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Cambria v. Jeffery

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The trial judge entered judgment for (Jeffery) Defendant, ruling that an earlier adjudication that found both parties negligent bound the court in the later proceeding.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A fact litigated in an earlier case is only considered adjudicated for collateral estoppel purposes when it was the basis of relief, denial of relief, or some other ultimate right established by the judgment.

    Facts.

    Defendant and Cambria’s (Plaintiff) servant were in an automobile collision. Defendant sued Plaintiff for negligence. The jury found both parties negligent, but entered judgment for Plaintiff on the grounds that Defendant was contributorily negligent. Plaintiff then sued Defendant for negligence. The jury found for Plaintiff, but the trial judge entered judgment for Defendant, ruling that the earlier judgment had adjudicated the issue of whether Plaintiff was negligent through his servant. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue.

    Is a fact litigated in an earlier case considered adjudicated when it was not the basis of relief, denial of relief, or an ultimate right established by the earlier judgment?

    Held.

    (Lummus, J.) No. A fact litigated in an earlier case is only considered adjudicated for collateral estoppel purposes when it was the basis of relief, denial of relief, or some other ultimate right established by the judgment. The earlier judgment for Plaintiff was based solely on a finding that Defendant was contributorily negligent and therefore could not recover against Plaintiff. The finding in that earlier proceeding that Plaintiff’s servant was also negligent had no effect on the judgment. Therefore, the earlier judgment did not adjudicate the issue of whether Plaintiff’s servant was negligent. Judgment for the Defendant set aside, and judgment upon the verdict returned by the jury.

    Discussion.

    Plaintiff’s servant was not a party to the original action, so the judgment in that case was not conclusive as to his rights. Therefore, collateral estoppel did not operate to bar a determination of those rights in a separate action.


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