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Williams v. Robinson

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Robinson (Defendant) was sued for maintenance by his wife. In response, he filed a cross-complaint against his wife and Williams (Plaintiff) alleging adultery. Plaintiff denied the adultery charges and later filed a separate lawsuit against Defendant for libel and slander.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A counterclaim is compulsory and must be filed with the answer when it arises out of the same transaction or occurrence that was the subject of the original complaint.

    Facts.

    Defendant was sued by his wife for maintenance. He then filed a cross-complaint against his wife and Plaintiff as co-respondents, suing for divorce on the grounds of adultery between Mrs. Robinson and Plaintiff. Plaintiff responded to this cross-complaint by denying the alleged adultery. Later, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant for libel and slander. Defendant moved to dismiss this separate action, arguing that Plaintiff was barred from bringing it because he had not brought it as a counterclaim in his answer to the cross-complaint in the original maintenance lawsuit.

    Issue.

    In order for an action to be considered a compulsory counterclaim, must it arise out of the same transaction or occurrence as the subject matter of the original complaint?

    Held.

    (Letts, J.) Yes. When a counterclaim arises out of the same transaction or occurrence as the original complaint, it is a compulsory counterclaim and must be filed with the original answer. Therefore, if Plaintiff’s libel and slander cause of action was part of the same transaction or occurrence as Defendant’s adultery cross-complaint, then Plaintiff would be barred from bringing the action in a separate lawsuit because he did not raise it in his answer on the cross-complaint.  A transaction is usually interpreted to be a complete act.  Here, the alleged adulterous actions were complete before the allegedly libelous and slanderous statements were made.  Since the two actions did not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, Plaintiff’s action is not barred.  Motion to dismiss denied.

    Discussion.

    Compulsory counterclaims are those that arise out of the same transaction or occurrence as the subject matter of the plaintiff’s complaint and also do not require the presence of third parties who do not fall under the court’s jurisdiction.  The rule regarding compulsory counterclaims aims to discourage multiple lawsuits between the same parties over the same actions. Therefore, a claim determined to be a compulsory counterclaim must be raised in response to the original complaint or will be forever barred.


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