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Wojciechowski v. Kohlberg Ventures, LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 8, 2019

Peter Wojciechowski, on his own behalf and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Kohlberg Ventures, LLC, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted March 7, 2019 Seattle, Washington

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California Maria-Elena James, Magistrate Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:16-cv-06775-MEJ

          Robert N. Fisher (argued), René S. Roupinian, and Jack A. Raisner, Outten & Golden LLP, New York, New York; Gail L. Chung, Outten & Golden LLP, San Francisco, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Daniel L. Thieme (argued), Littler Mendelson P.C., Seattle, Washington; Michael F. McCabe and George J. Tichy II, Littler Mendelson P.C., San Francisco, California; for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: Ronald M. Gould and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges, and Janis Graham Jack, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY[**]

         Labor Law / Claim Preclusion

         Reversing the district court's dismissal, the panel held that claim preclusion did not bar a claim against Kohlberg Ventures, LLC, under the Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act because a settlement agreement approved by the bankruptcy court in a prior class action did not release any claims against Kohlberg.

         The panel concluded that the parties in the bankruptcy proceeding did not intend their settlement to extend to Kohlberg. Accordingly, claim preclusion did not bar plaintiff's WARN Act claim against Kohlberg. The panel remanded the case for further proceedings.

          OPINION

          GOULD, Circuit Judge:

         "By 'preclud[ing] parties from contesting matters that they have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate, '" the related doctrines of claim and issue preclusion "protect against 'the expense and vexation attending multiple lawsuits, conserv[e] judicial resources, and foste[r] reliance on judicial action by minimizing the possibility of inconsistent decisions.'" Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008) (alterations in original) (quoting Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153-154 (1979)).[1] We consider here whether a prior action brought by Plaintiff-Appellant Peter Wojciechowski against nonparties to this case bars this action against Defendant-Appellee Kohlberg Ventures LLC, under the doctrine of claim preclusion. The previous action-a class action-settled, and the court approved the settlement agreement and closed the case. The settlement agreement released Wojciechowski's and the class's claims against various parties, but it explicitly did not release any claims against Kohlberg. Kohlberg was not a party to the agreement.

         We hold that the settlement agreement-and in particular, the intent of the settling parties-determines the preclusive effect of the previous action. Because the settlement agreement specifically did not release Wojciechowski's and the class's claims against Kohlberg, claim preclusion does not bar Wojciechowski's current claim. The district court erred in dismissing this action, and we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         I[2]

         Wojciechowski was formerly employed by ClearEdge Power, LLC. He was terminated without notice. Six days later, ClearEdge Power, LLC-along with its ...


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