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Civil Procedure Fall 2014

Introduction to Claim Preclusion

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This section of the course will focus on two related doctrines: (1) res judicata, also known as claim preclusion, and (2) collateral estoppel, also known as issue preclusion.  These two doctrines govern the binding effect of prior judgments on future litigation.  The Supreme Court summarized the doctrines as follows:

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"Res Judicata" is the term traditionally used to describe two discrete effects: (1) what we now call claim preclusion (a valid final adjudcation of a claim precludes a second action on that claim or any part of it), . . . and (2) issue preclusion, long called "collateral estoppel" (an issue of fact or law, actually litigated and resolved by a valid final judgment, binds the parties in a subsequent action, whether on the same or a different claim) . . . .

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Baker v. General Motors Corp., 522 U.S. 222, 233 n.5 (1998).  Four general principles explain these doctrines.  First, a party ordinarily gets only one chance to litigate a "claim."  Second, a party ordinarily gets only one chance to litigate a factual or a legal "issue."  Third, a party is entitled to at least one "full and fair" chance to litigate before being precluded.  And finally, preclusion may be waived unless it is claimed early in litigation.

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The first doctrine we will study is claim preclusion.  Justice Field provided a summary of the basic rule:

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[A] judgment, if rendered upon the merits, constitutes an absolute bar to a subsequent action.  It is a finality as to the claim or demand in controversy, concluding parties and those in privity with them, not only as to every matter which was offered and received to sustain or defeat the claim or demand, but as to any other admissible matter which might have been offered for that purpose.  Thus, for example, a judgment rendered upon a promissory note is conclusive as to the validity of the instrument and the amount due on it, although it be subsequently alleged that perfect defences actually existed, of which no proof was offered, such as forgery, want of consideration, or payment. . . . The judgment is as conclusive, so far as future proceedings at law are concerned, as though the defences never existed.

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Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. (4 Otto) 351, 352 - 53 (1876).  Claim Preclusion has three requirements: (1) judgments must be finalvalid, and on the merits; (2) the parties must be identical to those in the prior action; and (3) the claim in the second suit must involve matters properly considered included in the first action.  The second requirement is the biggest and most important difference between claim and issue preclusion.