res judicata

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Res Judicata

[Latin, A thing adjudged.] A rule that a final judgment on the merits by a court having jurisdiction is conclusive between the parties to a suit as to all matters that were litigated or that could have been litigated in that suit.The U.S. legal system places a high value on allowing a party to litigate a civil lawsuit for money damages only once. U.S. courts employ the rule of res judicata to prevent a dissatisfied party from trying to litigate the issue a second time.

Res judicata will be applied to a pending lawsuit if several facts can be established by the party asserting the res judicata defense. First, the party must show that a final judgment on the merits of the case had been entered by a court having jurisdiction over the matter. This means that a final decision in the first lawsuit was based on the factual and legal disputes between the parties rather than a procedural defect, such as the failure to serve the defendant with legal process.

Once a court makes a final decision, it enters a final judgment in the case. The judgment recites pertinent data about the case, such as the names of the parties, the fact that a jury verdict was rendered, and the disposition made. The judgment is filed with the court administrator for that judicial jurisdiction.

The party asserting res judicata, having introduced a final judgment on the merits, must then show that the decision in the first lawsuit was conclusive as to the matters in the second suit. For example, assume that the plaintiff in the first lawsuit asserted that she was injured in an auto accident. She sues the driver of the other auto under a theory of Negligence. A jury returns a verdict that finds that the defendant was not negligent. The injured driver then files a second lawsuit alleging additional facts that would help her prove that the other driver was negligent. A court would dismiss the second lawsuit under res judicata because the second lawsuit is based on the same Cause of Action (negligence) and the same injury claim.

Under the companion rule of Collateral Estoppel, the plaintiff will not be allowed to file a second lawsuit for money damages using a different cause of action or claim. Under collateral estoppel, the parties are precluded from litigating a second lawsuit using a different cause of action based on any issue of fact common to both suits that had been litigated and determined in the first suit. For example, the plaintiff who lost her auto accident case based on a theory of negligence cannot proceed with a second lawsuit based on an allegation that the driver intentionally struck her auto, thus making it an intentional tort cause of action. A court would assert collateral estoppel because the plaintiff could have alleged an intentional tort cause of action in the original complaint.

The application of res judicata and collateral estoppel produces finality for the parties and promotes judicial economy. Parties know that when final judgment is entered and all appeals are exhausted, the case is over and the decision will be binding on all issues determined in the lawsuit.

res judicata

(rayz judy-cot-ah) n. Latin, the thing has been judged, meaning the issue before the court has already been decided by another court, with the same parties. Therefore, the court will dismiss the case before it as being useless. Example: an Ohio court determines that John is the father of Betty's child. John cannot raise the issue again in another state. Sometimes called res adjudicata.

res judicata

noun accommodated, adjudication, adjusted, agreed, arranged, brought to termination, came to determination, concluded, decided, decision, decree, determination, judgment, negotiated, resolved
See also: adjudication

RES JUDICATA, practice. The decision of a legal or equitable issue, by a court of competent jurisdiction.
     2. 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, for, to use the language of the civilians, res judicata facit ex albo nigrum, ex nigro album, ex curvo redum, ex recto curvum.
     3. 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. 3 Pet. 433; Dig. 44, 2; and Voet, Ibid; Kaime's Equity, vol. 2, p. 367; 1 Johns. Ch. R. 95; 2 M. R. 142; 3 M. R. 623; 4 M. R. 313, 456, 481; 5 M. R. 282, 465; 9 M. R. 38; 11 M. R. 607; 6 N. S. 292; 5 N. S. 664; 1 L. R. 318; 8 L. R. 187; 11 L. R. 517. Toullier, Droit Civil Francais, vol. 10, No. 65 to 259.
     4. 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. Vide, Things adjudged.

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Such a decision may also be cited and may be controlling with respect to issues of claim preclusion, issue preclusion, law of the case, and similar issues involving the parties or facts of the case in which the decision was issued.
The common law doctrine of claim preclusion is intended to provide for judicial economy and allow defendants a measure of repose in the knowledge that they cannot be sued more than once by the same person for injuries arising out of a single cause of action.