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Res Judicata is CLAIM preclusion

Literally, "A Matter Judged"

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RES JUDICATA - Lat."the thing has been decided" The principle that a final judgement of a competent court is conclusive upon the parties in any subsequent litigation involving the same cause of action.

The general rule is that a plaintiff who has prosecuted one action against a defendant and obtained a valid final judgment is barred by res judicata from prosecuting another action against the same defendant where
(a) the claim in the second action is one which is based on the same factual transaction that was at issue in the first;
(b) the plaintiff seeks a remedy additional or alternative to the one sought earlier; and
(c) the claim is of such a nature as could have been joined in the first action. Underlying this standard is the need to strike a delicate balance between the interests of the defendant and of the courts in bringing litigation to a close and the interest of the plaintiff in the vindication of a just claim.

The Full Faith and Credit Act, 28 U.S.C. S 1738, requires that federal courts "give a state-court judgment the same preclusive effect as would be given that judgment under the law of the State in which the judgment was rendered. " Migra v. Warren City School Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 81 (1984). Oregon courts adhere to standard principles of claim and issue preclusion. See Rennie v. Freeway Transp., 294 Or. 319 (1982).

The difference between the two concepts has been succinctly described by Justice Potter Stewart: The federal courts have traditionally adhered to the related doctrines of res judicata [claim preclusion] and collateral estoppel [issue preclusion]. Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Under collateral estoppel, once a court has decided an issue of fact or law ncessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case. As this Court and other courts have often recognized, res judicata and collateral estoppel relieve parties of the costs and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, and, by preventing inconsistent decisions, encourage reliance on adjudication. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. at 94. The collateral estoppel bar is inapplicable when the claimant did not have a "full and fair opportunity to litigate" the issue decided by the state court. Id. at 101. Thus, a claimant can file a federal suit to challenge the adequacy of state procedures.


First, consent or tacit agreement is clear justification for splitting a claim. Restatement (Second) of Judgments S 26(1)(a), and comment a (1982). Because a primary purpose of claim preclusion is to protect defendants from being harassed by repetitive actions based on the same claim, the rule need not be enforced where the State and County have implicitly consented to the splitting of claim under state and federal laws. See Rennie, 294 Or. at 329 n. 9 (citing 18 Charles A. Wright, Arthur C. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure S 4415 at 124-125; and Annot., 40 A.L.R.3d 108 (1971)).

Second, it may appear in the course of an action that the plaintiff is splitting a claim, but that there are special reasons that justify his doing so, and accordingly that the judgment in the action ought not to have the usual consequences of extinguishing the entire claim; rather the plaintiff should be left with an opportunity to litigate in a second action that part of the claim which he justifiably omitted from the first action. Restatement (Second) of Judgments S 26(1)(b).

The so called England reservation is available to litigants that are in state court "involuntarily" as a result of Pullman absention by the federal court. See England v. Louisiana State Bd. of Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411 (1964); see also Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S.496 (1941). England reservation applies when a litigant files a suit in federal court and the federal court stays proceedings to allow the state courts to consider state law questions. In such a situation, the litigant can inform the state court that she reserves federal issues for federal court. Id. at 421. By doing so, the litigant avoids the bar of res judicata upon return to federal court.

Res judicata bars a party from bringing a claim if a court of competent jurisdiction has rendered final judgment on the merits in a previous action involving the same parties and claims. In re Intl Nutronics, Inc., 28 F.3d 965, 969 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 115 S. Ct. 577 (1994).

Once a bankruptcy plan is confirmed, it is binding on all parties and all questions that could have been raised pertaining to the plan are entitled to res judicata effect. See 11 U.S.C. section 1141(a).

The decision of a legal or equitable issue, by a court of competent jurisdiction.

It is a general principle that such decision is binding and conclusive upon all other courts of concurrent power. This principle pervades not only our own, but all other systems of jurisprudence, and has become a rule of universal law, founded on the soundest policy. If, therefore, Paul sue Peter to recover the amount due to him upon a bond and on the trial the plaintiff fails to prove the due execution of the bond by Peter, in consequence of which a verdict is rendered for the defendant, and judgment is entered thereupon, this judgment, till reversed on error, is conclusive upon the parties, and Paul cannot recover in a subsequent suit, although he may then be able to prove the due execution of the bond by Peter, and that the money is due to him.

