Southern District of New York Holds That Collateral Estoppel Prevents Injured Plaintiff from Re-Litigating Issue of Whether Driver Was Within Scope of Employment at Time of Accident

In Cianfano v. Village of Tuckahoe, the District Court for the Southern District of New York addressed a personal injury case where an injured plaintiff brought suit against the local township and its police department after his suit against the driver was dismissed. In his suit, he alleged violations of his rights under federal and state law. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the issue of whether the driver was working under the scope of employment had been raised, fully and fairly litigated, and adjudicated against plaintiff in the prior lawsuit. The court agreed with defendants and found that plaintiff was collaterally estopped from re-litigating the issue.

In the initial suit, plaintiff had sued the driver and the driver’s employer, a restaurant, claiming that the driver was making a delivery at the time plaintiff was injured. Once that case was dismissed and confirmed on appeal, he filed the instant action and alleged that the police department falsified the police report for the accident to benefit the owners of the restaurant by changing the time of the accident so it appeared that the driver was not working when the accident occurred. He argued that the falsification caused the dismissal of his lawsuit against the driver, thereby causing him economic loss.

The court determined that the Full Faith and Credit Act required the court to give the same preclusive effect to a state-court judgment as another court of that State would give. Applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel under New York law, the court found that the issue of whether the driver was acting in the scope of his employment was at the core of the state court action and the sole focus of that court’s analysis. As such, the issue was already decided and could not be re-litigated in federal court.

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