Issue preclusion—known at common law as collateral estoppel—generally prevents parties from relitigating an issue that was already decided in a prior case.  The Supreme Court has expressly held that issue preclusion applies to §1983 claims.  The experienced civil rights attorneys at Miller Law Group can help you determine if preclusion affects your claim.

Issue preclusion can have a significant impact when the underlying facts were part of a criminal case.  For example, if a criminal defendant challenges the constitutionality of a search or arrest at his criminal trial and the court finds no violation, he will be precluded from raising that issue in a subsequent § 1983 action.  See, e.g., Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90 (1980).  In that instance, issue preclusion can totally destroy a potential civil rights claim.

However, if the criminal defendant pleaded guilty, he likely can challenge the constitutionality of the search or arrest in a subsequent civil rights claim.  See Haring v. Prosise, 462 U.S. 306 (1983).  This is because issue preclusion requires that the issue was actually litigated in the previous action.  When a criminal defendant pleads guilty, no issues have actually been litigated.  While this is an important distinction, lower courts are split on whether a guilty plea can ever have preclusive effect.

If your civil rights were violated and the underlying facts were involved in a previous case, contact the experienced civil rights attorneys at Miller Law Group to see how issue preclusion might affect you claim.

Additional Resources: 

“Under Color of Law” Explained

What damages can I recover in a § 1983 lawsuit?

What is the difference between absolute and qualified immunity?