Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Veterans & USERRA; Practice of Higher Education Law; Veterans Discrimination; Faculty & Staff
Breaker v. Bemidji State University (Minn. App. June 12, 2017)
Opinion reversing the district court’s dismissal of the action under the doctrine of res judicata. Appellant, a former faculty member at Bemidji State University, sued the University in 2011 for violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) when it refused to reinstate him to his former position after he returned from active military duty. The district court dismissed Appellant’s suit and the appeals court affirmed. Here, Appellant has again sued the University for violating USERRA based on the same factual allegations he used to support his claim in 2011. This time, however, Appellant asserts that his claims would have been barred in 2011 due to sovereign immunity and that state legislation implemented after his first compliant was dismissed precluded the district court from dismissing his claim based on res judicata. The appeals court agreed, finding that, under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Congress lacked authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity for USERRA claims in state court and, therefore, sovereign immunity barred private damages actions against state employers for USERRA violations until Minnesota waived its immunity after Appellant’s first complaint was dismissed. Thus, Appellant lacked a full and fair opportunity to litigate his claims in his first suit.