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Russell v. Place

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Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff originally brought a patent infringement suit and won. The Defendant below brought suit on issues that the Plaintiff below claimed estopped because of the prior litigation and judgment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Where uncertainty exists as to several distinct matters that may have been litigated, without indication of which specific matters were decided upon, the whole subject matter of the action is open for re-trial unless the uncertainty is removed with regard to extrinsic evidence showing the precise point determined.

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

As we understand the rule in respect to the conclusiveness of the verdict and judgment in a former trial between the same parties, when the judgment is used in pleading as a technical estoppel, or is relied on by way of evidence as conclusive, per se, it must appear, by the record of the prior suit, that the particular controversy sought to be concluded was necessarily tried and determined--that is, if the record of the former trial shows that the verdict could not have been rendered without deciding that particular matter, it will be considered as having settled that matter as to all future actions between the parties; and further, in cases where the record itself does not show that the matter was necessarily and directly found by the jury, evidence aliunde consistent with the record may be received to prove the fact; but, even where it appears from the extrinsic evidence that the matter was properly within the issue controverted in the former suit, if it be not shown that the verdict and judgment necessarily involved its consideration and determination, it will not be concluded.

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Facts. The Plaintiff brought a patent infringement suit against the Defendant alleging that the Defendant had gained and profited from use, manufacture and sale of the Plaintiff’s patent in the preparation of leather. The Plaintiff sued for lost profits and an injunction to stop the Defendant. The Defendant answered with two contentions: (i) that the public had been using the procedure two years prior to Plaintiff’s patent and (ii) that the invention was novel. The Plaintiff was awarded judgment and claimed issue preclusion in the Defendant’s attempt to raise those issues in this case.

Issue. Whether the Defendant was precluded from raising the issues of novelty and prior use in the case at bar.

Held. No. A recovery for infringement of one claim of the patent is not itself conclusive of an infringement of the other claim and there was no extrinsic evidence offered to remove the uncertainty in the record. The verdict may have been for an infringement on the first claim, the second claim, or even both claims.

Discussion. The general rule is that an issue raised in one case is conclusive as to that question in another suit between the same parties. However, certainty is essential to the operation of estoppel. Where uncertainty exists as to whether a claim has been decided upon in a prior case between the same parties, the claim in the present case cannot be precluded unless some evidence is shown that it was adjudged in the prior case.

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