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LANGERT v. FESTA

May 10, 1983

HARRY LANGERT, Plaintiff, against PASQUALE FESTA, Defandant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

McLAUGHLIN, District Judge

Plaintiff, an inmate at the Auburn Correctional Facility, has filed this action under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendant has moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that the action is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is granted in part.

 FACTS

 On February 15, 1980, defendant, Detective Pasquale Festa, arrested Harry Langert, for raping, sodomizing and robbing Marie Murray on or about January 28, 1980. In his § 1983 complaint, Langert alleges that Dective Festa threatened him in the police car by placing a cocked gun against Langert's ribs, and urging him to cooperate or he would be "blown away". His death, it is alleged, would be explained as an attempted escape. Langert was taken to the 112th Precinct, where, having been advised of his rights, he made a confession. He was subsequently indicted for the crimes charged against him under Indictment 364-80.

 Prior to trial, Langert moved to suppress his confession on the ground that it was not made voluntarily. In support of that motion, he alleged that during his interrogation at the police station he was told that he did not need a lawyer and that he could not call his wife until "after everything was completed." Langert further alleged that at some point during the interrogation, Detective Festa placed his gun on the table before Langert and told him to cooperate and "everything would be all right." In addition, Langert alleged that he was refused medical attention for approximately ten hours, although he had informed his interrogators that he was suffering from a severe headache and blood pressure difficulties. These allegations, which formed the basis of Langert's state court suppression motion, are realleged in the instant action as the basis of his § 1983 claim.

 A state court hearing was held to determine the admissibility of Langert's confession. That hearing (the transcript of which fills 380 pages) took place on March 6, 18, and 31, and April 15 and 29, 1981, and culminated in a written decision denying his motion to suppress the confession.

 In reaching its conclusion that Langert's confession was given voluntarily, the court made various findings of fact, including: (1) Detective Festa did not threaten Langert at the time of his arrest, and (2) Detective Festa did not tell Langert that he did not need an attorney during his interrogation. Affidavit of Frederick Kolikoff, Exhibit H at pp. 3 - 4 (June 18, 1982).

 Langert was subsequently tried and found guilty of, inter alia, rape, sodomy, and robbery. He was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of not less than 56-1/2 years had not more than 113 years. Langert's appeal of his conviction is pending.

 Defendant argues that the factual allegations that are the basis of Langert's § 1983 claim have already been resolved against Langert in his state suppression hearing. More particularly, defendant asserts that the state court explicitly rejected Langert's allegations that he was threatened at the time of his arrest and that he was told that he did not need an a lawyer at the time of his interrogation. Defendant further argues that Langert's remaining allegations were implicitly and necessarily rejected by the state court's finding that Langert's confession was not the product of coercion by Detective Festa.

 Langert, on the other hand, contends that the state court made no specific finding on any of these allegations, but merely made a finding that Langert's confession was made voluntarily. Therefore, argues Langert, the state court left open the issue whether any of the incidents alleged in Langert's § 1983 action actually occurred. Langert contends that it is possible for his rights to have been violated even though those violations did not render his confession involuntary.

 DISCUSSION

 At the outset, it is helpful to distinguish the doctrine of res judicata (claim preclusion) from that of collateral estoppel (issue preclusion). The former applies when the plaintiff sues twice on the same claim or cause of action; the latter applies when the plaintiff brings two suits on different claims or causes of action that arose from the same transaction.

 "The traditional rule of res judicata is that a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties from relitigating issues actually raised and determined in that action, as well as issues that could have been, but were not, raised and determined in that action." Gargiul v. Tompkins, 704 F.2d 661, slip op. at 2688 (2d Cir. 1983). By contrast, "[t]he traditional rule of collateral estoppel precludes a party from relitigating issues already litigated and ...


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