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Rintoul v. Tolbert

Court: Georgia Court of Appeals
Case Number: 341 Ga. App. 688
Decision Date: June 13, 2017
Case Type: Employees
The city clerk and a police officer for the City of Pendergrass informed the mayor that they had information and documents showing that there had been a misappropriation of city funds, misuse of city property, bribery, and verbal abuse by the city administrator (who was also the police chief). The mayor had the city attorney review the information and documents and a determination was made that none of the claims, save the verbal abuse claim, showed any financial or legal wrongdoing. As a result the city administrator was terminated. The city clerk was terminated sometime shortly thereafter and the police officer made claims that he was "constructively discharged." Both the city clerk and police officer filed suit claiming that they faced retaliation from the city as a result of their reporting the misdeeds.

The trial court eventually granted summary judgment to the city on all counts, including with respect to the police officer's constructive discharge whistleblower claim. The city clerk and the police officer appealed and argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the constructive discharge and retaliation claims on the basis of res judicata. The basis of this argument was that there was simultaneous federal litigation on similar causes of action, which the trial court had determined were actually identical and had already been litigated in the federal court. The Court of Appeals did not agree that the causes of action were identical and held that just because the subject matter of different lawsuits may be linked factually it did not mean that they contained the same cause of action. The court declined to consider applying any ruling on collateral estoppel because the city did not raise any argument related to such. The court held that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the basis of res judicata to the police officer's claim of constructive discharge.
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