Brief Fact Summary. Forty-eight property owners consolidated an action against a home building company following a fire. Because several other plaintiffs had already received judgments against the defendant building company, the forty-eight plaintiffs sought to collaterally estop the defendant from litigating the issue of liability.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Where there are several lawsuits with varying and inconsistent verdicts, issue preclusion should not apply.
Issue. Whether current plaintiffs may use two favorable prior judgments against the current defendant to collaterally estop the present defendant from litigating liability, when there have also been two favorable prior judgments rendered in favor of the current defendant.
Held. No. The trial court’s decision was reversed. Where it is apparent that the verdict was the result of jury compromise, the losing party should not be precluded by the judgment. Where outstanding determinations are actually inconsistent on the matter sought to be precluded, it would be patently unfair to estop a party by the judgment it lost. Where there are extant determinations that are inconsistent on the matter in issue, it is a strong indication that the application of collateral estoppel would work an injustice.
Discussion. Central to the court’s reasoning in this case is the inconsistency of the prior judgments involving Defendant. Recall that one jury and another court sitting without a jury found Defendants liable. However, a third court found Defendants not liable. Ultimately, this court concluded that where there are several lawsuits with varying verdicts, issue preclusion should not apply. Thus the court’s statement that “there seems to be something fundamentally offensive about depriving a party of the opportunity to litigate the issue again when he has shown beyond a doubt that on another day he prevailed.”