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Legal Memorandum: Issue Preclusion to Prevent Re-litigation

Issue: Does collateral estoppel prevent an employee who was found ‘not entitled to unemployment benefits’ from litigating a claim under the Virgin Islands Wrongful Discharge Act?

Area of Law: Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Collateral estoppel; Relitigation of issues; Wrongful Discharge Act
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: 24 V.I.C. § 76; 24 V.I.C. § 76(c)
Date: 10/01/2004

Virgin Islands courts apply a four-prong test to determine whether issue preclusion applies to prevent a party from relitigating an issue.  It asks, “(1) Was the issue determined in the prior action the same as that in the subsequent action?  (2) Was the party against whom the defense is invoked identical to or in privity with the party in the first action?  (3) Was the previous judgment final on the merits?  (4) Did the party have a full and fair opportunity to litigate on the merits?”  Charles v. The Daily News Publ’g Co., 29 V.I. 34, 36 (Terr. Ct. 1994).  Accord Dubery v. Dubery, 24 V.I. 54, 58-59 (Terr. Ct. 1988) (listing the four very similar elements for collateral estoppel).

In Harrilal v. Blackwood, 44 V.I. 144 (Terr. Ct. 2001), the court had occasion to address the very issue presented by the question here.  The Harrilal plaintiff sued her former employer for wrongful discharge under the Wrongful Discharge Act (“WDA”) after she was dismissed for her involvement in an altercation with another employee.  After the Virgin Islands Employment Security Agency (“VIESA”) administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that the plaintiff was not entitled to unemployment compensation benefits because her behavior constituted “‘misconduct per se,'” the defendant employer moved for summary judgment, arguing collateral estoppel.  Id. at 146-47.  In Harrilal the defendant employer argued, “in light of the ALJ’s final decision that Harrilal had engaged in misconduct that resulted in her discharge, Harrilal should be precluded from litigating the factual […]

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