Collateral Estoppel

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Collateral Estoppel

A doctrine by which an earlier decision rendered by a court in a lawsuit between parties is conclusive as to the issues or controverted points so that they cannot be relitigated in subsequent proceedings involving the same parties.

Collateral estoppel is an Affirmative Defense that must be pleaded by a defendant in civil actions. The similar affirmative defense of Res Judicata differs from collateral Estoppel in that it completely precludes the relitigation of a claim, demand, or Cause of Action, as opposed to an issue or controverted point, in a subsequent proceeding between the same parties to an earlier action.

The application of the collateral estoppel doctrine promotes the speedy administration of justice by preventing the continuous, duplicative litigation of fruitless claims when relitigation of them is unlikely to change the original decision made regarding them.


Issues or findings of fact, not conclusions of law, are subject to collateral estoppel only in certain cases. The issue against which collateral estoppel is claimed must be identical to an issue already litigated in the earlier case and must have been fully litigated at that time. In addition, the court must have actually decided the issue. The decision on the issue must have been integral in the outcome of the original lawsuit. This last requirement assures the issue was vigorously litigated so that it is fair to prevent its relitigation in a second action because there is little likeli-hood that the results will be different the second time.

If an action has been settled by the agreement of the parties, most jurisdictions will not apply collateral estoppel, since the issues have not been fairly and fully litigated.

Persons Affected

Collateral estoppel is binding only upon those parties to the first action in which a decision was made and anyone who might be regarded as in privity with those parties, such as a bailor and bailee or a principal and his or her agent. In many jurisdictions a party in a lawsuit who is not subject to the estoppel effect of a prior judgment because the party was not a party to the original action in which the judgment was rendered can, in certain instances, use that judgment to bind his or her adversary who had been a party in the former action.

A defendant who, in a second action, pleads the defenses of collateral estoppel against the plaintiff uses it defensively. In many jurisdictions this use of the doctrine is considered fair because the plaintiff has the advantage of selecting the defendant and the forum in which the case is to be decided. The decision to commence the second lawsuit is based, in part, upon the findings or issues in the first action, and, therefore, it is not unreasonable to bind the plaintiff by the issues or findings made in that case.

In contrast, a plaintiff in a subsequent lawsuit who asserts collateral estoppel against a defendant uses the doctrine offensively to buttress his or her cause of action. Fewer jurisdictions, however, permit its offensive use since the defendant against whom it would be applied has neither the choice of forum nor of adversary.


Collateral estoppel has limited applicability in cases where the issues raised in the court where the action was first heard were beyond its jurisdiction. In antitrust cases brought in federal court, which has exclusive jurisdiction over such matters, prior state court rulings concerning antitrust violations made during the course of deciding the legality of a contract will not be given collateral estoppel effect. Courts reason that the punitive and exclusive nature of the federal remedy in antitrust cases precludes collateral estoppel based upon state court decisions.In contrast, federal courts have applied collateral estoppel in patent cases to any underlying facts decided by state courts but not to facts alleged to prove the issue of patent validity or infringement.

The availability of collateral estoppel is also limited by changes in the law that take place between the original and subsequent action. Collateral estoppel will not apply if modifications in the applicable law alter the operative facts needed to obtain a favorable ruling. To do otherwise would deny an individual Equal Protection of law merely because of the luck of the person who obtained the previous ruling.

Criminal Matters

Jurisdictions differ on whether to give an estoppel effect to a criminal conviction of a party currently involved in a civil lawsuit. Traditionally, estoppel was not permitted, since the plaintiff in the civil action was not a party to the criminal proceeding. Today, a number of states give full collateral estoppel effect to a previous criminal conviction. Acquittal of a crime is not given collateral estoppel effect in a civil proceeding because the plaintiff in the civil suit was not a party to the criminal proceeding and could not offer evidence against the defendant. This rule prevented O. J. Simpson from using his acquittal of murder as a defense in the civil trials brought against him by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman following the murder trial.

In addition, the difference between the Beyond a Reasonable Doubt standard of proof necessary for a criminal conviction and the Preponderance of Evidence standard in civil actions would make it unfair to allow the acquitted defendant to use his or her acquittal to bind the opponent in the civil matter in which the standard of proof to obtain a judgment is not as stringent.

collateral estoppel

n. the situation in which a judgment in one case prevents (estops) a party to that suit from trying to litigate the issue in another legal action. In effect, once decided, the parties are permanently bound by that ruling. (See: estoppel)

References in periodicals archive ?
He "held the rule of collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, prevented the state from defending the constitutionality of two laws [2011 and 2013] requiring the involvement of a minor's parents before she may obtain an abortion," Johnson reported.
Specifically, collateral estoppel principles may have different practical consequences for losses on invalidity versus losses on non-infringement, and rules for claim amendments may make it easier to narrow a claim after the fact than to broaden it.
First, offensive non-mutual collateral estoppel can be used effectively by plaintiffs to streamline litigation where multiple workers have sued an employer individually.
5) Are matters of public policy and individual circumstances involved that would render the application of collateral estoppel to be fundamentally unfair, including inadequate opportunity or incentive to obtain a full and fair adjudication in the initial action?
52) As the Florida Supreme Court has recognized, "[t]he doctrine of collateral estoppel (or issue preclusion), also referred to as estoppel by judgment, is a related but different concept.
He also cited res judicata and collateral estoppel, both of which bar relitigation of suits under certain circumstances.
19) Brown held that constitutional claims raised in state courts were not barred by res judicata on collateral review, (20) and Fay held that prisoners who had failed to litigate their constitutional claims on direct appeal were not barred by collateral estoppel from raising those claims on collateral review.
Collateral estoppel is defined in Black's Law Dictionary as the "binding effect of a judgment as to matters actually litigated and determined in one action on later controversies between the parties involving a different claim from that on which the original judgment was based.
108) Finally, collateral estoppel, a component of double jeopardy, bars a trial on other, similar charges after an acquittal or an implied acquittal even if they are not the "same offense," provided that the accused is "acquitted" of certain facts.
Plaintiff pointed to People v Moore, 138 Ill 2d 162, 561 NE2d 648 (1990), which held that collateral estoppel did not apply to statutory summary suspension hearings.
Lilly's appeal of the Michigan ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will be heard on May 7, 2010 and, if successful, will remove the collateral estoppel issue that is preventing the enforcement of the 2013 patent.
10: Court may rule by Citation of summary No precedential summary order orders issued after effect for rulings instead of opinion January 1, 2007, by summary order when decision is permitted unanimous and no jurisprudential Citation of summary purpose would be orders issued before served by issuing January 1, 2007, not full opinion permitted save in related case or to establish res judicata or collateral estoppel Table 3--Third Circuit Publication Citation Rules Precedent Guidelines Limitations 3d Cir.