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Davis v. Halpern

decided: March 9, 1987.

DAVID DAVIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHARLES HALPERN, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DEAN OF THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NY LAW SCHOOL AT QUEENS COLLEGE & IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JOHN FARAGO IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ASSISTANT DEAN OF THE CITY OF NY LAW SCHOOL QUEENS COLLEGE & IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JOSEPH MURPHY IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHANCELLOR THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NY & IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, & GORDON AMBACH IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHANCELLOR OF THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NY & AS COMMISSIONER OF ED. OF THE STATE OF NY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appellant from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Charles P. Sifton, Judge, dismissing on the ground of res judicata appellant's civil rights action challenging his three rejections by the City University of New York Law School at Queens College to be a student at that school.

Oakes, Cardamone and Davis,*fn* Circuit Judges.

Author: Davis

DAVIS, Circuit Judge:

The sole issue before us is whether the District Court correctly held that appellant Davis' federal action was barred, under the principles of former adjudication, by a previous suit he had brought in a New York state court. We hold that the federal action was not so barred.

I.

Background

David Davis, a white male in his '40s, desires to attend law school. He applied to enter the 1983-84 class of the City University of New York Law School at Queens College, was placed on the waiting list, but was not admitted. He applied again for the next year (1984-85) but was rejected. He applied unsuccessfully a third time for 1985-86. After his second rejection (which occurred on July 30, 1984), Davis brought a proceeding under Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Act and Rules,*fn1 in New York State Supreme Court challenging the law school's rejection of his application for the 1984-85 term and also seeking a preliminary injunction compelling his admittance for that school year. The state court's action in that proceeding -- which is far from clear -- formed the basis of the District Court's ruling of preclusion by former adjudication. Suffice it at this point that state justices determined (in September 1984 and February 1985) that no factual issues remained for trial. Davis filed a notice of appeal but never pursued it.

On June 3, 1985, appellant instituted this suit in the District Court below, asking damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. The complaint initially alleged improper rejection by the Law School for the 1984-85 term but was amended also to cover the 1985-86 term. Davis' contention is that the school discriminated against white males, particularly of his age group. Appellees moved to dismiss on several grounds, including res judicata (former adjudication) on the basis of the prior Article 78 proceeding in the New York court. On July 14, 1980, the District Court, relying solely on the bar of res judicata, granted appellee's motion and dismissed the federal action.

II.

Claim Preclusion

The District Court did not indicate which aspect of the doctrine of res judicata (or former adjudication) it applied -- claim preclusion or issue preclusion (which used to be called collateral estoppel) or both. The recent decisions in Davidson v. Capuano, 792 F.2d 275 (2d Cir. 1986), and Giano v. Flood, 803 F.2d 769 (2d Cir. 1986), demonstrate that claim preclusion is inapplicable here. Both Davidson and Giano expressly held that a New York plaintiff is not barred from seeking damages, in federal court, on civil rights claims by reason of a prior judgment on the same underlying facts in an Article 78 proceeding requesting injunctive or affirmative relief. The reason is that damages are not available in these circumstances in an Article 78 proceeding and therefore that action cannot give the damages relief demanded in a civil rights suits such as this one. Davidson, 792 F.2d at 278-82; Giano, 803 F.2d at 770-71.*fn2 That is the very claim preclusion rule applied in these circumstances by the New York courts, a rule which is, of course, binding on the federal courts in this case. Davidson, 792 F.2d at 282. See Migra v. Warren City School Dist. Bd. of Ed., 465 U.S. 75, 81, 79 L. Ed. 2d 56, 104 S. Ct. 892 (1984). We therefore put claim preclusion wholly aside.

III.

Issue Preclusion

In New York, issue preclusion (or collateral estoppel) can be applied in a later case only if (1) there has been a final determination on the merits of the issue sought to be precluded; (2) the party against whom issue preclusion is sought had a full and fair opportunity to contest the decision invoked as dispositive in the later controversy; and (3) the issue sought to be precluded by the earlier suit is the same issue involved in the later action. See Gramatan Home Investors Corp. v. Lopez, 46 N.Y.2d 481, 485, 386 N.E.2d 1328, 1331, ...


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