Circuit dismissed the case for lack of standing, however, because it found that intervening causal agents rendered the link between plaintiffs' alleged injury and the defendants' conduct too attenuated for standing purposes. As the Northeastern Court did not examine whether the presence of intervening factors influenced either the traceability or redressability requirements of standing, Northeastern does not constitute a changed legal climate such that collateral estoppel would be inappropriate here.
3. Other Special Circumstances
Plaintiffs next contend that public policy considerations compel the Court to reject the doctrine of collateral estoppel and consider their claims on the merits. Specifically, plaintiffs argue that the growing public importance of independent and minor party candidates to the electoral process mandates a new determination of whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge the CPD's tax-exempt status. The Court finds, however, that the growing importance of independent and minor party candidates to the political process does not constitute an intervening change in the legal doctrine of standing such that relitigation of the standing issue is warranted. Rather, it appears that Congress is better suited to address this issue. Moreover, the fact that legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to reform the presidential debates process demonstrates that "lack of standing within the narrow confines of Art. III jurisdiction does not impair the right to assert [a party's] views in the political forum or at the polls." United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 179, 41 L. Ed. 2d 678, 94 S. Ct. 2940 (1974). Accordingly, as the Court finds that the standing issue is identical to that already litigated before the D.C. Circuit, the first requirement of collateral estoppel has been met.
B. The "Full and Fair Opportunity" Requirement
Turning to the second requirement for collateral estoppel, it is clear that Fulani had a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate the standing issue in the prior District of Columbia proceeding. In fact, Fulani unsuccessfully litigated the standing issue before the District of Columbia district court, Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. See Jefferson Ins. Co. of New York v. Fortress Re, Inc., 616 F. Supp. 874, 877 (S.D.N.Y. 1984) ("A party given a full and fair opportunity to litigate an issue of law in one action may be estopped from relitigating it in a subsequent action.").
C. Prior Proceeding
In determining whether collateral estoppel applies, the Court also must determine whether the issue was necessarily decided in the prior proceeding. In the instant case, the Court finds that the D.C. Circuit fully addressed the standing issue in Fulani II, concluding that "Fulani's alleged injury fairly cannot be traced to the IRS's grant of tax-exempt status to the CPD, but is instead dependent on the intervening actions of both the FEC and the CPD." Fulani v. Brady, 935 F.2d at 1331. Accordingly, as Fulani's assertion of standing to challenge the CPD's tax-exempt status was already raised, litigated and decided by the D.C. Circuit, she is collaterally estopped from relitigating this issue in the present case.
II. Plaintiffs' Remaining Contentions
Plaintiffs argue that, as Fulani II expressly disagreed with the Second Circuit's reasoning in Fulani I, collateral estoppel cannot be invoked to bar her claims in the present case. They base their argument on Justice White's concurring opinion in United States v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 464 U.S. 165, 174, 78 L. Ed. 2d 388, 104 S. Ct. 575 (1984).
In Stauffer, plaintiff Stauffer Chemical Co. ("Stauffer"), a national manufacturing company with plants in several regions across the United States, challenged the legality of the Environmental Protection Agency's ("EPA") practice of using private contractors rather than federal employees to inspect Stauffer's plants. Stauffer had won a legal ruling in its favor on this issue in the Tenth Circuit and sought to invoke that decision to estop the EPA from relitigating the same issue in the Sixth Circuit. Finding that the issues in both cases arose from virtually identical facts, the Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals was correct in applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel to bar relitigation of the government's claim in the Sixth Circuit.
Concurring with the majority's opinion, Justice White stressed the fact that the Sixth Circuit had not yet ruled on this issue. Had the Sixth Circuit adopted a contrary rule prior to the current action, however, Justice White indicated that Stauffer would not have been justified in invoking collateral estoppel to bar the government's action. According to Justice White:
Extending preclusion to circuits that have adopted a contrary rule on the merits would be acceptable were it supported by any affirmative policy. It is not. Judicial economy is not served for the simple reason that no litigation is prevented; the prior litigant is subject to one black-letter rule rather than another. For the same reason, there is no concern about protecting the prior litigant from repetitious, vexatious, or harassing litigation. Finally, to the extent the policy against inconsistent decisions remains relevant when a circuit conflict exists, it cuts the other way. At least some measure of consistency and certainty is obtained by even-handed application of rules within individual circuits.
464 U.S. at 178.
The Court declines to follow Justice White's reasoning in Stauffer.8 Where, as here, the issues are so similar as to compel a finding of collateral estoppel, such a finding prevents the Court from ever reaching the merits of the standing issue. To rule otherwise would encourage the parties to forum shop, thereby undermining the purpose of collateral estoppel in promoting the finality of judgments. See Yamaha Corp. of America v. United States, 745 F. Supp. 734, 737-38 (D.D.C. 1990) aff'd, 295 U.S. App. D.C. 158, 961 F.2d 245 (D.C. Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 122 L. Ed. 2d 353, U.S. , 113 S. Ct. 1044 (1993). For this reason, other courts similarly have declined to
follow Justice White's reasoning as to the applicability of collateral estoppel where there is a disagreement among the circuits. See Yamaha Corp. of America v. United States, 295 U.S. App. D.C. 158, 961 F.2d 245, 258 (D.C. Cir. 1992) ("the fact that the substantive law may be different in the two jurisdictions does not affect the application of issue preclusion"), cert. denied, 122 L. Ed. 2d 353, U.S. , 113 S. Ct. 1044 (1993); National Post Office Mail Handlers v. American Postal Workers Union, 285 U.S. App. D.C. 120, 907 F.2d 190, 194 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("The doctrine of issue preclusion counsels us against reaching the merits in this case, . . . regardless of whether we would reject or accept our sister circuit's position.").
Plaintiffs next argue that collateral estoppel does not apply to the standing issue because it is an unmixed question of law. It is true that "when issues of law arise in successive actions involving unrelated subject matter, preclusion may be inappropriate." Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. at 162. However, "when the claims in two separate actions between the same parties are the same or are closely related . . . it is unfair to the winning party and an unnecessary burden on the courts to allow repeated litigation of the same issue in what is essentially the same controversy, even if the issue is regarded as one of 'law.'" United States v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 464 U.S. at 171 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 28, Comment b (1982)). As the subject matter in this case is closely aligned with Fulani II, the Court finds that the exception for pure questions of law does not apply here. Accordingly, plaintiffs are estopped from relitigating the standing issue already decided by the D.C. Circuit.
As the Court finds that plaintiffs are estopped from asserting standing to challenge the CPD's tax-exempt status, defendants' motion to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), is granted. This Memorandum Opinion and Order closes the case.
SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: New York, New York
September 13, 1994