This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
S.A.S., by and through his Parents,
W.S. and S.S., and on their
own behalf, and A.B.S.,
Hibbing Public Schools,
Independent School District No. 701, et al.,
Filed May 8, 2007
St. Louis County District Court
File No. 69DU-CV-05-1374
Margaret O’Sullivan Kane, Kane Education Law, LLC, 1654 Grand Avenue, Suite 200, St. Paul, Minnesota 55105 (for appellants)
Susan E. Torgerson, Charles E.
Long, Kennedy & Graven, Chartered, 470
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellants S.A.S., by and through his parents, W.S. and S.S.; W.S. and S.S. on their own behalf; and A.B.S. challenge the district court’s judgment of February 7, 2006, granting summary judgment in favor of respondents. Appellants argue that the district court erred by granting summary judgment because collateral estoppel does not preclude appellants’ pendent state claims. We affirm.
and S.S., parents of S.A.S. and A.B.S., claimed that S.A.S. was the object of
disability discrimination and harassment and that A.B.S. was the object of
sexual harassment and discrimination by the respondents. S.A.S. and A.B.S. were students in the Hibbing
Public Schools. S.A.S. suffers from
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and received special-education
services. A.B.S. testified that he is
not homosexual, but that he had been perceived as such. A.B.S. asserted that respondents
The parents filed a series of complaints with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR). One was a complaint against the school district regarding sexual-orientation discrimination against A.B.S., including A.B.S.’s complaints of peer-to-peer sexual harassment, the district’s failure to respond to the complaints, and the district and HPD’s threats of arrest if he pursued the claims. Another complaint was against HPD, claiming that HPD aided and abetted the school district in denial of services to S.A.S. (a student with a disability) and the initiation of criminal charges against S.A.S. without probable cause. The MDHR found that probable cause existed; the MDHR affirmed these findings of probable cause on appeal.
Subsequently, appellants S.A.S., A.B.S., W.S., and S.S. filed suit in federal district court, alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), as well as constitutional violations and state tort claims. The federal court issued a series of three decisions on July 1, September 13, and October 26, 2005, dismissing appellants’ claims and granting summary judgment to respondents. Appellants did not appeal the federal-court decisions.
The July 1, 2005 Order
late 2004, appellants and the school district signed a settlement agreement and
release/waiver regarding S.A.S.’s IDEA claims.
The federal court held that the settlement agreement ended the
administrative process and thus precluded S.A.S. from satisfying the exhaustion
requirements of the IDEA. See Weber v.
The September 13, 2005 Order
The federal court order of September
13, 2005, granted the city’s (City of
The October 26, 2005 Order
The federal court order of October 26, 2005, granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment on A.B.S.’s remaining claims, which were based on alleged harassment and sexual-orientation discrimination; significantly, these claims are not subject to the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement. In his remaining claims, A.B.S. brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment’s substantive due-process and equal-protection clauses, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and pattern and practice and failure to train. A.B.S. also asserted a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and various state-law claims. On each claim, the federal court found that A.B.S. failed to produce sufficient evidence or that the school district had reasonably responded to A.B.S.’s complaints.
While the motions were pending in federal court, on July 28, 2005, appellants brought the current action in state court, seeking recovery under the MHRA and tort law. Respondents moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted on February 7, 2006. The state district court ruled that appellants’ MHRA claims for disability and sexual-orientation harassment and discrimination were collaterally estopped by the federal-court decisions and that the tort claims were untimely or insufficiently supported by evidence. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
Appellants argue that the district court erred by granting summary judgment to respondents regarding S.A.S.’s disability-discrimination claim under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).
Under Minnesota law, summary
judgment should be granted “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that either
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
The specific issue we must decide is whether the decisions by the federal court dismissing appellants’ federal claims under the IDEA resulted in collateral estoppel of, or otherwise precluded, appellants’ pendent state claims under the MHRA. We first address appellant S.A.S.’s disability-discrimination claim under the MHRA.
