Brief Fact Summary.
After a court declared Blonder-Tongue Laboratories’(Plaintiff) patent invalid in another action, Plaintiff made a claim of patent infringement on the same patent against the University of Illinois Foundation (Defendant).
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Once a claim has been fully and fairly litigated adverse to the plaintiff, the plaintiff may not bring the same claim against a different defendant.
Plaintiff sued a third party for patent infringement and the court found the patent to be invalid. Nevertheless, Plaintiff then brought suit against Defendant, alleging infringement of the same patent. Precedent held the relitigation of the patent’s validity would not be barred by the previous finding, because it was a patent action. The trial and appellate court applied this precedent and allowed the suit to continue. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in order to readdress the issue from Triplett v. Lowell, 297 U.S. 638 (1936).
When a court has decided a claim against a plaintiff in an earlier suit, is the plaintiff barred from bringing the same claim against a different defendant in a later action?
(White, J.) Yes. Once a claim has been fully and fairly litigated adverse to the plaintiff, the plaintiff may not bring the same claim against a different defendant. Judicial economy and an interest in the best use of plaintiff’s and defendant’s resources mandate this result. Patent policy and law are not furthered by allowing relitigation of patents in subsequent actions. In cases where the issue is not fully litigated or the earlier court has made a mistake, the subsequent action against a different defendant will not be barred. The new court would review the earlier case and determine whether the new action may proceed. Vacated and remanded.
In Rachal v. Hill, 435 F.2d 59 (5th Cir. 1970), the court did not apply the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Although the Securities and Exchange Commission had successfully litigated the issue of whether Rachal was using fraudulent practices in its injunction action, the relitigation of that issue was not barred in Hill’s suit for damages based upon those same practices. The issue could be relitigated because, unlike in the earlier administrative hearing, Rachal had a right to a jury in the suit brought by Hill and applying collateral estoppel would deprive Rachal of the right to have that jury decide the matter.