6/19/2014 5:51:00 AM,
Philip A. Janquart
WASHINGTON (CN) - U.S. Customs was right to fire an agent for sending "hundreds of unsolicited letters to college students expressing negative opinions about African Americans," a federal judge ruled.
Douglas Sczygelski was hired by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency in 2006 to work in North Dakota as an agricultural specialist.
He was fired in 2008 after his letters came to light, according to a federal complaint Sczygelski filed that year in North Dakota.
Sczygelski said the firing affected his ability to obtain employment with the CBP in New York and that his actions did not violate CBP standards because his conduct was not "invidious or derogatory."
He also claimed the CBP violated his First Amendment right to free speech by firing him and that the punishment was disproportionate to the crime.
Because Sczygelski was a paid intern, not a federal employee, U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein dismissed all but the First Amendment claim for lack of jurisdiction, granting summary judgment in favor of the CBP.
Klein concluded that "while plaintiff's speech involved a matter of public concern, the defendant has carried its burden in showing that its interest in the efficient operation of the government agency outweighs the plaintiff's free speech in this matter."
The 8th Circuit affirmed in March 2011.
Sczygelski filed another federal lawsuit the following December, this time in Washington, D.C., and taking aim at the Office of Special Counsel for refusing to open his case. Many of his claims were identical to the ones in his first lawsuit, prompting U.S. District Judge Mary Collyer to bar them based on res judicata
Sczygelski turned his attention back to the CBP in October 2013, filing another federal complaint in D.C., again claiming the termination violated his constitutional rights. The agency is misidentified as Customs and Border Patrol in the case caption.
The CBP moved to dismiss in March this year, saying his claims are barred by res judicata
and claim preclusion.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg agreed this week, stating that Sczygelski's prior lawsuits involved the same claims and the same parties, and that a final judgment was made on the merits by a court of "competent jurisdiction," fulfilling all the requirements for res judicata
"The principle issue here ... relates to the first requirement - namely, whether this case and Sczygelski I involved the 'same claim or cause of action,'" Boasberg wrote.
Boasberg noted that while Sczygelski presented new theories in this latest lawsuit, the claims are indeed the same.
"Although Sczygelski relies on a new legal theory - namely, the Equal Protection Clause - this does not give him the ability to relitigate the legality of his termination. Because this new suit is nothing more than another challenge to his prior removal, the doctrine of res judicata
requires that defendant's motion be granted."