Petitioner Neil Mulrain appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Leicester. The case below, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, however, was not the first time that this matter was brought to the attention of the courts. Petitioner has sought redress for the same wrong on three prior occasions. Because we believe that res judicata controls, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the petitioner's case.
In 1960 the Town of Leicester, Massachusetts enacted a bylaw requiring all municipal employees to live in the town. The bylaw contained an exception for "emergency
To state the petitioner's claim, however, does not, in and of itself, explain this appeal. It is the procedural history of the case, when combined with the underlying facts, that is dispositive. That procedural history began in 1980, when petitioner filed two actions, one in Massachusetts Superior Court and one before the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission ("Commission"). Both actions arose from his dismissal. In Superior Court, petitioner sought, first, a declaration that the bylaw was invalid because it conflicted with state law and, second, an injunction barring enforcement of the bylaw. See Mass.Gen.L. ch. 31, § 58
The issue before the Commission was whether or not there was just cause for petitioner's dismissal. The hearing officer made findings and recommendations. He determined that petitioner should be reinstated because, as a police officer, he fell within the bylaw exception. Moreover, he found that the Town had never before enforced the law. Upon petitioner's motion, the hearing officer, however, refused to adopt two factual findings: 1) that the bylaw "has not been enforced with respect to other similarly situated employees," and 2) that the bylaw "was enforced ... in an arbitrary manner." His stated reason for refusing to add the findings was that there had been insufficient evidence presented on those points. The hearing officer's final recommendation was that petitioner be reinstated with back pay.
The Commission adopted the hearing officer's report and thereby ordered reinstatement with back pay on January 7, 1982. However, on July 23, 1982, the Commission amended its opinion and reversed, apparently in reliance on the intervening Appeals Court decision holding that the bylaw exception did not shield police officers from the residency requirement. The Commission held that petitioner should be suspended rather than reinstated and that if petitioner relocated to Leicester by January 1, 1983, the suspension would be lifted, without back pay. Petitioner appealed the revised decision to the Spencer District Court, which upheld the Commission's decision on May 23, 1983.
In 1982, new cases were filed in Massachusetts Superior Court by both petitioner and the Board of Selectmen. This time, petitioner alleged that the Board did not reinstate him even though he moved back and that, pursuant to the Massachusetts Civil Rights Law, Gen.L. ch. 12, § 11, the Board had violated his rights by retaliating
The present action was filed on July 7, 1983 under § 1983. Petitioner alleges that the Board of Selectmen, in their individual and official capacities, violated his constitutional rights by terminating him in a manner that was arbitrary and capricious and motivated by discriminatory intent. The theory of the complaint is basically that of selective enforcement. Petitioner also brought a pendent state claim for emotional distress. Defendants moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the pendant state law claim and dismissal of the federal claim under theories of res judicata, collateral estoppel, statute of limitations and failure to state a claim. A magistrate recommended that the state claim be dismissed but that the motion otherwise be denied. The district court dismissed the state claim and granted summary judgment against petitioner on res judicata grounds.
In this case, although the parties have also briefed and argued the issues of collateral estoppel and failure to state a claim, we need not reach those issues because we affirm the district court on res judicata grounds. It is undisputed that "[r]es judicata applies in civil rights actions." Isaac v. Schwartz, 706 F.2d 15, 16 (1st Cir.1983). Moreover, a federal court must give preclusive effect to state court judgments in accordance with state law. Id. As we are dealing with a state court judgment, specifically the 1980 state court proceedings, we look to Massachusetts res judicata principles.
In Isaac we reviewed Massachusetts law on res judicata and summarized the basic principles.
The Massachusetts standard is essentially the same transactional test as that dictated by federal law. As this Court has recently stated,
In the present case, there was plainly only one transaction — the allegedly wrongful termination of petitioner Mulrain. As
"[R]es judicata ... not only reduce[s] unnecessary litigation and foster[s] reliance on adjudication, but also promote[s] the comity between state and federal courts that has been recognized as the bulwark of the federal system." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 95-96, 101 S.Ct. 411, 415, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980). This case presents a classic example of the sort of claim splitting that res judicata was designed to prevent. After eleven years and four lawsuits, we now put this case to rest.