Defenses: Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel

JAN. 20, 2012

Res judicata is an affirmative defense that bars repetitious suits involving the same cause of action. Yeoman v. Commonwealth, Health Policy Board, 983 S.W.2d 459, 464 (Ky. 1998). The Supreme Court of Kentucky defined this doctrine in City of Louisville v. Louisville Professional Firefighters Ass’n, Local Union No. 345, IAFF, AFL-CIO, 813 S.W.2d 804, 806 (Ky. 1991), as follows: “Under the doctrine of res judicata or ‘claim preclusion,’ a judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving the same parties or their privies bars a subsequent suit based upon the same cause of action.” The City of Louisville Court then cited to Newman v. Newman, 451 S.W.2d 417, 419 (Ky. 1970), in which the former Court of Appeals addressed the elements of res judicata:

The general rule for determining the question of res judicata as between parties in actions embraces several conditions. First, there must be identity of the parties. Second, there must be identity of the two causes of action. Third, the action must be decided on its merits. In short, the rule of res judicata does not act as a bar if there are different issues or the questions of law presented are different.

City of Louisville, 813 S.W.2d at 806. In City of Covington v. Board of Trustees of Policemen's and Firefighters' Retirement Fund of City of Covington, 903 S.W.2d 517, 521 (Ky. 1995), the Supreme Court addressed the doctrine of collateral estoppel:

Collateral estoppel is closely related to the doctrine of res judicata. The latter may be used to preclude entire claims that were brought or should have been brought in a prior action, while the doctrine of collateral estoppel only applies to issues actually litigated. Offensive collateral estoppel refers to the successful assertion by a party seeking affirmative relief that a party to a prior adjudication who was unsuccessful on a particular issue in that adjudication is barred from relitigating the issue in a subsequent proceeding. Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326 n.4, 99 S.Ct. 645, 649 n. 4, 58 L.Ed.2d 552 (1979). Defensive use occurs when a defendant seeks to prevent a plaintiff from asserting a claim the other plaintiff had previously litigated and lost against another defendant. Id.

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