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GALBRAITH v. LENAPE REGIONAL HIGH SCH. DIST.

May 16, 1997

F. LYNN GALBRAITH, Ed.D., Plaintiff,
v.
LENAPE REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ORLOFSKY

 ORLOFSKY, District Judge:

 Defendants, Lenape Regional High School District, Board of Education of Lenape Regional High School District ("Lenape Board" or "the Board"), and Daniel F. Hicks, Superintendent of Schools of Lenape Regional High School District, have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Jurisdiction is conferred upon this Court by 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

 The issues presented by Defendants' motion require this Court to determine: (1) whether Plaintiff's claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. §§ 10:5-1, et seq., and for breach of contract, are barred by either New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine or the doctrine of collateral estoppel; and (2) whether Plaintiff's abuse of process claim fails as a matter of law.

 For the reasons that follow, I find that Plaintiff's Title VII, NJLAD and breach of contract claims are not barred by the entire controversy doctrine. However, I do find that Plaintiff's breach of contract claim is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, and that Plaintiff's Title VII claim against Daniel Hicks and abuse of process claim against all of the Defendants fail as a matter of law. Accordingly, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted in part, and denied in part.

 I. Facts and Procedural History

 For purposes of Defendants' motion, the relevant facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff was hired by Defendants in 1974 to teach high school English in the Lenape Regional High School District. (Medoway Cert., Ex.1, P14). In January of 1974, Plaintiff was certified by the New Jersey Department of Education as a Teacher of English, and in May of 1977, she was certified as a Principal/Supervisor. (Plaintiff's Ex.A).

 Defendants selected the Plaintiff for the additional position of Coordinator of Community Relations in 1977. (Plaintiff's Ex.B). In 1990, Plaintiff accepted the position of District Supervisor, Curriculum and Community Relations. (Medoway Cert., Ex.1, P14). Plaintiff received tenure as a supervisor in the Lenape Regional High School District in 1992. (Medoway Cert., Ex.1, P17).

 At the close of the 1993-1994 school year, Plaintiff's position as Supervisor of Curriculum and Community Relations was eliminated. Because no other supervisory position was available at that time, Plaintiff accepted a position as an English teacher in the district. Shortly thereafter, the Supervisor of Humanities retired and that position became vacant. (Plaintiff's Ex. C). Although Plaintiff applied for this position, she was not selected to fill the vacancy.

 In July of 1995, the Commissioner of Education transferred Plaintiff's petition before him to the Office of Administrative Law for an initial determination. The matter was assigned to Administrative Law Judge Lillard E. Law, who on November 20, 1995, issued an Initial Decision that Plaintiff's tenure rights had been violated by the Lenape Board. (Medoway Cert., Ex.1, P29, Ex.4). The Commissioner of Education affirmed ALJ Law's decision on January 12, 1996. (Medoway Cert., Ex.1, P30, Ex.5). The Lenape Board appealed the Commissioner's decision to the New Jersey State Board of Education, which affirmed the Commissioner's determination on June 7, 1996. (Medoway Cert., Ex.8). The Lenape Board then appealed the decision of the State Board of Education to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, on July 19, 1996. (Medoway Cert., Ex.9). This appeal is presently pending.

 On May 17, 1996, Plaintiff filed her complaint in this Court, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII and the NJLAD, as well as breach of contract and malicious abuse of process.

 II. Summary Judgment Standard

 A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [he or she] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (c). See also Hersh v. Allen Products. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986); Lang v. New York Life Ins. Co., 721 F.2d 118, 119 (3d Cir. 1983). The district court must grant summary judgment when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d Cir. 1996).

 For the purposes of this motion, the parties are in substantial agreement on the facts outlined above. Thus, this motion presents only questions of law and is ripe for summary adjudication. Nation Wide, Inc. v. Scullin, 256 F. Supp. 929, 932 (D.N.J. 1966), aff'd, 377 F.2d 554 (3d Cir. 1967).

 III. Discussion

 The issues presented for resolution in this case require this Court to examine, once again, the extent of the preclusive effect of New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine. Specifically, in ruling on Defendants' motion, this Court must consider the preclusive effect of an administrative determination by the New Jersey State Commissioner of Education that the Lenape Board had violated Plaintiff's tenure rights on an action subsequently brought in this Court. Defendants contend that, because the Plaintiff failed to join her present Title VII, NJLAD and breach of contract claims in her prior action before the Commissioner of Education, those claims are now barred by New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine.

 A. New Jersey's Entire Controversy Doctrine1

 New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine is "a mandatory rule for the joinder of virtually all causes, claims, and defenses relating to a controversy between the parties engaged in litigation." Cogdell v. Hospital Center at Orange, 116 N.J. 7, 16, 560 A.2d 1169 (1989). As a result of the New Jersey's Supreme Court holding in Cogdell, the entire controversy doctrine was incorporated into Rule 4:30A of the New Jersey Court Rules, which provides in relevant part, that "non-joinder of claims or parties required to be joined by the entire controversy doctrine shall result in the preclusion of the omitted claims to the extent ...


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