Mathes v. Gorcyca et al
MEMORANDUM and ORDER granting 23 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment or Dismissal and Dismissing Case. Signed by District Judge Avern Cohn. (JOwe)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
OLIVER MATHES, III,
Case No. 09-10582
DAVID GORCYCA, individually and
in his official capacity as an officer in
Oakland County, MARY LARKIN,
individually and in her official capacity
as an officer in Oakland County, and
DEBRA CARLEY, individually and in her
official capacity as an officer of
HON. AVERN COHN
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’S MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR DISMISSAL (Doc. 23)
AND DISMISSING CASE
This is an employment discrimination case under Tile VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff Oliver Mathes III (Mathes) is suing defendants David Gorcyca, Mary Larkin and
Debra Carley, individually and in their official capacities, claiming that he was wrongfully
demoted from his position at the Oakland County Prosecutors Office and forced to
accept a new position. He claims (1) race discrimination under Title VII, and (2) a
violation of his right to Equal Protection under § 1983, and (3) race discrimination under
Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, M.C.L. § 327.2301.1
Mathes also asserted a claim for race discrimination under the Elliot Larsen Civil
Rights Act, M.C.L. § 37,2301. The Court, however, declined to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the state law claim and dismissed it without prejudice. See Doc. 10.
As will be explained, Mathes also sued Oakland County in state court, claiming
race discrimination under state and federal law. The Michigan Court of Appeals
recently affirmed summary disposition in favor of Oakland County. Before the Court is
defendant’s motion for summary judgment or dismissal based on res judicata. For the
reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED. This case is DISMISSED.
In 2006, the Oakland County Prosecutors Office began a reorganization
apparently prompted by a problem with insufficient resources in the Juvenile Division,
particularly the Juvenile Sexual Abuse Department. Part of the reorganization was a
reduction in force. Prior to the reorganization, Mathes worked as an Investigator in the
Family Support Unit where he interviewed parents in child custody matters. At that
time, there were four investigative units, the Family Support Unit, the Economic
Recovery Unit, the Domestic Violence Unit and the Child Sexual Assault Unit. The
reorganization required a reduction in the number of investigators from seven to six.
In April 2006, as part of the reorganization, Mathes and another investigator,
Terry Healy, who is Caucasian and had three years less seniority, were asked to submit
a list of their experience and training relative to child sexual assault and domestic
violence in order to fill a new position. They both did so. On May 16, 2006, defendant
Mary Larkin asked Mathes to provide further details of his experience. Mathes did not.
Healy was given the new position of Investigator in the Child Sexual Assault Unit.
Mathes was offered a new position as a Court Service Officer II, a position which was
non-union and paid $15,000.00 less per year than Mathes’ investigator position.
Mathes accepted the offer but resigned about a year later. He then took a position as
Chief Court Services Officer in the 50th District Court in Pontiac.
On August 16, 2006, Mathes filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of
Civil Rights and on October 18, 2006, Mathes’ labor unit filed a complaint with the
Michigan Employment Relations Commission.
On October 20, 2008, Mathes filed a complaint in Oakland County Circuit Court,
naming Oakland County as the sole defendant, Mathes v. Oakland County, No. 08095417-NO (‘the Oakland County case”). Mathes claimed that the County’s actions
violated Elliot Larsen and Title VII on the basis of race. He specifically claimed that he,
not Healy, should have gotten the position.
On September 22, 2009, a judge in Oakland County Circuit Court granted
Oakland County’s motion for summary disposition. Mathes appealed.
Meanwhile, on February 17, 2009, Mathes filed this action in federal court in
which he again challenged the fact he did not get the investigator position. The
defendants are all employees of Oakland County, working in the Prosecutor’s Office.
Specifically, David Gorcyca was the Chief Prosecutor, Debra Carley was the Chief
Deputy Prosecutor, and Mary Larkin was the Chief Attorney in Charge of Administration.
