By Richard Harris
Law Clerk to Hon. Susan F. Hutchinson, Illinois Appellate Court, Second District
In McDonald v. Adamson, No, 15-1305, the Seventh Circuit Court of
Appeals recently reversed a ruling from the District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois that an inmate’s claims were barred by res judicata.
In 2010, Illinois state
prison inmate Donald McDonald filed a complaint in the Illinois Court of Claims
against the Illinois Department of Corrections. McDonald claimed that he had
been denied his First Amendment free exercise rights as a practicing Muslim. He
alleged that he was not permitted to attend Friday prayer services, that prison
officials regularly stole prayer cassette tapes and prayer rugs, and that
Christians were allowed to have more volunteers enter the prison than were
Muslims. McDonald sought, among other things, a damages award of $5,000.
The Illinois Court of
Claims conducted a hearing on McDonald’s complaint but failed to issue a
decision for more than two years. In the interim, McDonald filed a similar
complaint in the federal district court seeking injunctive relief under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. In 2013, the Illinois Court of Claims issued an order rejecting
the allegations in McDonald’s original complaint. The district court
subsequently dismissed McDonald’s federal complaint, finding that the order
from the Illinois Court of Claims rendered the federal complaint barred by res judicata.
On appeal, the Seventh
Circuit agreed with the defendants’ concession that McDonald’s federal claim
was not barred by res judicata. The court
explained that Illinois law affords preclusive effect only to a final judgment
rendered by a “court of competent jurisdiction.” Because the Illinois Court of
Claims lacks jurisdiction to consider claims based upon a federal statute or
the federal or state constitutions, it is not a “court of competent
jurisdiction” under Illinois preclusion law. Thus, the adverse judgment in the
Illinois Court of Claims did not bar McDonald’s federal complaint based upon
the same facts.
The Seventh Circuit also
declined to address the defendants’ collateral estoppel argument. The court
acknowledged that res judicata and
collateral estoppel are separate legal doctrines, but noted that the defendants
bore the burden to raise collateral estoppel as an affirmative defense in the
district court. Hence, the Seventh Circuit would not affirm a judgment based on
an affirmative defense raised for the first time on appeal.
The Seventh Circuit noted in
closing that, on remand, the district court would be free to grant McDonald
leave to amend his complaint. The defendants would also have an opportunity to renew
their motion to dismiss.
DISCLAIMER: The Appellate Lawyers Association does not provide legal services or legal advice. Discussions of legal principles and authority, including, but not limited to, constitutional provisions, statutes, legislative enactments, court rules, case law, and common-law doctrines are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.