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O'Connor v. Pierson

June 3, 2009

THOMAS O'CONNOR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LYNNE B. PIERSON, ELLEN C. HEALY, CHRISTOPHER A. DUMAS, PATRICIA M. STRONG, CHRISTINE T. FORTUNATO, DONNA H. HEMMANN, STACEY HODGES, JOHN F. MORRIS, FREDERICK E. PETRELLI JR., PENNY H. STANZIALE, AND WETHERSFIELD BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Robert N. Chatigny, Chief Judge) granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment. We agree with the district court that the plaintiff's claims, which are based on an alleged denial of his right to substantive due process, are barred under the doctrine of res judicata inasmuch as they were or could have been brought in the parallel suit based on the same facts that were litigated to a final judgment in Connecticut state court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sack, Circuit Judge

Argued: March 9, 2009

Before: WINTER and SACK, Circuit Judges, and COGAN, District Judge.*fn1

Affirmed.

Plaintiff-appellant Thomas O'Connor pursued parallel lawsuits against the defendants in federal and state court.

What became the federal lawsuit was first filed in the Superior Court for the State of Connecticut. Based on O'Connor's assertion of, inter alia, causes of action under federal law, the action was removed by the defendants to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. When the case stalled, the plaintiff filed a second complaint in Superior Court in which he limited himself to the assertion of state law claims only. This lawsuit went to trial. A state-court jury found in O'Connor's favor on one of his claims, but against him on the others. Both sides appealed.

Shortly after the state trial court judgment was entered, the district court in the pending parallel federal action (Robert N. Chatigny, Chief Judge) entered judgment for the defendants on all of O'Connor's federal claims, and remanded the pendent state claims to state court. The district court did not reach an issue raised by the defendants: whether the state court judgment had a res judicata (or "claim preclusion") effect on the claims pending in the federal action. That district court judgment was appealed to this Court.

While the federal appeal was pending here, the Connecticut Appellate Court reversed the judgment based on the state-court jury verdict with respect to the one claim on which O'Connor had been successful -- invasion of privacy --- and affirmed the remaining claims on which the defendants had prevailed. The Connecticut Supreme Court denied O'Connor's petition for certification for appeal. All of O'Connor's claims in the state-court lawsuit were therefore unsuccessful.

Shortly after the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled, we vacated the district court's decision in the federal case in part, and remanded for further consideration of O'Connor's substantive due process claims. We declined to reach the defendants' res judicata argument, concluding that it had not been sufficiently presented to the district court. O'Connor v. Pierson, 426 F.3d 187, 194-95 (2d Cir. 2005).

Following our remand, the district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on O'Connor's substantive due process claims on the ground that in light of the state court decision, they were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. O'Connor v. Pierson, 482 F. Supp. 2d 228 (D. Conn. 2007).

The plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

On January 26, 2000, O'Connor brought this action in Connecticut Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford, against the Wethersfield Board of Education, members of the Board in their official capacities, and Lynne B. Pierson, the Superintendent of Schools, in both her individual and official capacity. O'Connor v. Pierson, No. CV-595721-S (Conn. Super. Ct. January 26, 2000). O'Connor, a public-school teacher, alleged that the defendants had acted unlawfully by conditioning his return to work following administrative leave on his agreement to undergo a psychiatric examination and to release all of his medical records to the defendants. He contended that these conditions violated his rights under both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Connecticut.*fn2

He also asserted state common-law claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and intentional interference with beneficial and contractual relations. The defendants removed the action to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut on the basis of federal question jurisdiction ...


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