Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd.Annotate this Case
465 U.S. 75 (1984)
U.S. Supreme Court
Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd., 465 U.S. 75 (1984)
Migra v. Warren City School District Board of Education
Argued October 11, 1983
Decided January 23, 1984
465 U.S. 75
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Petitioner was employed by respondent Warren, Ohio, Board of Education (Board) as a supervisor of elementary education on an annual basis under written contracts. The Board, at a regularly scheduled meeting, adopted a resolution renewing petitioner's employment for the 1979-1980 school year, and, upon being advised of this, petitioner accepted the appointment by letter. But shortly thereafter, the Board, at a special meeting at which four of its five members were present, voted 3 to 1 not to renew petitioner's employment, and so notified her in writing. Petitioner then brought suit in the Ohio Court of Common Pleas against the Board and the three members who had voted not to renew her employment. The complaint alleged two causes of action -- a breach of contract by the Board and wrongful interference by the individual members with petitioner's employment contract. The trial court held that petitioner's acceptance of the employment proffered for 1979-1980 created a binding contract, and that the Board's subsequent action purporting not to renew the employment had no legal effect, and awarded petitioner reinstatement and compensatory damages. The court granted petitioner's motion to dismiss without prejudice "the issue of conspiracy and individual board member liability," which issue the court had previously "reserved and continued." The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed, and review was denied by the Ohio Supreme Court. Thereafter, petitioner filed an action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. V), inter alia, against the Board, its members, and the Superintendent of Schools, alleging that, because of her activities involving a desegregation plan for the Warren elementary schools and a social studies curriculum that she had prepared, the Board members determined not to renew her contract, and that the Board's actions violated her rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. She requested injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages. The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the basis of res judicata, inter alia, and dismissed the complaint. The United States Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: With respect to petitioner's § 1983 claim, which was not litigated in state court, petitioner's state court judgment has the same claim preclusive
effect in federal court that the judgment would have in the Ohio state courts. Pp. 465 U. S. 80-87.
(a) In the absence of federal law modifying the operation of 28 U.S.C. § 1738, which provides that state judicial proceedings shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States as they have in the courts of the State from which they are taken -- the preclusive effect in federal court of petitioner's state court judgment is determined by Ohio law. Having rejected in Allen v. McCurry,449 U. S. 90, the view that state court judgments have no issue preclusive effect in § 1983 suits, this Court must also reject the view that 1983 prevents petitioner's state court judgment from creating a claim preclusive bar in this case. Section 1738 embodies the view that it is more important to give full faith and credit to state court judgments than to ensure separate forums for federal and state claims. Section 1983 does not override state preclusion law and guarantee petitioner a right to proceed to judgment in state court on her state claims and then turn to federal court for adjudication of her federal claims. Pp. 465 U. S. 80-85.
(b) The case is remanded for further proceedings. It appears that Ohio preclusion law has experienced a gradual evolution, and that Ohio courts recently have applied preclusion concepts more broadly than in the past, but the District Court's opinion does not indicate whether it applied what it thought was the Ohio law of preclusion. It is the District Court, not this Court, that should, in the first instance, interpret Ohio preclusion law and apply it. Pp. 465 U. S. 85-87.
703 F.2d 564, vacated and remanded.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 465 U. S. 88.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case raises issues concerning the claim preclusive effect [Footnote 1] of a state court judgment in the context of a subsequent suit, under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 (1976 ed., Supp. V), in federal court.
Petitioner, Dr. Ethel D. Migra, was employed by the Warren (Ohio) City School District Board of Education from August, 1976, to June, 1979. She served as supervisor of elementary education. Her employment was on an annual basis under written contracts for successive school years.
On April 17, 1979, at a regularly scheduled meeting, the Board, with all five of its members present, unanimously adopted a resolution renewing Dr. Migra's employment as supervisor for the 1979-1980 school year. Being advised of this, she accepted the renewed appointment by letter dated April 18, delivered to a member of the Board on April 23. Early the following morning, her letter was passed on to the Superintendent of Schools and to the Board's President.
The Board, however, held a special meeting, called by its President, on the morning of April 24. Although there appear to have been some irregularities about the call, see Brief for Respondents 19, n., four of the five members of the Board were present. The President first read Dr. Migra's acceptance letter. Then, after disposing of other business, a motion was made and adopted, by a vote of 3 to 1, not to renew petitioner's employment for the 1979-1980 school year. Dr. Migra was given written notice of this nonrenewal, and never received a written contract of employment for that year. The Board's absent member, James Culver, learned of the special meeting and of Dr. Migra's termination after he returned from Florida on April 25, where he had attended a National School Boards Convention.
