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Taylor v. Sturgell

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff attempts to bring suit represented by the same attorney and bringing the same claim for the same information as his friend that brought suit in a different court and lost.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A claim cannot be precluded if the previous litigant is a different party and there is no privity between the current and past litigants.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The term privity, however, has also come to be used more broadly, as a way to express the conclusion that nonparty preclusion is appropriate on any ground.

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Facts.

Taylor files suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia requesting information about a plane’s engine under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Before Taylor sued, his friend Herrick filed a similar action for the same information in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. Herrick’s suit was dismissed because the FAA refused to release the information, claiming it would expose the trade secrets of the company that built the engine, Fairchild. Herrick produced a letter written by Fairchild that seemed to go against the company having a trade secret over the part. But when the FAA contacted Fairchild, the company continued to exercise its trade secret. Herrick’s suit was then dismissed. Taylor brought suit and was represented by the same attorney, arguing the same claims as Herrick, but also that Fairchild was not able to use trade secret protections because it repudiated them years before. The district court granted the FAA and Fairchild’s motion for summary judgement, holding that Taylor’s suit was barred by claim preclusion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed, finding that Taylor was “virtually represented” by Herrick. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue.

Can a claim be precluded if the litigant in the previous case is not the same as the one in the current case and there is no privity between them?

Held.

No, a claim be precluded if the litigant in the previous case is not the same as the one in the current case and there is no privity between them. The judgement of the District of Columbia Circuit Court is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Discussion.

  1. The doctrine of “virtual representation” states that a litigant may be barred by claim preclusion if they bring a claim that was previously litigated and their interests were adequately represented by the previous litigant and there is a close relationship between the old party and the new party.
  2. This doctrine is inappropriate to claim preclusion because litigants are not generally bound by one another, it would hold a litigant liable for a suit to which it had no notice, and litigating the claim would take a significant amount of the court’s time when claim preclusion is supposed to do the opposite.
  3. The Court therefore does not recognize the “doctrine of virtual representation.”
  4. However, if a legal relationship between Herrick and Taylor did exist then Taylor may be precluded.
  5. The decision of the court of appeals is vacated and the case remanded for determination on Herrick and Taylor’s legal relationship.

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