In Minnesota, collateral
estoppel is applicable when: “(1) the issue was identical to one in a prior
adjudication; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the estopped
party was a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication; and (4)
the estopped party was given a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the adjudicated
issue.” Willems v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 333 N.W.2d 619, 621 (
Appellants claim that the state district court abused its discretion by applying collateral estoppel to S.A.S.’s disability-discrimination claim because the first prong of the collateral-estoppel test—identical issues—is not satisfied. Appellants acknowledge that, by virtue of the parties’ 2004 settlement agreement, S.A.S. waived all of his IDEA claims against the school district and its employees. But appellants argue that the issues in a claim under the IDEA relate solely to whether the school district has acted properly in relation to the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a disabled child or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child. See 20 U.S.C. 1415 (b)(6)(A) (Supp. 2004). Appellants also argue that the MHRA, like section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, is an anti-discrimination statute that prohibits discrimination on the part of, inter alia,government actors to avoid due-process and equal-protection claims. See M.P. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 721,439 F.3d 865, 868 (8th Cir. 2006)(citing Thompson v. Bd. of Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 144 F.3d 574, 576 (8th Cir. 1998) (holding that even when a plaintiff’s IDEA claim fails for lack of jurisdiction, a section 504 claim may still be considered)). As a result of this distinction, appellants contend that the issues decided by the federal court under the IDEA are not the same as those raised by appellants under the MHRA.
Respondents argue that the factual and legal issues are identical, in that S.A.S.’s entire MHRA claim is rooted in the educational services that the school district provided to him under the IDEA. The state district court concluded that his MHRA claims were “inherently intertwined” with his IDEA claims and that “[t]he same set of facts form[ed] the basis of both claims.”
But even if we were to agree with appellants’ position that collateral estoppel was inappropriately applied, we nevertheless conclude that appellant has failed to establish any genuine issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment. The essence of S.A.S.’s claim is that respondents discriminated against him by disciplining him for behaviors related to his disability and by not following the disciplinary steps in his special-education plans developed in accordance with the IDEA. Specifically, he alleges that the school district discriminated against him by involving law enforcement to address “crimes for which no probable cause existed” and “for which no other non-disabled student had ever been arrested,” and that such acts created a “hostile educational environment.” But in resolving S.A.S.’s equal-protection and due-process claims, the federal court noted the undisputed testimony of one of the police officers that he “regularly arrested other students for similar behavior.” And in one instance of alleged disorderly conduct, the police charged both S.A.S. and the other student involved with disorderly conduct.
In sum, S.A.S. presented only unsupported allegations of discriminatory conduct. As the federal district court correctly noted, “[t]he mere fact that S.A.S. and A.B.S. were the subject of numerous criminal investigations and/or charges shortly after S.A.S.’s disability and plaintiffs’ activism may have become known to the defendants is simply not enough to give rise to an inference of discriminatory motive.” We therefore conclude that because S.A.S. presented no genuine issue of material fact with respect to his disability-discrimination claim, the state district court did not err in granting summary judgment for respondents.
Appellants next argue that the district court erred by granting respondents’ motion for summary judgment, arguing that collateral estoppel does not preclude appellant A.B.S.’s sexual-orientation-harassment and -discrimination claims under the MHRA, because the federal court did not address A.B.S.’s MHRA claims.
Applying the collateral-estoppel test set forth above, we conclude that all elements of the test are satisfied. The issues that the federal court addressed regarding A.B.S. are the same as those that would be necessary to address for an MHRA claim. In the prior adjudication, the parties were the same; S.A.S., A.B.S., W.S., S.S., and the school district were all parties to the federal action. Also, appellants were given a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the adjudicated issues in federal court, and there was a final judgment on the merits in federal court, which was not appealed.
Nevertheless, appellants assert that those claims were based exclusively on the MHRA and were dismissed by the federal court because it declined to exercise its jurisdiction over the state claims. Therefore, appellants contend that the federal court’s findings in its decisions regarding A.B.S.’s sexual-orientation-discrimination claims were mere dicta, and thus not binding. But in reviewing the federal court’s decisions, we conclude that A.B.S.’s sexual-orientation-discrimination claims were not solely based on the MHRA. In fact, as the district court concluded in its February 7, 2006 order, the sexual-orientation-discrimination issues were integral to several of A.B.S.’s federalclaims and the federal court’s rulings on those claims. The district court correctly concluded that the same facts form the basis of A.B.S.’s federal and state claims. Our review of appellants’ respective complaints bears this out.
