106 S.Ct. 3220, 92 L.Ed.2d 635 (1986), the Supreme Court concluded that although 28 U.S.C. § 1738 does not apply to state administrative determina......
  • Carmelo v. Mickletz (In re Mickletz), Bky. No. 14–19375 ELF
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    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Third Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
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    ...adversary proceeding involves facts previously determined by a state agency, not a state court. In University of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 796, 106 S.Ct. 3220, 92 L.Ed.2d 635 (1986), the Supreme Court held that 28 U.S.C. § 1738 does not apply to unreviewed state administrative fac......
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