In this action, plaintiff Sherri Roberts appealed a Montana federal district court’s order which granted her former employer/defendant Lame Deer Public Schools’ summary judgment motion because plaintiff’s procedural due process claim was foreclosed by claim preclusion, and that even if preclusion did not bar her claim, her claim failed on the merits because she was accorded adequate procedural due process.
On appeal, plaintiff argued that her post-termination arbitration hearing and the statutory limits on judicial review of the arbitration’s result violated her procedural due process rights. The Ninth Circuit, however, noted that plaintiff could have brought her procedural due process claim in Montana state court where she challenged the arbitrator’s decision, but instead she chose only to attempt to vacate the arbitration decision in that previous lawsuit. Therefore, the Ninth Circuit held that claim preclusion bars her from litigating a claim that she could have raised in the earlier proceeding. Further, the Ninth Circuit held that even if plaintiff’s claim was not barred by claim preclusion, the Montana district court correctly concluded that plaintiff was accorded adequate procedural due process. She received a hearing before she was terminated by Lame Deer Public School. She was able to challenge her termination in an arbitration, as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement to which she was a party. After losing the arbitration, she was then permitted to challenge the arbitrator’s decision in court, which she did in Montana state court and lost. Thus, according to the Ninth Circuit, she received more than adequate procedural due process. The Court noted that Montana law does not give her a right to a court hearing on the merits post-arbitration, and that Montana’s statute, limiting judicial review of arbitration decisions, does not violate the Constitution. In fact, the Ninth Circuit noted that the Montana statute is “in many ways identical to its (constitutional) federal version, 9 U.S.C. § 10,” which affords “an extremely limited [judicial] review authority, a limitation that is designed to preserve due process but not to permit unnecessary public intrusion into private arbitration procedures.” (citations omitted).