Quinn v. Cardenas – 8/1/2023

September 5, 2023

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that principles of issue preclusion render federal court judgment binding on state court.

Two individuals engaged in a verbal and physical altercation after a traffic incident. During the altercation, one of the individuals identified himself as an off-duty police officer. The officer used his service weapon to detain the other individual, a private citizen, until additional law enforcement arrived.

The citizen sued the officer in state court for excessive force under 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 (the “federal § 1983 claim”) and for assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law (the “state tort claims”).  The officer successfully removed the case to federal district court. The federal court held the officer was protected from the federal § 1983 claim under the doctrine of qualified official immunity because he was acting as a reasonable office under color of law during the altercation and detention. The federal judge remanded the state tort claims back to the state superior court.

On remand, the superior court ultimately found the state tort claims were precluded by the federal court’s determination of qualified immunity on the federal § 1983 claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding a procedurally unique application of issue preclusion applied.

First, the court explained the difference between the doctrines of preclusion and law of the case. Preclusion generally prohibits litigating, in a subsequent action, either a claim that could have been raised in a prior action (claim preclusion) or an issue that has already been litigated and finally determined (issue preclusion). The law of the case doctrine, on the other hand, is invoked to enforce rulings made in the same case by the same or higher court. Here, neither fit perfectly: the proceedings took place before two different courts but involved the same action. The court ultimately determined that preclusion principles were more consistent with, and respectful of, the dual sovereignty of the two court systems. And, because the federal and state claims here differed, issue preclusion was more appropriate than claim preclusion.

Next, the court explained that issue preclusion applies where the issue is “identical” in both proceedings, as well as necessary to the merits and fully, fairly, and actually litigated in the first instance. Issues are “identical” where the two different proceedings involve substantially overlapping evidence or arguments, application of the same rule of law, the same preparation and discovery, and closely related claims. Here, the court found the facts, evidence, arguments, and legal theories underlying the federal and state claims substantially overlapped. In addition, federal and state law embraced similar concepts of qualified immunity. As such, the court found that the federal court’s finding of qualified immunity for the federal § 1983 claim precluded the state tort claims from being litigated, on remand, in state court.

Judge Catlett authored the opinion of the court, in which Judges McMurdie and Brown joined.

Posted by: Payslie M. Bowman