The Constitution of the United States and the amendments to it declare, that no fact, once tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexaminable in any court of the United States than according to the rules of the common law.

But in order to make a matter res judicata there must be a concurrence of the four conditions following, namely:
1. Identity in the thing sued for.
2. Identity of the cause of action; if, for example, I have claimed a right of way over Blackacre, and a final judgment has been rendered against me, and afterwards I purchase Blackacre, this first decision shall not be a bar to my recovery, when I sue as owner of the land, and not for an easement over it, which I claimed as a right appurtenant to My land Whiteacre.
3. Identity of persons and of parties to the action; this rule is a necessary consequence of the rule of natural justice: ne inauditus condemnetur.
4. Identity of the quality in the persons for or against whom the claim is made; for example, an action by Peter to recover a horse, and a final judgment against him, is no bar to an action by Peter, administrator of Paul, to recover the same horse.

Civil Procedures: Examples and Explanations

by Joseph W. Glannon

EXAMPLE 1: Exerpted from Civil Procedures: Examples and Explanations, Part Four: The Effect of the Judgement, Chapter 18. Res Judicata: The Limits of Procedural Liberality


Perhaps you are thoroughly tired of hearing how reasonable the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are. Certainly, one of the recurrent themes of the Rules is to create a flexible procedural system in order to prevent procedure from dominating substance, to assure that the merits of the parties' claims, not procedural missteps, determine the outcome of lawsuits.

For example, parties are given broad power to join claims and parties in a single suit. Fed. R. Civ. P. 13, 14, 18, 20, 24. They are given the latitude to plead all their possible claims against opposing parties, within the limits of proper pleading. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), 8(e)(2), 11. Pleadings are liberally construed, Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(f); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), and amendments freely allowed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). Even if amendments are not offered, the court can treat the pleadings as though they had been amended, when justice so requires, Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(b), and may grant parties the relief to which they are entitled even though they never asked for it. Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(c). If the process still goes awry, despite all these opportunities to correct procedural errors, the court may grant relief from judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) or a new trial under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59.

Given all this procedural liberality, you might expect that the rules governing relitigation of claims would be correspondingly indulgent. However, the exact opposite is true. Once the parties have had a full and fair opportunity to be heard under the flexible rules reviewed above, all this paternalistic indulgence comes to an abrupt halt. Regardless of a party's reason for wishing to relitigate a dispute, the doctrine of res judicata stands like a brutish, unreflecting myrmidon, guarding the doors of the courthouse.l While the Rules are liberal, res judicata is strict and uncharitable. No matter how unfair the result in the first suit may seem or indeed, no matter how unfair it may actually have been, the myrmidon will not step aside.

For example, suppose that the plaintiff in thc Schulanskv case recovers $7,000 from Ronan for breach of contract. If Schulansky believes that the verdict was too low, she cannot bring a second action against Ronan for more. Or, if she discovers a statute that allows a more generous measure of damages, she cannot bring a new action based on that statute. If Schulansky loses but believes that her lawyer did not litigate the case energetically, she will be barred by res judicata from trying again with a new lawyer.

In the traditional terminology, Schulansky's claim was said - to be "merged" into the judgment she had won. That is, the claim was extinguished and replaced by the judgment. Restatement (Second) of Judgments Sections 17, 18 (1982). Once the judgment was entered, a suit could be brought to enforce that judgment if necessany (see Chapter 3, pp.44-45), but no further suit could be brought on the extinguished claim. Conversely, if Schulansky lost, her claim was said to be "barred" by thc adverse judgment so that no further suit could be brought on the claim.

The rationale for thc doctrine is ancient and fundamental. Litigation is burdensome enough the first time without redoing it again whenever one of the parties is unhappy with the result-as at least one will be in every case. Parties must also get on with their affairs; without the certainty provided by res judicata, parties would not be able to rely on court decisions in planning their future conduct. Finally, from the point of view of the system, there is no justification for multiplying the costs and delay of litigation by allowing parties to go at it again once they have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate a claim.

