There are three necessary conditions to the application of collateral estoppel: 1. The plea of collateral estoppel must be asserted against a party or one in privity with a party to the first action; 2. The issue to be precluded from relitigation by operation of the doctrine must be identical to that decided in the first action; 3. The issue in the first action must have been resolved by a final judgment on the merits.
The Alaska Workers' Compensation Board (ACWB) denied a state employee's application for permanent total disability benefits. Subsequently, the Public Employees Retirement Board (PERB) conclusively determined that she was not physically able to perform her duties as a state employee. Thus, the employee requested reversal of an earlier AWCB finding because of a later PERB determination. The trial court denied her request for permanent total disability benefits, despite the ruling of the PERB. The court held that in general, PERB determinations were entitled to preclusive effect, but the court refused to give preclusive effect to the PERB determination in the AWCB proceeding because the state was not in privity with the real party in interest in the PERB proceeding, the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). Also, the later PERB decision could not preclude any issues raised in the earlier AWCB decision because the PERB decision was not the first final judgment. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Alaska.
Is the AWCB judgment final for res judicata purposes?
The court held that the AWCB judgment was final for res judicata purposes, even while the appeal was pending before the court. The court affirmed the AWCB determination that the employee was physically able to perform her job requirements because it was supported by substantial evidence. The court found that to reward relitigation of an issue by reversing the original determination was completely at odds with the purpose of collateral estoppel to prevent relitigation of issues that already have been decided.