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MYERS v. DAUBERT

April 29, 1986

TAMMY MYERS, by her parents, THOMAS E. MYERS and SALLY MYERS
v.
PHILLIP H. DAUBERT, DUSTIN A. PETERS, DONALD R. FINK, DEBORAH H. HOFFMAN, ROBERT H. BRAIN, KAREN D. WOLGEMUTH, JAY P. WOLMER, CLAIR BAUM, GARY K. BINGAMAN, ROBERT L. ENCK and ROBERT J. DOLAN



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN

 TROUTMAN, S.J.

 Plaintiff Tammy Myers was expelled from Elizabethtown Area High School in December 1984, for the remainder of the 1984-85 school year for violations of the school's drug policy. After her administrative appeals were denied, including an appeal from the decision of the school board to the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, Tammy elected not to pursue additional relief in the state courts. Instead, she filed the instant case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, alleging a Fourteenth Amendment violation. Defendants have moved for summary judgment, contending that because the same issues were raised and resolved in the Local Agency Appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, this suit is barred by res judicata /collateral estoppel principles. In the alternative, defendants contend that they are entitled to good faith immunity because they acted within the scope of their authority and without malicious intent or knowing violation of Tammy's constitutional rights.

 There are no material issues of fact in dispute. On October 12, 1984, school officials determined that Tammy Myers had carried into the school and directly or indirectly distributed to five other students an unknown substance in pill form. The incident came to light when several of the girls who ingested the pills became ill and were taken to the school infirmary. Tammy's parents were notified by letter on the same day that school officials wished to meet with them to discuss Tammy's suspension and other actions to be taken by the school district in response to the incident. When Tammy's parents realized that the conference was, in fact, an informal hearing, they declined to participate further without the assistance of counsel. After counsel was retained, a hearing was held before the School Board on November 8, 1984. Subsequently, plaintiffs were informed that the Board had decided to expel Tammy for the remainder of the school year. Thereafter, the decision was appealed to the Court of Common Pleas on one basis only, i.e., whether the Board's decision was based upon substantial evidence.

 In affirming the decision of the School Board, the court first determined that Tammy had been afforded due process of law through the procedures which culminated in the Board's decision to expel her. The court also determined that the decision was based upon substantial evidence, and thus affirmed the decision of the Board.

 Plaintiffs contend that the present suit should not be barred by res judicata /collateral estoppel principles because the relief they seek here is not identical to that which was sought or which could have been granted in the Local Agency Appeal in the Court of Common Pleas. Appeals from that decision were not taken because the relief sought in that action, reinstatement and expungement of Tammy's disciplinary record, would have been meaningless since the time required for further action would have consumed substantially all of the remaining school year. Moreover, plaintiffs contend that they could not have been granted the damages sought in the present case. Thus, they contend that res judicata cannot serve to bar the present case.

 In a technical sense, plaintiffs are correct that res judicata is not applicable to this case, but in practical terms their arguments are unavailing because collateral estoppel or issue preclusion, the technically correct principle to be applied here, also bars the present litigation. As the Supreme Court noted in Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153, 99 S. Ct. 970, 59 L. Ed. 2d 210 (1979):

 
Under collateral estoppel, once an issue is actually and necessarily determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, that determination is conclusive in subsequent suits based on a different cause of action involving a party to the prior litigation. (Citations omitted).

 Courts which later considered the issue identified four requirements for the proper application of the collateral estoppel rule in a given case:

 
1. the issue determined in the prior action must be identical to that presented in the later action;
 
2. there must have been a final judgment on the merits in the prior action;
 
3. the party against whom the collateral estoppel is asserted must have been a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication;
 
4. the party against whom collateral estoppel is sought must have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior proceeding.

 See Kelly v. Warminster Twp. Board of Supervisors, 512 F. Supp. 658, 664 (E. D. Pa. 1981), aff'd. 681 F.2d 806 (3d Cir. 1982), cert. den., 459 U.S. 834, 103 S. Ct. 76, 74 L. ...


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