Petitioner brought suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Trumbull County, Ohio, against the Board and its three members who had voted not to renew her employment. The complaint, although in five counts, presented what the parties now accept as essentially two causes of action, namely, breach of contract by the Board and wrongful interference by the individual members with petitioner's contract of employment. The state court, after a bench trial, "reserved and continued" the "issue of conspiracy," and did not reach the question of the individual members' liability. App. 39. It ruled that, under Ohio law, petitioner had accepted the employment proffered for 1979-1980, that this created a binding contract between her and the Board, and that the Board's subsequent action purporting not to renew the employment
relationship had no legal effect. Id. at 41-52. The court awarded Dr. Migra reinstatement to her position and compensatory damages. Id. at 52. Thereafter, petitioner moved the state trial court to dismiss without prejudice "the issue of the conspiracy and individual board member liability." Id. at 53. That motion was granted. Id. at 54. The Ohio Court of Appeals, Eleventh District, in an unreported opinion, affirmed the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas. Review was denied by the Supreme Court of Ohio. [Footnote 2]
In July, 1980, Dr. Migra filed the present action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the Board, its then individual members, and the Superintendent of Schools. Id. at 3. Her complaint alleged that she had become the director of a commission appointed by the Board to fashion a voluntary plan for the desegregation of the District's elementary schools; that she had prepared a social studies curriculum; that the individual defendants objected to and opposed the curriculum and resisted the desegregation plan; that hostility and ill-will toward petitioner developed; and that, as a consequence, the individual defendants determined not to renew petitioner's contract of employment. Id. at 5-6. Many of the alleged facts had been proved in the earlier state court litigation. Dr. Migra claimed that the Board's actions were intended to punish her for the exercise of her First Amendment rights. She also claimed that the actions deprived her of property without due process and denied her equal protection. Her federal claim
thus arose under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 (1976 ed., Supp. V). She requested injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages. App. 11-12. Answers were filed in due course, and shortly thereafter, the defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis of res judicata and the bar of the statute of limitations. Id. at 13-24.
The District Court granted summary judgment for the defendants and dismissed the complaint. App. to Pet. for Cert. C-17 -- C-31, D-32. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, by a short unreported order, affirmed. Id. at A-15. See 703 F.2d 564 (1982). [Footnote 3] Because of the importance of the issue, and because of differences among the Courts of Appeals, seen 6, infra, we granted certiorari. 459 U.S. 1102 (1983).
The Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause [Footnote 4] is implemented by the federal full faith and credit statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1738. That statute reads in pertinent part:
"Such Acts, records and judicial proceedings or copies thereof, so authenticated, shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States and its Territories and Possessions as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State, Territory or Possession from which they are taken.
It is now settled that a federal court must give to a state court judgment the same preclusive effect as would be given that judgment under the law of the State in which the judgment was rendered. In Allen v. McCurry,449 U. S. 90 (1980), this Court said:
"Indeed, though the federal courts may look to the common law or to the policies supporting res judicata and collateral estoppel in assessing the preclusive effect of decisions of other federal courts, Congress has specifically required all federal courts to give preclusive effect to state court judgments whenever the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged would do so. . . ."
"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."
Id. at 456 U. S. 466. See also Haring v. Prosise,462 U. S. 306 (1983). Accordingly, in the absence of federal law modifying the operation of § 1738, the preclusive effect in federal court of petitioner's state court judgment is determined by Ohio law.
In Allen, the Court considered whether 42 U.S.C. § 1983 modified the operation of § 1738 so that a state court judgment was to receive less than normal preclusive effect in a suit brought in federal court under § 1983. In that case, the respondent had been convicted in a state court criminal proceeding. In that proceeding, the respondent sought to suppress certain evidence against him on the ground that it had been obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. The respondent then brought a § 1983 suit in federal court against the officers who had seized the evidence. The District Court held the suit barred by collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) because
the issue of a Fourth Amendment violation had been resolved against the respondent by the denial of his suppression motion in the criminal trial. The Court of Appeals reversed. That court concluded that, because a § 1983 suit was the respondent's only route to a federal forum for his constitutional claim, [Footnote 5] and because one of § 1983's underlying purposes was to provide a federal cause of action in situations where state courts were not adequately protecting individual rights, the respondent should be allowed to proceed to trial in federal court unencumbered by collateral estoppel. This Court, however, reversed the Court of Appeals, explaining:
"[N]othing in the language of § 1983 remotely expresses any congressional intent to contravene the common law rules of preclusion or to repeal the express statutory requirements of the predecessor of 28 U.S.C. § 1738. . . . Section 1983 creates a new federal cause of action. It says nothing about the preclusive effect of state court judgments."
