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Rhee v. El Camino Hospital Staff

filed: February 7, 1994.

YOUNG E. RHEE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
EL CAMINO HOSPITAL STAFF, JOHN DAVIS, HARRISON KORNFIELD, MARVIN SMALL, H. WARD TRUEBLOOD, AND RALPH WATSON; EL CAMINO HOSPITAL DISTRICT, CHARLES A. KNELL, NORMA J. MELCHOR, WILLIAM J. REEVES, BILLY B. RUSSELL AND ALVIN B. RUTNER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. D.C. No. CV-86-20685-WAI. William A. Ingram, District Judge, Presiding

Before: Goodwin, Wiggins, and Brunetti, Circuit Judges.

MEMORANDUM

The district court dismissed Dr. Rhee's federal civil rights suit on the ground that a California state court judgment denying Dr. Rhee's mandamus petition precludes his federal claims in this suit. We affirm.

I.

On April 20, 1981, Dr. Rhee was admitted to the Department of Surgery probationary staff at the El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California. In August 1985, after a lengthy probationary period and review of Dr. Rhee's case by the Hospital's medical executive committee and judicial review committee, the Hospital denied Dr. Rhee general surgical privileges, with the exception of anorectal surgery and ganglionectomies.

Dr. Rhee brought suit in the California Superior Court for Santa Clara County seeking administrative mandamus relief pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1094.5. His primary allegation was that the Hospital failed to use proper procedures in making its decision, but he also made general allegations that the Hospital abused its discretion, that its acts were arbitrary and capricious, and that it violated Dr. Rhee's constitutional right to equal protection. The superior court granted the petition, ruling that the Hospital failed to comply with procedural due process requirements. The California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District reversed and remanded so that the superior court could consider whether the Hospital's decision was supported by the evidence. 201 Cal. App. 3d 477, 247 Cal. Rptr. 244 (1988). On remand, the superior court denied the petition, and the court of appeal affirmed.

While the state court action was pending, Dr. Rhee filed a complaint in federal district court alleging due process and equal protection violations, as well as various state law claims. On January 27, 1991, the district court filed an order dismissing the state law claims and staying the action pending a decision in the state court proceeding pursuant to Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483, 96 S. Ct. 1236 (1976). On July 10, 1992, twenty-four days after the state court proceedings became final, the district court filed an order instructing the parties to appear in court on July 27, 1992 and show cause why the action should or should not be dismissed. No one appeared on behalf of Dr. Rhee. The district court dismissed the action on July 27, 1992, holding that under the doctrine of res judicata, the final judgment of the state court precluded Dr. Rhee's remaining claims.

II.

The Hospital contends that the district court dismissed the case as a sanction for Dr. Rhee's failure to comply with its order to show cause filed on July 10, 1992. It argues that dismissal was warranted in part because the district court's order stated in bold print that failure to comply with the notice would be sufficient grounds to dismiss the action.

The district court did not dismiss the action as a sanction, and we therefore decline to affirm on this basis. Indeed, when Judge Ingram offered to dismiss the case for want of prosecution, counsel for the defendants apparently requested that he instead rule on the merits. Although the order of dismissal mentions plaintiff's failure to appear, the district court relied only on the preclusive effect of the state court judgment.

III.

We review de novo a district court's dismissal of an action based on res judicata. Palomar Mobilehome Park Assoc. v. City of San Marcos, 989 F.2d 362, 363 (9th Cir. 1993). A prior judgment of a state court has the same preclusive effect in federal court as it would in a court of the state that rendered the judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 1738; Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 81, 104 S. Ct. 892, 79 L. Ed. 2d 56 (1984). Thus we apply California law of preclusion in this case. Palomar, 989 F.2d at 364.

To determine the preclusive effect of a judgment, California applies a primary rights theory "under which the invasion of one primary right gives rise to a single cause of action." Slater v. Blackwood, 15 Cal. 3d 791, 795, 126 Cal. Rptr. 225, 226, 543 P.2d 593, 594 (1975).

If two actions involve the same injury to the plaintiff and the same wrong by the defendant then the same primary right is at stake even if in the second suit the plaintiff pleads different theories of recovery, seeks different ...


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