CZARNIECKI v. CITY OF CHICAGO (January 21, 2011)

For a few months in late 2006 in early 2007, Wojciech Czarniecki was a probationary police officer with the Chicago Police Department. He alleges that Assistant Deputy Superintendent Tobias made several negative references to his Polish ancestry in a discussion about Czarniecki's use of exam study guides. He alleges that his dismissal followed shortly thereafter and that another Polish probationary officer was dismissed at about the same time. He brought suit under § 1983 against the City and Tobias, alleging national origin discrimination in violation of the 14th Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the City. Shortly before trial, the court granted Czarniecki's motion to dismiss his claim against Tobias without prejudice - but conditioned the dismissal on a requirement that he seek her permission if he ever wanted to refile it. Czarniecki appealed that order because of its refiling condition, then sought permission to refile and appealed that order when the court denied permission on the grounds that his first appeal deprived her of jurisdiction. A few months later, Czarniecki filed a new complaint alleging national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, naming only the City. Judge St. Eve (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the complaint on res judicata grounds. Czarniecki appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Bauer, Flaum, and Hamilton consolidated the three appeals, affirmed the res judicata dismissal, and dismissed the other appeals as moot. The Court noted the three familiar ingredients of federal res judicata (federal res judicata applies when the earlier judgment was in federal court): a final decision, a dispute arising out of the same operative facts, and the same parties. The Court found that the three requirements were met here. There is no dispute that the earlier decision against the City was final, the parties are the same (the fact that Tobias is not a defendant in the second suit is of no consequence), and the claim arises from the same operative facts. The fact that he sets forth a new theory of liability, even with different proof requirements, does not change the res judicata result. The Court also rejected Czarniecki's argument that res judicata should not apply because he lacked a "right to sue” letter at the time of his first complaint and could not have brought a Title VII claim. The Court concluded that Czarniecki had several ways in which he could have dealt with that situation -- splitting his claims was not one of them. Finally, the Court dismissed as moot Czarniecki's two other appeals since both only dealt with his ability to refile.