the first amendment claims were not decided.
Certainly, the fact that plaintiff has, as previously discussed, mischaracterized his federal claim as a first amendment issue cannot prevent a state court adjudication of his actual due process claim from having collateral estoppel effect. The key to deciding whether the issues litigated in the state court are identical to those presented here turns not on a simplistic search for the pigeonhole that plaintiff has chosen for his federal action but requires a careful analysis of the decisions of law or fact necessary to the state court's opinion. Even though the state court did not mention the first amendment the opinion of the court, the requirements of the Police Tenure Act, and the brief of the plaintiff show that the alleged political bias of the review board was fairly and finally adjudicated by the state court.
On appeal, plaintiff waived the opportunity for a de novo hearing on his removal, thereby limiting the scope of the state court's review. Nevertheless, the scope of the review by the state court was not narrow. The court's task was "to determine whether the Board of Supervisors abused its discretion, committed an error of law, or violated any constitutional rights." Gregory, supra, at 3. Given this standard of review, adjudication of plaintiff's constitutional claims is implicit in the court's decision to affirm the Board of Supervisors.
Further, the state court's explicit, even blunt, dismissal of plaintiff's constitutional claim makes it unnecessary to infer analysis of the constitutional issue. In his brief, plaintiff urged the state court to find that defendants Chehi, Benner, Marcincin, Lesser and Danyluk were biased against him and to invalidate the Board's action because Danyluk refused to disqualify himself from the hearing panel. As in this court, plaintiff detailed the defendants' statements of animosity toward him, claiming that his removal was politically motivated. Politically motivated discharges, he argued, violated the Police Tenure Act's clear prohibition against removal for political reasons and "infringe[d] upon his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association." See Plaintiff's Brief at 20 (emphasis added).
The state court summarily rejected this statutory and constitutional attack, concluding "[plaintiff's] last point that the Board of Supervisors was biased is . . . without merit." Gregory, supra, at 11. The court understood that due process would be violated if the plaintiff was denied the impartial hearing mandated by the Police Tenure Act, but noted that this did not require the hearing panel to be "free from knowledge of the events on trial or prior expressions of bias as a jury would be." Id. (citing Appeal of Schultz, 58 Pa. Commw. 24, 427 A.2d 290 (1981)). The court found reasonable the Board's decision to exclude only the two council members with direct personal knowledge of the incident precipitating removal and credited the remaining officials' statements that they had no preconceived ideas concerning plaintiff's guilt or innocence.
Plaintiff's extensive arguments and these detailed findings compel the conclusion that plaintiff took advantage of his full and fair opportunity to litigate his claim of unconstitutional bias and that the state court considered, and rejected, that claim. Given this conclusion, plaintiff is collaterally estopped from relitigating the identical issue in a federal action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because plaintiff is estopped from asserting his constitutional claim, defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law and I will grant their motions for summary judgment. An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 2nd day of March, 1987, upon consideration of defendants' motions for summary judgment it is ORDERED as follows:
1. Defendants' motions for summary judgment are GRANTED.
2. Judgment is hereby ENTERED in favor of all defendants against James Gregory.