Collateral Estoppel Based on Previous Full and Fair Hearing

July 18, 2017

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In 1998 the Alabama Power Company and Georgia Power Company filed a breach of contract lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking damages for the Government’s breach of contract for the removal of spent nuclear fuel from the two power companies’ facilities. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the companies on liability, and following a trial on damages, awarded damages. The damages award was appealed, and on remand, the damages accrued through December 31, 2004 were resolved through settlement.

Because the Government failed to remove the spent nuclear fuel from the companies’ facilities, they filed a second lawsuit seeking to recover damages accrued from January 1, 2005 through December 31, 2010, and to recover fees paid to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  The Court held that companies were entitled to recover the damages accrued from 2005 to 2010, but held that they had failed to prove a causal relationship between the Government’s breach and the Commission’s increase in fees.

In a third complaint, the companies sought to recover damages accrued since January 1, 2011, and to recover additional fees imposed by the Commission.  The companies filed for summary judgment on the discrete issue of whether they were entitled to recovered the additional fees collected by the Commission. The Government opposed, arguing that the companies were seeking to relitigate “the same issues that they fully, but unsuccessfully, litigated in the previous round of litigation.”

The companies disagreed, pointing out that they had new evidence to establish causation, but the Court rejected that argument, stating that the companies could not “credibly claim that the issue of causation has not been litigated.”  The Court further explained that the companies had been given a full and fair opportunity to litigate the fees issue in the earlier proceeding, noting that the companies had presented extensive testimony and evidence on the fee’s issue at trial.  Based on this, the Court held that the companies were collaterally estopped from litigating the fees issue in the third proceeding.

Read Judge Campbell-Smith’s full decision here.



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