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LaFee v. Winona County

January 14, 2003


Winona County District Court File No. C001522

Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Wright, Judge.


1. An action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of First Amendment free speech rights is not collaterally estopped by an arbitration award issued pursuant to the terms of a collective-bargaining agreement.

2. Collateral estoppel does not preclude consideration of an issue not actually arbitrated by the parties in a prior arbitration proceeding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: G. Barry Anderson, Judge

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded


Appellant challenges the district court's order dismissing his complaint and asserts that his prior unsuccessful arbitration grievance does not preclude the present suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Appellant also challenges the district court's refusal to allow appellant to amend the original complaint to name respondent, Sheriff David Brand, as a defendant in his personal capacity. Because the district court erred by concluding that the grievance arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement bars appellant's section 1983 cause of action, we reverse and remand for trial. Further, because we conclude that the parties did not actually litigate and determine the issues related to appellant's MHRA claim, collateral estoppel does not preclude litigation of this issue upon remand. Finally, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellant's motion to amend the complaint to state a cause of action against respondent Brand personally.


Respondent Winona County employed appellant Daniel LaFee as a jailer and chief jailer, a title later changed to jail administrator, from March 1974 until the county eliminated his position for budgetary reasons on March 13, 2000. Respondent David Brand was the Sheriff of Winona County when the county discontinued appellant's position.

Independent of the elimination of appellant's position, the county posted a detention-deputy job opening. Appellant applied for the job and was one of three finalists for the position. The county, however, selected Dean Singer, a 29-year-old part-time detention deputy whom appellant, as jail administrator, had hired, trained, and supervised.

Pursuant to an agreement collectively bargained for by appellant's union, Winona County Supervisors Association, appellant pursued an arbitration grievance concerning the elimination of his position. In that proceeding, the arbitrator found that cost constraints, not discrimination, were the reason for the elimination of appellant's position with the county. The arbitrator also found, regardless of whether the parties submitted the issue, that no evidence indicated that public officials were improperly motivated or influenced in hiring Singer instead of appellant for the detention-deputy position.

Appellant filed an action in district court, alleging respondents violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by retaliating against his exercise of his free speech rights enumerated by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Appellant also alleged that Winona County violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) by failing to hire him for the detention-deputy position.

Respondents moved for summary judgment and, during oral argument, appellant's counsel attempted to amend the complaint to include an allegation against Brand "in his individual capacity." Respondents objected to the oral motion, and the district court directed appellant to bring a formal motion. On March 28, 2002, appellant served his notice of motion to amend the scheduling order and the complaint but did so without submitting supporting memoranda or affidavits. On April 10, 2002, the district court granted respondents' summary-judgment motion and dismissed the original complaint. Also on April 10, 2002, appellant served an amended motion to amend the complaint, this time supported by a memorandum of law and affidavit. The district court conducted a hearing on the motion to amend the original complaint, which had already been dismissed, and denied the motion without explanation. This appeal followed.


I. Did the district court err by affording the arbitration proceeding collateral-estoppel effect in a subsequent civil claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 ...

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