Does collateral estoppel apply to an Office of Administrative Hearing [examiner's] ruling that found an officer lacked probable cause to arrest a defendant under Wyoming's implied consent statute, for the same incidents resulting in the defendant's conditional plea for DWUI?
[Elliott] and his attorney were the only participants in any of the implied consent hearings resulting in the findings of no probable cause to arrest for DWUI that [Elliott] was attempting to use as collateral estoppel and res judicata as a basis to dismiss the underlying DWUI charge that was the basis of the conditional plea and if the issue is resolved in favor of [Elliott] it is a dispositive issue that will result in dismissal. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the preclusion doctrine of collateral estoppel applies in the administrative context. Citing to the Restatement, the court noted:
Even if the elements of collateral estoppel are met, several exceptions may apply:
Although an issue is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment, relitigation of the issue in a subsequent action between the parties is not precluded in the following circumstances:
(1) The party against whom preclusion is sought could not, as a matter of law, have obtained review of the judgment in the initial action; or
(2) The issue is one of law and (a) the two actions involve claims that are substantially unrelated, or (b) a new determination is warranted in order to take account of an intervening change in the applicable legal context or otherwise to avoid inequitable administration of the laws; or
(3) A new determination of the issue is warranted by differences in the quality or extensiveness of the procedures followed in the two courts or by factors relating to the allocation of jurisdiction between them; or
(4) The party against whom preclusion is sought had a significantly heavier burden of persuasion with respect to the issue in the initial action than in the subsequent action; the burden has shifted to his adversary; or the adversary has a significantly heavier burden than he had in the first action; or
(5) There is a clear and convincing need for a new determination of the issue (a) because of the potential adverse impact of the determination on the public interest or the interests of persons not themselves parties in the initial action, (b) because it was not sufficiently foreseeable at the time of the initial action that the issue would arise in the context of a subsequent action, or (c) because the party sought to be precluded, as a result of the conduct of his adversary or other special circumstances, did not have an adequate opportunity or incentive to obtain a full and fair adjudication in the initial action.
Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 28 (1980).
In declining to apply collateral estoppel, the Court pointed out the following:
"[W]e disagree that privity similarly exists between WYDOT and the offices of the county and district attorneys involved. “Privity is not established ... from the mere fact that persons may happen to be interested in the same question or in proving or disproving the same state of facts.” 47 Am.Jur.2d, Judgments § 589. Here, WYDOT is only granted the authority to suspend a driver's license after an arrest and to thereafter defend that suspension in an administrative context. See Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 16-3-103, 16-3-104, 16-3-112; 31-5-233; 31-6-102, 31-6-103 (LexisNexis 2009). On the other hand, the county and district attorneys are responsible for prosecuting, investigating, and representing the State of Wyoming in all criminal matters." (Editors comment: this 'difference' is farcical: the mere fact that 'one is named Jones, and one is named Smith' really doesn't explain why privity does not exist between two agencies performing the same task while interpreting the same statutes and the same issues and the same case opinions and the same constitutional issues, albeit it they do so in two different proceedings)
Additionally, the court found that the prosecutors were denied the full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue:
"[W]e are persuaded that county and district attorneys, because of the nature of their offices, are denied a full and fair opportunity to litigate any issue in an administrative hearing."
Quoting from an Illinois case and adopting its rationale, the court repeated the holding in People v. Moore:
"The court explained that the legislative purpose of license suspension hearings was to provide an expeditious means of having a defendant's case heard in the context of an extremely limited scope. ( People v. Moore (1990), 138 Ill.2d 162, 169.) In finding that the doctrine of collateral estoppel did not preclude the litigation of certain issues previously decided at the defendant's suspension hearing, the court stated:
“[I]f these proceedings were given preclusive effect, it would render meaningless this legislative purpose. That is, the practical effect would be that the State could not rely on the sworn police report at these proceedings but, rather, would be required to have the arresting officer, and other witnesses, testify. The goal of conducting swift hearings for the sole purpose of determining whether a court has sufficient reason to rescind summary suspension of a motorist's driving privileges will be thwarted. Given this probable result, and the fact that no injustice will be done to either party by declining to give preclusive effect to these license suspension hearings, we decline to do so.”
All is not lost, however. The Montana Supreme Court's ruling explained why collateral estoppel could not flow from an administrative hearing to the criminal case. On the other hand, the rationale for so doing leaves it clear that collateral estoppel from the criminal case to the administrative hearing could still be applied, in those unusual circumstances where the criminal ruling goes first. On a personal note, I wish to commend Mr. Vang for his efforts in this arena, as many of us followed his efforts as this matter unfolded...
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