Of course, the efficiency of res judicata would not be justificd if it were achieved at the expense of fairness to the parties in presenting meritorious claims. For example, it would be a hard system indeed that barred the plaintiff from amending her complaint in the first action to assert new theories for relief unearthed during discovery and also barred her from bringing a separate action based on those theories. But, if amendments are liberally allowed in the first suit, it is fair to bar a second action on theories left out of the first suit. Thus, it is precisely because the Rules of Civil Procedure are so liberal in facilitating presentation of claims in the first action that the res judicata myrmidon can so stubbornly bar a second try. Indeed, the specter of res judicata encourages parties to take full advantage of the Rules to present their claims initially since they know that they will not get a second chance to try the suit, that there will be no "second bite at the apple."

In most jurisdictions, there are four prerequisites for res judicata:
(1) there must be a final judgment; (2) the judgment must be "on the merits"; (3) the claims must be the same in the first and second suits; and (4) the parties in the second action must be the same as those in the first (or in privity with a party to the prior action). Most of the interpretive issues in applying the doctrine concern the requirements that the claims be the same in both suits and that the original judgment be on the merits.

The "Same Claim" Requirement

The definition of a single "claim" for res judicata purposes varies from one jurisdiction to another. See generally Friedenthal, Kane, and Miller at Section 14.4. The federal courts and an increasing number of states have adopted the standard in the Restatement (Second) of Judgments Section 24 (1982), which essentially equates a party's claim for res judicata purposes with the "transaction or occurrence" test of the federal joinder rules. See 18 Wright and Miller at Section 4407, p.62. Under this approach, a party who has asserted a right to relief arising out of a particular transaction or occurrence must join all claims she has arising from it, or the omitted claims will be barred by res judicata.

There is good sense to a theory that makes the scope of preclusion mirror the test for allowing initial joinder under the Rules. If a party had the right to join two claims for relief arising from the same transaction in the first suit, it is reasonable to require her to do so, instead of bringing two suits that will rehash the same facts. Conversely, if the scope of preclusion is to mirror the scope of permissible joinder, res judicata should not bar claims that could not have been joined in the first action. For example, before the development of the unified civil action under the Rules, parties could not always seek legal and equitable relief in the same proceeding: They were often forced to split their claims between the law courts (for damage claims) and the equity courts (for claims to equitable relief, such as specific performance or injunctions). See generally James and Hazard at 14-17. In such cases, a party who had sought damages in an action at law was not precluded from seeking injunctive relief based on the same transaction or occurrence from a court of equity because she could not have obtained an injunction in the prior action at law. Under the Federal Rules, however, parties may almost always assert all their claims in a single suit, and res judicata is correspondingly broad.2

Under the transaction or occurrence test, preclusion turns on the right to join the claim in the original action, not on whether thc claim actually was asserted. Consequently, claims need not have actually been litigated to be barred in a later action; they need only have been available to the plaintiff in the first suit. For example, it is clear that Schulansky, after recovering $7,000 from Ronan in the contract action described in Part Six, could not sue Ronan again for this claim on a breach of contract theory. However, res judicata will also bar Schulansky from suing Ronan for fraud even though she had never pleaded fraud in her first suit, never tried the case on a fraud theory, and in fact never thought of it. Indeed, the message of res judicata is that Schulansky (or, more particularly, Schulansky's lawyer) had better think of it, sooner rather than later.


Fielder's Choices

1. Rizzuto's eye is injured when his baseball glove breaks while he is fielding a vicious grounder. He sues Allston Leathcr Company for negligent manufacture of the glove. The case is tried and judgment is entered for Allston. Later, Rizzuto sues again. He argues that the judge in the first suit erroneously excluded important evidence from Rizzuto's expert on baseball glove manufacturing standards and that he should have a chance to have a trial with all the admissible evidence properly before the jury. Allston pleads res judicata. Will the defense bar Rizzuto's second action?