Like the Oakland County case, Mathes makes claims under Title VII and Elliot Larsen.
In this case, Mathes has added a claim under § 1983 for violation of Equal Protection.
Defendants then filed a motion to stay based on the abstention doctrine in
Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). The
Court granted the motion. See Order filed April 7, 2010 (Doc. 20).
Meanwhile, on March 17, 2011, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed summary
disposition in favor of Oakland County. Mathes v. Oakland County, No. 294513 (Mich.
Ct. App. Mar. 17, 2011) (unpublished). Mathes did not seek leave to appeal in the
Michigan Supreme Court.
Defendants then filed the instant motion.
The issue is whether the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision bars Mathes from
litigating this case. State law determines whether the first-issued state court decision
will have preclusive effect on this forum. See United States v. Dominguez, 359 F.3d
839, 841 (6th Cir. 2004).
The doctrine of res judicata is employed to prevent multiple suits litigating the
same cause of action. The doctrine bars a second, subsequent action when (1) the
prior action was decided on the merits, (2) both actions involve the same parties or their
privies, and (3) the matter in the second case was, or could have been, resolved in the
first. Sewell v. Clean Cut Mgt., Inc., 463 Mich. 569, 575 (2001). The Michigan Supreme
Court “has taken a broad approach to the doctrine of res judicata, holding that it bars
not only claims already litigated, but also every claim arising from the same transaction
that the parties, exercising reasonable diligence, could have raised but did not.” Adair
v. State of Michigan, 470 Mich. 105, 120 (2004) (citing Dart v. Dart, 460 Mich. 573, 586,
597 N.W.2d 82 (1999)).
Examining the Sewell factors results in a finding of res judicata. First, the
Oakland County case was clearly decided on the merits – the Michigan Court of
Appeals affirmed summary disposition in favor of Oakland County on all of Mathes’
discrimination claims, a dispositive motion. See Sherrell v. Bugaski, 169 Mich. App. 10,
17 (1988) (“[a] dismissal on motion by the defendants, after judicial consideration, as
opposed to a ministerial procedural dismissal, is an adjudication on the merits”).
Second, both cases involve the same parties or their privies. Although Mathes
named individual defendants in this case and Oakland County in the prior action, they
are in privity for res judicata purposes. See Engle v. City Livonia, No. 272618, 2007 WL
1206833 (Mich. App. Apr. 24, 2011) (recognizing generally that for purposes of res
judicata governmental employees are in privity with their agency). See also Schied v.
Davis, No. 08-10005, 2008 WL 2610229 (E.D. Mich. July 1, 2008)(finding that
superintendent of public school was in privity with the school district for purposes of res
It is the third element–whether his claims could have been resolved in the
Oakland County case–that Mathes disputes. Mathes argues that he could not have
brought his § 1983 equal protection claim in state court because it is a federal claim.
He is mistaken. A § 1983 action against state officers or employees may be maintained
in either federal court or in state court. Federal courts do not have exclusive jurisdiction
over § 1983 actions; rather, federal and state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over §
1983 actions. See Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 139 (1988); Dep't of Treasury v.
Campbell, 161 Mich. App. 526, 529 (1987) (recognizing that Michigan state courts have
concurrent jurisdiction over federal § 1983 claims). Thus, nothing in the circumstances
here required Mathes to split his claims between state and federal court. Rather,
Mathes could have presented his § 1983 claim in the state court. The origin of the two
actions is the same: both concern alleged violations of Mathes’ rights stemming from
his employment with the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. There is nothing unfair or
manifestly unjust in making Mathes bear the consequences of his decision to bring
claims separately in state and federal court. This is precisely the reason for the doctrine
of res judicata: to avoid piecemeal litigation and direct a party to present all of their
claims in a single forum.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: September 1, 2011
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was mailed to the attorneys of
record on this date, September 1, 2011, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
Case Manager, (313) 234-5160
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