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The private contractors refused to do so, and EPA later obtained an administrative warrant authorizing the private employees to conduct the inspection.
The Court of Appeals in the present case reversed the District Court, agreeing with respondent both on the merits of the statutory issue and, alternatively, on the collateral estoppel issue.
The doctrine of mutual defensive collateral estoppel is applicable against the Government to preclude relitigation of the same issue already litigated against the same party in another case involving virtually identical facts. United States, U. The exception to the applicability of the principles of collateral estoppel for "unmixed questions of law" arising in "successive actions involving unrelated subject matter," Montana v.
United States, supra, at U. Whatever the purpose or extent of the exception, Page U. That argument is persuasive only to prevent the application of collateral estoppel against the Government in the absence of mutuality. Stauffer also argues that the Government should be estopped from relitigating the question of whether private contractors are "authorized representatives" under the statute because it has already litigated that question against Stauffer Page U.
The Court of Appeals agreed with Stauffer on the merits and also on the collateral estoppel issue. Without reaching the merits, we affirm the Court of Appeals' holding that the Government is estopped from relitigating the statutory issue against Stauffer.
On March 27,officials from EPA and the State of Tennessee, accompanied by employees of a private firm under contract to EPA, attempted to inspect Stauffer's elemental phosphorus production plant in Mt. Stauffer refused entry to the private contractors unless they would sign an agreement not to disclose trade secrets.
When the private contractors refused to do so, the entire group left without making the inspection. EPA later obtained an administrative warrant authorizing the private employees to conduct the inspection, and Stauffer refused to honor the warrant.
On the following day, EPA began a civil contempt proceeding against Stauffer in Federal District Court in Tennessee, and Stauffer simultaneously moved to quash the warrant.
As in the present case, Stauffer insisted that the private contractors sign a nondisclosure agreement, and when they declined to do so, Stauffer refused to allow them to enter the plant.
EPA obtained an administrative warrant authorizing the private contractors to conduct the inspection, and Stauffer refused to honor the warrant. Stauffer then instituted an action in United States District Court in Wyoming seeking to quash the warrant and to enjoin EPA from using private contractors in inspecting Stauffer's Wyoming plants.
The Sixth Circuit in the present case hereinafter Stauffer II reversed the District Court, adopting alternative grounds for its decision. Judge Weick, who delivered the opinion of the court, agreed with the Tenth Circuit that private contractors are not authorized to conduct inspections under the Clean Air Act.
Relying on Montana v. Judge Siler also wrote separately, dissenting from Judge Weick's opinion on the collateral estoppel issue but concurring in his opinion on the merits. For the reasons which follow, we agree that the doctrine of mutual defensive collateral estoppel is applicable against the Government to preclude relitigation of the same issue already litigated against the same party in another case involving virtually identical facts.
Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals without reaching the merits. United States, supra, we held that the United States was estopped from relitigating in federal court the question of whether the Montana gross receipts tax on contractors of public, but not private, construction firms violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.
A public contractor, financed and directed by the Federal Government, had already litigated that question in state court, and the Montana Supreme Court unanimously had upheld the tax. In approving the defensive use of collateral estoppel against the Government in Montana, we first determined that there was mutuality of parties, see United States v.
Mendoza, ante at U. We next looked to see whether there were any special circumstances warranting an exception to the otherwise applicable rules of preclusion. One exception which we Page U.
Noting that the exception first articulated in Moser is "difficult to delineate," U. The Government instead argues that an exception to the normal rules of estoppel should apply because the statutory question here is an "unmixed question of law" arising in substantially unrelated actions.
It also argues that the special role of the Government, in litigating recurring issues of public importance warrants an exception in cases such as this one. We disagree with both of the Government's arguments. As commonly explained, the doctrine of collateral estoppel can apply to preclude relitigation of both issues of law and Page U.The exception seems to require a determination as to whether an "issue of fact" or an "issue of law" is sought to be relitigated, and then a determination as to whether the "issue of law" arises in a successive case that is so unrelated to the prior case that relitigation of the issue is warranted.
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