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JAMES FREDERICK v. AMERICAN HARDWARE SUPPLY COMPANY (04/20/89)

filed: April 20, 1989.

JAMES FREDERICK, SUSAN COYLE AND MARGARET A. STEIGHNER, APPELLANTS,
v.
AMERICAN HARDWARE SUPPLY COMPANY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order entered March 2, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, Civil Division, at No. A.D. No. 85-202 Book 126 Page 159.

COUNSEL

William D. Kemper, Butler, for appellants.

James B. Spears, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Brosky, Del Sole and Johnson, JJ.

Author: Del Sole

[ 384 Pa. Super. Page 73]

This is an appeal from an order granting partial summary judgment in favor of Appellee corporation, American Hardware Co. [American]. In count one of their complaint,

[ 384 Pa. Super. Page 74]

Appellants, employees of American, claimed that American had breached an implied contract of employment by wrongfully discharging them. American filed a motion for summary judgment and the trial court granted the motion on this contract issue, and denied the motion as to the other counts in the complaint.

The trial court held that an earlier decision of the Unemployment Compensation referee denying compensation because of willful misconduct, which was later affirmed by the Board of Review and the Commonwealth Court, collaterally estopped the employees from asserting that they had been wrongfully discharged from their employment in a contract claim. The trial court stated; "The issue of willful misconduct would be a viable defense to the wrongful discharge cause of action under the alleged implied contract." In effect, the trial court held that the the referee's finding that the employees had been discharged for willful misconduct and were ineligible for unemployment compensation (43 P.S. ยง 802(e)) was equivalent to the finding that the employer had not wrongfully dismissed the employees, and therefore the issue which had already been adjudicated in a prior administrative proceeding was precluded by the doctrine of collateral estoppel.

Briefly, collateral estoppel requires: (1) that the issue or issues of fact determined in a prior action be the same as those appearing in a subsequent action, there being no necessity that the cause of actions be the same, (2) that the party against whom the defense is invoked is identical to or in privity to the party in the first action, (3) the previous judgment be final on the merits, and (4) the party had a full and fair chance to litigate on the merits. Shaffer v. Pullman Trailmobile, 368 Pa. Super. 199, 206, 533 A.2d 1023, 1026 (1987); Thompson v. Karastan Rug Mills, 228 Pa. Super. 260, 323 A.2d 341, 344 (1974). Furthermore, the application of the principle of collateral estoppel is not precluded merely because administrative proceedings are involved. When an administrative agency is acting in a judicial capacity and resolves disputed issues of fact properly

[ 384 Pa. Super. Page 75]

    before it which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to litigate, the court will not hesitate to apply res judicata principles. Philadelphia Elec. Co. v. Borough of Lansdale, 283 Pa. Super. 378, 424 A.2d 514, 521 (1981), citing, United States v. Utah Construction & Mining Co., 384 U.S. 394, 86 S.Ct. 1545, 16 L.Ed.2d 642 (1966).

For instance, it has been held that collateral estoppel principles apply to judgments from Workers Compensation boards in subsequent products liability and common law tort actions, Shaffer, supra, 533 A.2d at 1026, Nicklos v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 346 F.Supp. 185 (E.D.Pa., 1972), and final judgments of the Public Utilities Commission collaterally estop plaintiffs from asserting the same issue in a ...


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