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Wade v. City of Pittsburgh

June 26, 1985



Author: Weis


WEIS, Circuit Judge.

In this civil rights case, the district court, relying on a state court judgment in a common law negligence suit arising out of the same occurrence, applied the bar of res judicata. Because the state judgment was based on statutory immunity not germane to the federal suit, we conclude that claim preclusion is not applicable. Accordingly, we will vacate the judgment in favor of defendants.

In the federal court suit, plaintiff charged that he was illegally arrested and assaulted by defendant police officers Muto and Burke. For the resulting physical and emotional harm, he sought damages under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 195(2) & (3) from the two officers as well as the city. The district court granted summary judgment to all defendants based on the earlier judgment in state court where plaintiff had sued the city for negligence. Plaintiff has appealed the judgment in favor of each of the defendants.

The plaintiff's earlier complaint in the state court was based on the same incident but named as a defendant only the City of Pittsburgh. The state complaint asserted common law negligence claims and did not refer to the Civil Rights Acts. The state court granted summary judgment to the city pursuant to a Pennsylvania statute extending immunity to municipalities. Plaintiff took an appeal that was withdrawn after the filing of this action in federal court.

After the United States Supreme Court decided Migra v. Warren School Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 79 L. Ed. 2d 56, 104 S. Ct. 892, 52 U.S.L.W. 4151 (1984), the district court entered judgment for the city on claim preclusion grounds. The court reasoned that plaintiff could have pleaded his § 1983 case in the prior state proceeding. As the court interpreted Pennsylvania preclusion law, failure to include the civil rights claims in the state litigation barred a later federal action against the city. Because the police officers were employees of the city, the court found that they were in privity and that res judicata applied to them as well.

On appeal, plaintiff concedes that Pennsylvania law controls, but contends that the district court erred in its application. The city argues that because the evidence required to prove the claims in each case is virtually identical, res judicata bars the federal suit. The individual defendants echo the privity concept relied upon the district court.

The resolution of the issues in this case begins with the state court judgment in favor of the city based on the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 8541-59 (1980). Section 8541 provides that with certain exceptions not applicable here, "no local agency shall be liable for any damages on account of any injury to a person or property caused by any act of the local agency or an employee thereof . . . ."

This governmental immunity statute, although effective against a state tort claim, has no force when applied to suits under the Civil Rights Acts. The supremacy clause of the Constitution prevents a state from immunizing entities or individuals alleged to have violated federal law. This result follows whether the suit to redress federal rights is brought in state or federal court. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 284, 62 L. Ed. 2d 481, 100 S. Ct. 553 (1980); Mancini v. Lester, 630 F.2d 990, 994 (3d Cir. 1980); McLaughlin v. Tilendis, 398 F.2d 287 (7th Cir. 1968). Were the rule otherwise, a state legislature would be able to frustrate the objectives of a federal statute. Had plaintiff joined a count under § 1983*fn1 in the first suit, it is clear that the state court could not have used the immunity statute to enter judgment for the city on the federal claims. See Morris v. Musser, 84 Pa. Commw. 170, 478 A.2d 937 (1984).

Having established the basis for the state court judgment, we next consider its effect on the then pending federal suit. It is helpful to briefly review the Migra decision. There, the plaintiff alleged that she had been wrongfully discharged from employment and sought recovery in the state court in two counts, contract and tort. After recovering a judgment on the contract count, she withdrew the unresolved tort issues from the state court. She then filed a suit in the federal district court alleging that the same incident underlying the state court judgment was a violation of her federal civil rights. The Supreme Court held that the federal court was obliged to grant the same preclusive effect to the state court judgment as would the courts of that state.

In the case at hand, Migra required the district court to apply Pennsylvania law in determining the effects of the judgment in the state court. The city argues that res judicata applies not only to claims that were actually raised but also to those which could have been presented. See In re Estate of R.L.L., 487 Pa. 223, 228, 409 A.2d 321, 323 n.7 (1979) Day v. Volkswagenwerk Aktiengesellschaft, 318 Pa. Super. 225, 232, 464 A.2d 1313, 1318 (1983) (citing Restatement of Judgments 2d § 24). Therefore, the city maintains because plaintiff's federal claims could have been raised in state court, they are barred even though they were never litigated.

Although the parties to this appeal describe the issue as one of res judicata, the Restatement of Judgments 2d and commentators in recent years have preferred the term "claim preclusion." See 18 C. Wright, A. Miller, and E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 4402 (1981); see also Migra, 52 U.S.L.W. at 4152 n.1. Similarly, "issue preclusion" is used instead of the older "collateral estoppel." Consequently, our references to "res judicata" in the older Pennsylvania cases are used in the sense of claim preclusion. See Duquesne Slag Products v. Lench, 490 Pa. 102, 107, 415 A.2d 53, 56 (Roberts, J. dissenting); Barnes v. Buck, 464 Pa. 357, 365 n.10, 346 A.2d 778, 782 n.10 (1975) (per Pomeroy, J.).

Pennsylvania courts have held that for res judicata to apply there must be identity of: the thing sued on; the cause of action; the parties; and the quality or capacity of the party suing or being sued. Duquesne Slag Products v. Lench, 490 Pa. at 105, 415 A.2d at 55. The parties in the case at hand have devoted much of their arguments to the correlation of those factors in the state and federal proceedings involved. That effort has been largely misdirected because it overlooks a basic prerequisite for the application of claim preclusion. In Bearoff v. Bearoff, 458 Pa. 494, 327 A.2d 72 (1974), the state Supreme Court said that an earlier judgment in a dispute between the same parties has res judicata effect, ...

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