Precluding Government Relitigation of Statutory Interpretations: Clark-Cowlitz Joint Operating Agency v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
This Note explores the issue of the applicability of the preclusion doctrines against the government. Specific focus is placed upon the doctrines’ application in cases where the government has previously litigated a question of statutory interpretation. The exploration begins with the recent case of Clark-Cowlitz Joint Operating Agency v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Clark-Cowlitz), a classic factual setting for analyzing this issue. The Note then briefly examines the historical developments of the preclusion doctrines and the United States Supreme Court’s recent and continuing struggle with the application of the doctrines against the government. It is the position of this Note that the Court’s struggle stems from a failure to analyze the doctrines within the context of the conflicts between the policies served by the application of preclusion doctrines and the policies and purposes underlying government administration. From an analysis of these competing policies, this Note will then propose a functional standard for determining when the preclusion doctrines should be applied against the government to preclude relitigating questions of statutory interpretation. Applying this standard to the facts presented by Clark-Cowlitz demonstrates that the holding of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, while ultimately correct, was flawed in its analysis.
Bradley Bishop Jones, Precluding Government Relitigation of Statutory Interpretations: Clark-Cowlitz Joint Operating Agency v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 10 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 301 (1987).