Medina County Courthouse

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Judge Kimbler Decision on Issue Preclusion

Below is an language from an entry that I posted on the doctrine of "mutuality of estoppal". This opinion is not a final order and is subject to appellate review:

Ms. Misja filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The basis of her motion is that she is entitled to summary judgment because of the doctrine of res judicata. She seeks application of the doctrine because of a judgment entered in the Small Claims Division of the Medina Municipal Court in favor of her parents and against Mr. Kibler for property damage sustained to her parents’ vehicle. The following facts are not in dispute:

Ms. Misja’s parents filed a small claims complaint against Mr. Kibler, his parents, and Allstate Insurance Company for property damage arising out of a motor vehicle collision on June 10, 2003.

At the hearing in Small Claims Court Mr. Kibler was represented by counsel and Mr. and Mrs. Misja were not represented by counsel.

At the hearing evidence was presented on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Misja and on behalf of Mr. Kibler.

At that hearing the negligence of Mr. Kibler was disputed.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Mr. and Mrs. Kibler were dismissed from the action, as was Allstate Insurance, but judgment was entered in favor of Mr. and Mrs. Misja and against Mr. Kibler in the amount of $2841.37.

Ohio’s doctrine of res judicata involves both party preclusion and issue preclusion. The doctrine of res judicata as it applies to issue preclusion is also known as collateral estoppal. In order for a party to receive the benefit of precluding an issue that such party argues has been determined in a prior proceeding, there must be mutuality of estoppal. Goodson v. McDonough Power Equipment, 2 Ohio St. 3d 193, 1 of the opinion syllabus. This means that the party seeking to have a court apply the doctrine must be a party who would have been precluded from re-litigating the issue if the decision had gone the other way. In this particular case, it means that Ms. Misja cannot seek application of this doctrine if she would not have been bound by an adverse decision of the Medina Municipal Court in the case between Mr. Kibler and her parents.

This doctrine of “mutuality of estoppal” is the reason why Ohio courts only apply the doctrine against the same parties or their privies. Although the decision in Goodson is over 23 years old, the Ninth District Court of Appeals, in 2004, limited the application of the doctrine of res judicata to the original parties or parties in privity with them. Hamrick v. Daimler Chrysler Motors, 2004 Ohio 3415.

In the present case, then, Ms. Misja must show that she was in privity with her parents in order to avail herself of the doctrine of res judicata. In the Hamrick decision, the following language appears at 12-13:

{12}“To be in “privity” with a party on the record of a prior judgment generally means that the relationship between the two is “‘close enough to include th[e] other within the res judicata.’” (Citation omitted.) Brown v. Dayton, 89 Ohio St.3d 245,248, 2000-Ohio-148, quoting Thompson v. Wing (1994), 70 Ohio St.3d 176, 184. Privity exists when both persons have a “mutuality of interest, including an identity of desired result[.]” Brown, 89 Ohio St.3d at 248. More specifically,“‘[p]rivity is defined as mutual or successive relationships to the same right of property, or such an identification of interest of one person with another as to represent the same legal right.’” Buchanan v. Palcra, Inc. (Dec. 31, 1987), 7th Dist. No. E-87-22, quoting Peterson v. Fee Internatl. Ltd. (D.C. Okl. 1975), 435 F.Supp. 938, 942.

{13} Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final judgment is also conclusive as to all claims which might have been litigated in a first lawsuit. Spano Brothers Constr., Inc. v. Leisinger (July 24, 1996), 9th Dist. No. 17438,citing Natl. Amusements, Inc. v. Springdale (1990), 53 Ohio St.3d 60, 62. It is irrelevant to the application of the res judicata doctrine whether the original claim explored all possible theories of relief. Brown, 89 Ohio St.3d at 248. The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that a valid, final judgment upon the merits of a case bars any subsequent action “based upon any claim arising out of the transaction or occurrence that was the subject matter of the previous action.” Grava v. Parkman Twp., 73 Ohio St.3d 379, 382, 1995-Ohio-331, citing 1Restatement of the Law 2d, Judgments (1982), Sections 24-25.”

In this case, this Court has to ask itself whether, if Mr. Kibler had sought to bar Ms. Misja’s action under the doctrine of res judicata, it would have barred her action. If the answer is “no”, then there is not mutuality of estoppal and Ms. Misja is not entitled to have this Court apply the doctrine on the issue of Mr. Kibler’s negligence.

This Court believes, and so finds, that an adult child is not in privity with her parents so as to make a judgment for or against the parent binding on the child, even when the defendant is the same in both cases. While Mr. Kibler may have had the same interest in litigating the small claims case as he does litigating the present case, Ms. Misja and her parents do not have the same interest in litigating their respective cases.
This is shown by the fact that while her parents were willing to avail themselves of the relatively simple to use forum of a small claims division of a municipal court, Ms. Misja has chosen to utilize the procedurally more complex forum of a common pleas court. Her interest in pursuing her personal injury case has led her to employ the services of an attorney while her parents were content to represent themselves. Her parents were willing to accept a verdict of $3,000.00 or less while Ms. Misja apparently feels that such a limitation would not do her justice.

The differences outlined above leads this Court conclude that Ms. Misja is not in privity with her parents so as to allow her to avail herself of a judgment entered in their favor just as it would not find that a judgment entered against them would bar her from proceeding in this Court.

Since this Court finds that there is not mutuality of estoppal, it must find that neither party can use the doctrine of res judicata in this case to bar the re-litigation of issues that may have been decided in the small claims case between Ms. Misja’s parents and Mr. Kibler. Consequently Ms. Misja’s motion for summary judgment is denied.

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