For example, in the federal action A.B.S. alleged “that the District defendants instituted unlawful criminal charges against him, failed to investigate his complaints of peer-to-peer sexual harassment, and retaliated against him for his association with S.A.S. and his complaints concerning the harassment” in violation of 42 U.S.C § 1983. He also proffered a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985. In analyzing these claims, the federal court necessarily addressed the underlying facts of A.B.S.’s MHRA claims, which included several encounters with the police for fights/assault (Fourth Amendment claim), incidents in which A.B.S. claimed he had been treated differently from those students who were perceived to be heterosexual, and alleged harassment incidents based on perceived sexual orientation (equal-protection claim). In each instance, the federal court found that respondents had acted appropriately in referring instances of misconduct to the police and that, as a matter of equal protection, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that A.B.S. was treated differently from other students. Thus, the federal court’s findings that the evidence did not indicate that the school district violated A.B.S.’s rights or discriminated against him based on perceived sexual orientation address the same factual situation that appellants asked the state court to address under the MHRA. See Price, 256 N.W.2d at 466 (holding that a determination of an issue in a suit between two parties is conclusive on that issue in subsequent suits “even though the former suit was based on a totally different cause of action”).
As respondents correctly observed, appellants’ suggestion that a “factual conclusion by the federal court without consideration of the actual claims to which the facts are tied cannot be binding on any subsequent trier of fact since it is mere dicta,” if accepted, would eliminate the application of collateral estoppel entirely. The whole point of collateral estoppel is that a party does not get to keep relitigating the same facts and the same issues by serially fashioning new legal theories and causes of action. Once an issue is decided in connection with one cause of action, it is decided for all other causes of action that necessarily rely on the same issue.
Here, the federal court necessarily had to determine that the district properly investigated A.B.S.’s harassment claims in order to resolve his constitutional-due-process claim. That conclusion is binding with respect to A.B.S.’s subsequent MHRA claim. Even though it is a different cause of action, the issue is the same. The facts that the federal court dealt with were not superfluous to the federal claims on which the court granted summary judgment and thus the federal court’s findings were not dicta. On this record, the state district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that collateral estoppel precluded appellants from litigating their MHRA claims. We further conclude that even assuming collateral estoppel was not directly applicable, A.B.S., like S.A.S., failed to present a prima facie case of sexual-orientation discrimination, and thus summary judgment was properly granted.
oral argument, appellants stated that they also challenge the district court’s
dismissal of their malicious-prosecution and immunity claims. (Appellants did not challenge the other tort
claims, either at oral argument or in their brief.) Issues not briefed on appeal are
waived. Melina v. Chaplin, 327 N.W.2d 19, 20 (
 One of the purposes of the IDEA is to ensure that all
disabled students are provided with a “free appropriate public education”
(“FAPE”). 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A)
(Supp. 2004). The IDEA allows parents to
present complaints “with respect to any matter relating to the identification,
evaluation, or educational placement of [a disabled] child, or the provision of
a free appropriate public education to such child.”
 “[W]e will not reverse a correct decision simply
because it is based on incorrect reasons.”
Katz v. Katz, 408 N.W.2d 835,
 Appellants also assert that collateral estoppel cannot be applied because the federal court did not “reference” the probable-cause findings by the MDHR. But appellants cite no authority for this proposition. We decline to address allegations that are unsupported by legal analysis or citation. Ganguli v. Univ. of Minn., 512 N.W.2d 918, 919 n.1 (Minn. App. 1994). In our view, regardless of what the MDHR found, appellants must establish the essential elements of their claims to survive summary judgment. They failed to do so, and accordingly, the state district court properly relied on the federal court’s findings in granting summary judgment for respondents.