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Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, Shore (Respondent), brought a shareholder’s derivative suit against the Petitioner, Parklane Hosiery Co. (Petitioner) and sought to collaterally estop the Petitioner corporation from re-litigating factual issues that a prior Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) judgment had found it guilty of.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Trial court judges have broad discretion to allow application of offensive collateral estoppel in cases where the Plaintiff could not have easily joined in the earlier action and where it would not be unfair to the defendant to allow it.

    Facts. In a prior action, the SEC brought suit against the Petitioner alleging that the proxy statement issued by the Petitioner was materially false and misleading. The Court found the proxy statement to be so and entered a declaratory judgment and the Court of Appeals affirmed. In the present action, the Respondent brought a stockholder’s class action lawsuit against the Petitioner alleging that the Petitioner had issued a materially false and misleading proxy statement in connection with a merger and sought damages, rescission of the merger and recovery of costs. The Respondent then moved for partial summary judgment against the Petitioner, asserting that the Petitioners were collaterally estopped from relitigating the issues that had been resolved against them in the SEC case. The District Court denied the motion on the ground that application of collateral estoppel would deny the Petitioner their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeals reversed.

    Issue. Whether a litigant who was not a party to a prior judgment may use that judgment “offensively” to prevent a defendant from relitigating issues resolved in the earlier proceeding. Whether notwithstanding the law of collateral estoppel, the use of it in this case would violate Petitioner’s Seventh Amendment constitutional right to a jury trial.

    Held. Yes. Trial courts should be given broad discretion to determine when the use of offensive collateral estoppel should be applied. There is no unfairness to the Petitioner in applying offensive collateral estoppel in this case. The Petitioner had a full and fair opportunity to litigate their claims in the SEC lawsuit and the SEC judgment was not inconsistent with any previous decision. The Petitioner is collaterally estopped from relitigating the question of whether the proxy statements were materially false and misleading. No. The law of collateral estoppel forecloses the Petitioner from relitigating the factual issues and nothing in the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) dictates a different result, even though because of lack of mutuality, there would have been no collateral estoppel in 1791.

    Dissent. Chief Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) dissented and argued that the development of nonmutual estoppel was a substantial departure from common law and its use in this case deprived the Petitioner of its right to have a jury determine contested factual issues. Even in the absence of the Seventh Amendment, strong federal policy favored jury trials and the strong possibility that a jury trial could lead to a different result than the one reached by the majority, existed. This possibility rendered it unfair to estop the Petitioner from relitigating the issues before a jury.

    Discussion. The general rule should be that in cases where a plaintiff could easily have joined in the earlier action or where the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to a defendant, a trial judge should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel. In this case, however, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) noted that consolidation of a private action with one brought by the SEC without its consent was prohibited by statute, thereby, not making it easy for Respondent to have used offensive collateral estoppel in its rigid definition. In this case, the Supreme Court opined that the Petitioner was not harmed by Respondent’s attempted use of the doctrine and allowed its invocation. The Petitioner gave the Supreme Court no persuasive reason as to why the meaning of the Seventh Amendment should depend on whether or not mutuality of parties was present. A litigant who has lost because of adverse factual findings in an equity action is equally deprived of a jury trial whether he is estopped from relitigating the factual issues against the same party or a new party. In re Multidistrict Civil Actions Involving the Air Crash Disaster Near Dayton, Ohio, On March 9, 1967 Citation. 350 F.Supp. 757.(1974).

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendants, TWA, Inc and Tann Company (Defendants), were sued in multiple lawsuits stemming from a mid-air plane crash. In one case where Tann Company was cleared of any liability, Tann Company sought to invoke collateral estoppel as to any other cases where its negligence was to be litigated. This included lawsuits against nonparties to the litigation where Tann Company had not been found negligent

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Collateral estoppel may be applied against parties who were not in a previous litigation.

    Facts. On March 9, 1967, a mid-air collision occurred between aircrafts respectively owned by the Defendants near Dayton, Ohio. There were no survivors and numerous civil actions seeking recovery for alleged wrongful death and property damage were filed in various federal and state courts. Among those cases was a wrongful death action, Humphreys v. Herman Tann, et al, which commenced in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and was moved to the present court. This Court had, on July 15, 1970, conducted a pre-trial conference for the purpose of scheduling consolidated discovery with respect to all actions pending in front of it, including Humphreys. Plaintiffs’ attorney for that case was present and given a full and ample opportunity to participate in all discovery, framing of the issues, and ascertainment of all relevant facts pertaining to the crash. A second pre-trial conference was later held and an attorney named Spangenberg, a specialist in representations of plaintiffs’ cases in air disasters, gave a statements of facts with which all other present plaintiff’s attorneys concurred. At this hearing, it was decided that Downey v. TWA, Inc. would be the first case to commence to trial. Plaintiffs’ attorney in Humphreys was not present at this conference. At the conclusion of the Downey trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff as against TWA, Inc., but found against plaintiff on her claims against the Tann Company. No appeal was filed and upon satisfaction of the judgment by TWA, Inc. The judgment in the Downey case became final. Tann Company then filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of the doctrine of collateral estoppel in all outstanding passenger actions pending against the Tann Company. At the hearing for this pending motion, counsel for Humphreys was present and presented oral argument, though plaintiff in that case was not a party to the Downey decision in which Tann Company’s liability and responsibility in the mid-air crash was determined.

    Issue. Whether the doctrine of res judicata or collateral estoppel can be applied against a person who was not party to the prior action.

    Held. Yes. The court concludes that no principle of fundamental fairness inherent in the concept of due process will be offended by the application of the doctrine against plaintiff Humphreys to bar the relitigation of the issue of the Tann Company’s liability for the mid-air disaster. In this Court’s opinion unfairness will result and the effective administration of justice will be retarded if plaintiff Humphreys is permitted to relitigate an issue, which has been fully and fairly adjudicated.

    Discussion. It is important to note that this decision did not conform to the weight of standing authority and was later overturned by the Sixth Circuit citing the overcrowded dockets concern could not overcome the due process objections. The court came to its holding in the present case through the following reasoning. The Bernard Doctrine abandoned the requirement of strict mutuality and in the present case, two of the essential three elements for collateral estoppel were met: (i) A final judgment on the merits had been met and (ii) the question of Tann Company’s negligence had been fully litigated. The third element required privity of parties in the present case to those in the Downey case and Humphreys was not a party to the case. Naturally, it would follow that privity not met as to the parties. Thus, the Tann Company could not invoke collateral estoppel. However, the court found that it did not believe that the maxim that each man be afforded his day in court be so fixed so that it mandatorily apply where careful evaluation of the record has been found. The Court reasoned that no principles of fundamental fairness inherent in due process were offended by application of collateral estoppel as to Humphreys.


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