Res Judicata: GARDNER V. SKIBA (COA; 3/10/2006)

CIVIL PROCEDURE – RES JUDICATA (remanding of earlier judgment)
DATE:  3/10/2006

A jury found against appellant in a 1998 case, but that judgment was subsequently reversed and remanded by the CAs.  Appellant brought current action that appellees argued was precluded by res judicata, in that it concerned same facts/parties, etc.  CAs noted that res judicata applies when there has been a final judgment of a matter on the merits.  However, should that final judgment be reversed on direct appeal, it is treated as though it never existed, and res judicata will not have a preclusive effect.  The appellees also argued the appellant could not bring the second action because he impermissibly split his cause of action; however, this tenet is a subsidiary of the res judicata doctrine, and for it to apply, all of the elements of res judicata, including that pesky final judgment, must be present.  Again, the CAs held that since the "final judgment" at issue here had been reversed, it could not be used as a basis to assert the appellant had improperly split his cause of action.  It noted that the rule against splitting causes of action is not so broad as to foreclose all possible or potential claims against any known potential defendant not brought within the first litigation.  The CAs refused to consider the appellees’ final argument that appellee’s action is barred because he cannot amend his complaint in the prior litigation or from consolidating the action with the prior litigation, finding the appellant had attempted to do neither of those things, thus rendering the arguments unripe for adjudication.

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