397 F.2d 74 (6th Cir. 1968), 17891, MacKris v. Murray

Docket Nº:17891.
Citation:397 F.2d 74
Party Name:Florence P. MACKRIS, Administratrix of the Estate of James Mackris, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. John A. MURRAY, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:July 12, 1968
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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397 F.2d 74 (6th Cir. 1968)

Florence P. MACKRIS, Administratrix of the Estate of James Mackris, Plaintiff-Appellee,


John A. MURRAY, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 17891.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

July 12, 1968

William D. Booth, Detroit, Mich., for appellant, Ward, Plunkett, Cooney, Rutt & Peacock, Detroit, Mich., on the brief.

John Boghosian, Soughfield, Mich., for appellee.

Before WEICK, Chief Judge, O'SULLIVAN, Circuit Judge, and CECIL, Senior Circuit Judge.

O'SULLIVAN, Circuit Judge.

The question here for decision is whether Michigan, contrary to its earlier holding, would now allow a plaintiff to substitute collateral estoppel for proofs as a means of establishing a defendant's liability; this to be so, notwithstanding that the estoppel is not mutual. Plaintiff-appellee, Florence P. Mackris, is administratrix of the estate of her deceased husband, James Mackris. Her complaint charged that he died from injuries received when a vehicle he was driving was struck by an automobile then being negligently driven by defendant-appellant, John A. Murray. The vehicle being driven by Mackris was owned by his employer, Northland Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., an automobile agency of Oak Park, Michigan. The accident occurred in Monroe County, Michigan, on March 9, 1965.

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Northland Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., brought suit in the Common Pleas Court of Detroit against appellant Murray for damages to its automobile, allegedly caused by the negligence of Murray. Murray denied negligence, and asserted that the deceased Mackris had been guilty of contributory negligence. The case was tried to a jury which gave a verdict to the Northland agency for a stipulated amount of damages. The issue of contributory negligence of the deceased Mackris was not submitted for the consideration of the jury. 1

The appellee-administratrix then commenced this suit in the District Court at Detroit, 2 observing appellant with liability for her husband's death. Appellant denied negligence and charged the deceased Mackris with contributory negligence. After the cause was at issue, plaintiff, employing Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, moved for summary judgment as to liability upon the asserted ground that the judgment obtained in the Common Pleas Court by Northland Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., for the damage to its vehicle foreclosed Murray from defending the administratrix' action except as to the amount of damages. The motion asserted that in the property damage suit 'the issue of Defendant's negligence and liability for the damages were the same and were fully adjudicated in that proceeding'; the motion further averred that the Common Pleas Court judgment 'would work as a collateral estoppel to this same defendant John A. Murray, in this present action.' The District Judge granted plaintiff's motion. We reverse.

Substantive Michigan law controls resolution of the legal question presented. Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938). In his memorandum opinion, the District Judge observed:

'The Michigan Supreme Court has not directly faced the issue in recent years. As late at 1950 in Clark v. Naufel, 328 Mich. 249, 250 (43 N.W.2d 839), mutuality of estoppel was still required.'

He also recognized that had the Common Pleas case resulted in judgment for defendant, plaintiff would not be estopped-- this because she was not a party to it. He said:

'It is clear that had the judgment in the common pleas case gone against Northland Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., Plaintiff here could not be bound by it because she was not a party to the action and had no right to contest it. Makariw v. Rinard, 336 F(2) 333 (3rd Cir. 1964); Rice v. Ringsby Truck Lines, 302 F(2) 550 (7th Cir. 1962); Restatement, Judgments, § 96, comment j (1942).'

If we should assume that the Supreme Court of Michigan would now stand by its opinion in Clark v. Naufel, supra, should the question before us be presented to it, plaintiff's motion here must fail. In that case the plaintiff, Grace W. Clark, sued James C. Naufel for injuries received in a collision between her car and one driven by him. In an earlier case, Rosemary Naufel, wife of defendant James C. Naufel, and a passenger in his car, had sued the plaintiff Grace W. Clark in the Circuit Court of Oakland County, and recovered a judgment against her. The Michigan Court said:

'While it is true decision in the Oakland county case must have been based upon a finding of fact that Grace w. Clark, Plaintiff herein, was guilty of negligence which was a proximate cause of the accident involved in the

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instant case, nonetheless that circumstance could not successfully be urged as estoppel barring plaintiff's right to recover in the instant case. This is true because the same parties or their privies were not the same litigants involved in the respective cases; and the record made in the respective cases presumably may be very different.' 328 Mich., at 256, 43 N.W.2d, at 842.

Such Michigan law, when announced, was contrary to the District Court's ruling which we now review.

The District Judge concluded that we should consider that although Clark v. Naufel is the last clear expression by the Michigan Supreme Court on relevant law, that Court would overrule said case should its rule now be put in question. He arrives at this conclusion by considering that a later Michigan case, Jones v. Chambers, 353 Mich. 674, 91 N.W.2d 889 (1958), and a decision in the District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Halvorsen v. Grain Dealers Mutual Insurance Company, 210 F.Supp. 73 (W.D.Mich.1962), as well as the liberal trend in decisions from other jurisdictions (see, e.g., Graves v. Associated Transport, Inc., 344 F.2d 894, (4th Cir. 1965); United States v. United Airlines, Inc., 216 F.Supp. 709, (E.D.Wash., D.Nev., 1962)), justifiably forecast such action by the Michigan Supreme Court. We disagree.

We at once observe that Justice Edwards, 3 author of Jones v. Chambers, did not even mention Clark v. Naufel in his decision, much less suggest that its vigor was impaired. The case arose out of a collision between an oil truck owned by Jones and a car owned and driven by Chambers. Jones sued Chambers in Shiawassee County for damages, A later action was brought in Isabella County by Chambers against Jones for his damages suffered in the same collision. This Isabella County case went to trial first and resulted in a judgment for Chambers-- plaintiff therein. When the Shiawassee County case came to trial, Chambers, as defendant therein, was allowed to rely defensively upon the judgment he had obtained in Isabella County as an adjudication of his freedom from negligence. Justice Edwards agreed with the circuit judge that the issues of...

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