"Moreover, the legislative history of § 1983 does not in any clear way suggest that Congress intended to repeal or restrict the traditional doctrines of preclusion. . . . [T]he legislative history as a whole . . . lends only the most equivocal support to any argument that, in cases where the state courts have recognized the constitutional claims asserted and provided fair procedures for determining them, Congress intended to override § 1738 or the common law rules of collateral estoppel and res judicata. Since repeals by implication are disfavored, . . . much clearer support than this would be required to hold that § 1738 and the traditional rules of preclusion are not applicable to § 1983 suits."
449 U.S. at 449 U. S. 97-99.
Allen therefore made clear that issues actually litigated in a state court proceeding are entitled to the same preclusive effect in a subsequent federal § 1983 suit as they enjoy in the courts of the State where the judgment was rendered.
The Court in Allen left open the possibility, however, that the preclusive effect of a state court judgment might be different as to a federal issue that a § 1983 litigant could have raised, but did not raise, in the earlier state court proceeding. [Footnote 6] 449 U.S. at 449 U. S. 97, n. 10. That is the central issue to be resolved in the present case. Petitioner did not litigate her § 1983 claim in state court, and she asserts that the state court judgment should not preclude her suit in federal court simply because her federal claim could have been litigated in the state court proceeding. Thus, petitioner urges this Court to interpret the interplay of § 1738 and § 1983 in such a way as to accord state court judgments preclusive effect in § 1983 suits only as to issues actually litigated in state court.
It is difficult to see how the policy concerns underlying § 1983 would justify a distinction between the issue preclusive and claim preclusive effects of state court judgments. The argument that state court judgments should have less preclusive effect in § 1983 suits than in other federal suits is based on Congress' expressed concern over the adequacy of
state courts as protectors of federal rights. See, e.g., Mitchum v. Foster,407 U. S. 225, 407 U. S. 241-242 (1972). Allen recognized that the enactment of § 1983 was motivated partially out of such concern, 449 U.S. at 449 U. S. 98-99, but Allen nevertheless held that § 1983 did not open the way to relitigation of an issue that had been determined in a state criminal proceeding. Any distrust of state courts that would justify a limitation on the preclusive effect of state judgments in § 1983 suits would presumably apply equally to issues that actually were decided in a state court, as well as to those that could have been. If § 1983 created an exception to the general preclusive effect accorded to state court judgments, such an exception would seem to require similar treatment of both issue preclusion and claim preclusion. Having rejected in Allen the view that state court judgments have no issue preclusive effect in § 1983 suits, we must reject the view that § 1983 prevents the judgment in petitioner's state court proceeding from creating a claim preclusion bar in this case.
Petitioner suggests that to give state court judgments full issue preclusive effect but not claim preclusive effect would enable litigants to bring their state claims in state court and their federal claims in federal court, thereby taking advantage of the relative expertise of both forums. Although such a division may seem attractive from a plaintiff's perspective, it is not the system established by § 1738. That statute embodies the view that it is more important to give full faith and credit to state court judgments than to ensure separate forums for federal and state claims. This reflects a variety of concerns, including notions of comity, the need to prevent vexatious litigation, and a desire to conserve judicial resources.
In the present litigation, petitioner does not claim that the state court would not have adjudicated her federal claims had she presented them in her original suit in state court. Alternatively, petitioner could have obtained a federal forum for
her federal claim by litigating it first in a federal court. [Footnote 7] Section 1983, however, does not override state preclusion law and guarantee petitioner a right to proceed to judgment in state court on her state claims and then turn to federal court for adjudication of her federal claims. We hold, therefore, that petitioner's state court judgment in this litigation has the same claim preclusive effect in federal court that the judgment would have in the Ohio state courts.
It appears to us that preclusion law in Ohio has experienced a gradual evolution, and that Ohio courts recently have applied preclusion concepts more broadly than in the past. For example, in Vasu v. Kohlers, Inc., 145 Ohio St. 321, 61 N.E.2d 707 (1945), a plaintiff who suffered both personal injury and property damages in an automobile accident was held entitled to maintain a separate suit against the defendant for each type of injury. The theory was that
"[i]njuries to both person and property suffered by the same person as a result of the same wrongful act are infringements of different rights, and give rise to distinct causes of action. . . ."
321, 61 N.E.2d at 709 (syllabus