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Grajales v. Puerto Rico Ports Authority

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 29, 2019



          Eugenio W.A. Géigel-Simounet, with whom Géigel-Simounet Law Offices C.S.P. was on brief for appellants.

          Luis E. Palou Balsa, with whom Jennifer Lopez-Negrón and Nolla, Palou & Casellas LLC were on brief for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Thompson and Barron, Circuit Judges.


         This appeal is the latest to have reached us concerning a suit that Daniel Grajales, his wife, and their children bring under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Puerto Rico law against the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (the "PRPA") and several of its employees after the PRPA transferred him from one posting at the PRPA to another and then eventually terminated his employment. In this appeal, Grajales asks us to overturn the District Court's grant of summary judgment to the PRPA on res judicata grounds. We affirm.


         This appeal represents Grajales's third in this case. See Grajales v. P.R. Ports Auth., 682 F.3d 40 (1st Cir. 2012) ("Grajales I"); Grajales v. P.R. Ports Auth., 831 F.3d 11 (1st Cir. 2016) ("Grajales II"). In brief, Grajales alleges that he was transferred to a new job location and subsequently terminated from his employment with the PRPA because of both his political affiliation and his reporting of alleged safety violations by PRPA employees to the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration. See Grajales II, 831 F.3d at 14.

         Grajales filed the operative complaint in the District of Puerto Rico on August 31, 2012. He alleged that the PRPA, by taking such actions against him, violated the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution and various provisions of Puerto Rico law. His wife and their minor children also brought claims against the PRPA, in which they sought damages under a Puerto Rico tort statute that permits relatives of those unlawfully terminated from employment to bring derivative claims.

         On May 18, 2012, just before Grajales filed his complaint in federal court, the Secretary of Labor and Human Resources of Puerto Rico (the "Secretary of Labor"), "representing and for the benefit of" Grajales, filed a civil complaint against the PRPA in the Puerto Rico Court of First Instance. See Complaint, Sec'y of Labor & Human Res. v. P.R. Ports Auth., No. AC2012-0079 (P.R. Ct. of First Instance May 18, 2012). The Secretary of Labor alleged in that complaint that Grajales had observed and reported an incident that involved the safety of another employee, that the PRPA had terminated Grajales in retaliation for his reporting of the incident, and that an investigation by the Puerto Rico Department of Labor had found that the PRPA engaged in practices that endangered the authority's employees. The Secretary of Labor sought Grajales's reinstatement and back pay for him on the basis of Puerto Rico's Occupational Safety and Health Act, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, § 361aa, and Puerto Rico's Retaliation in the Work Place Law, id. § 194a.

         On May 17, 2017, while Grajales's federal suit against the PRPA was still pending, the Court of First Instance entered judgment in favor of the PRPA. The Court of First Instance ruled that Grajales's termination was justified for a number of non- retaliatory reasons, including acts of insubordination, violation of various PRPA policies, and disrespectful behavior that created a hostile work environment for others. The Court of First Instance also rejected Grajales's contention that he was terminated in retaliation for his reporting activity.

         The PRPA then moved for summary judgment in the District of Puerto Rico case on res judicata grounds in light of the ruling by the Court of First Instance, and the District Court granted that motion. Grajales now appeals from that judgment.


         We are dealing here with the claimed res judicata effect of a judgment of a Commonwealth court and thus with a judgment that, under 28 U.S.C. § 1738, must be given "full faith and credit." Id.; see also R.G. Fin. Corp. v. Vergara-Nuñez, 446 F.3d 178, 182-83 (1st Cir. 2006). In keeping with this statute, we must give the same res judicata effect to that judgment as the jurisdiction that issued it would give it in its own courts. 28 U.S.C. § 1738; see also R.G. Fin. Corp., 446 F.3d at 182-83. Thus, we apply Puerto Rico law to determine the preclusive effect of the judgment of the ...

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