2. After the judgment for Allston in Rizzuto's casc, Boyer tells Rizzuto that he was also injured using the same type of Allston glove and recovered judgment against Allston on a strict liability theory, which did not require proof that Allston was negligent. Rizzuto files a new action against Allston based on the original accident but asserting a right to recover only on the basis of strict liability. Will the claim be barred?


3. Assume that Rizzuto won his first suit against Allston and recovered $3,000 in compensatory damages. Boyer subsequently tells him that he had claimed gross negligence by Allston in a prior suit based on the same defective glove and recovered punitive damages. Rizzuto brings a second action against Allston for punitive damages based on gross negligence. Can Allston plead res judicata?



Fielder's Choices

1. Res judicata will bar Rizzuto's second action. A judgment need not be right to preclude further litigation; it need only be final and on the merits. "Res judicata reflects the policy that sometimes it is more important that a judgment be stable than that it be correct." Friedenthal, Kane, and Miller at 616. Here, Rizzuto tried his case and lost, and final judgment was entered for Allston "on the merits," that is, based on a verdict by the jury that Allston was not negligent. That judgment bars a second suit by Rizzuto on the same claim even if evidence was wrongly excluded. If that exclusion was improper, Rizzuto should have appealed it in the first suit, not attempted to relitigate it in a second. See Federated Department Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981). If Rizzuto could avoid the effect of the first judgment by claiming it was wrong, the res judicata doctrine would lose much of its value. A major purpose of the doctrine is to preserve judicial resources by barring rehearing of cases already litigated and decided. This purpose would be undermined if the evidence would have to be reheard in order to ascertain whether the first case was rightly decided. It would also place the judge in the second suit in the inappropriate position of reviewing the first trial to determine whether it was error-free in order to determine whether it should have res judicata effect.

Next Example

2. Res judicata bars not only those claims that were asserted in thc first suit, but also any others arising out of that transaction or occurrence that could have been asserted but were not. Here, Rizzuto has simply switched theories of relief and sued again based on the same vicious grounder he complained of in the earlier suit. Since his suit arises out of the same occurrence as the first, it will be barred. The rigidity of this rule forces parties to litigatc their claims fully in their first suit. Lawyers, knowing they will get only one bite at the apple, must consider all possible grounds for relief raised by the underlying facts and plead them in the first action. This is one reason why complaints often contain numerous counts based on different legal theories. It is better to be comprehensive in the original action (subject, of course, to the ethical con- straints of Rule 11) than to try to battle the res judicata myrmidon in a subsequent action.

Next Example

3. Allston will also prevail on his res judicata defense here. In example 2, Rizzuto tried to "split his claim" by asserting one theory of relief in the first action and another in the second. Here he has tried a different type of claimsplitting, seeking different types of damages in different actions. Here too, the myrmidon says no. The claim for punitive damages could have been, and therefore should have been, asserted in the first action. No matter how clear Rizzuto's right to punitive damages, the court will not hear this claim. In an earlier day many states allowed "claim-splitting" based on distinct types of damages. For example, plaintiffs in auto negligence cases were frequently allowed to seek recovery for their personal injuries and damage to their vehicles in separate actions, on the theory that these involved discrete rights protected by distinct causes of action. See, e.g., Vasu v. Kohle1zs, Inc., 61 N.E.2d 707 (Ohio 1945). This rule has given way in many jurisdictions to thc view that all damages from a single accident must be sought in a single suit. See Rush v. City of Maple Heights, 147 N.E.2d 599 (Ohio), cert. denied, 358 U.S. 814 (1958) (effectively overruling Vasu).


1. A myrmidon is a servant who mindlessly but doggedly obeys his master's every command. The first myrmidons were ants, who were changed into men by Zeus to repopulate the island kingdom of Aegina. Thev were known for their loyalty and courage in following their leader, Achilles, in the Trojan War. See E. Hamilton, Mythology 296 (1969)

2. However, the right to join claims under rhe Rules does not automatically lead to the conclusion that res judicata will bar a separate suit on those claims. See Chapter 22.


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