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 negligence and contributory negligence had been 'finally determined by verdict and judgment' in the Isabella County case.

It will be seen that the contests in Shiawassee County and Isabella County involved substantially the same parties-- the same adversaries-- their positions merely being reversed in the respective cases. The insurers, as subrogees of one of the suing plaintiffs in each case, were different but these subrogation rights were derivative-- derived from the rights of their respective insureds. In the case at bar, the party plaintiff in the Common Pleas action and the plaintiff in the District Court action were not the same, and had no common interests. The Common Pleas action was solely to recover property damages suffered by the owner of the involved automobile; the District Court case was a different plaintiff's action to recover for the injuries and death of her husband. In Jones, the Michigan Supreme Court quoted language of the trial judge which emphasized that the opposing parties were the same people.

'To permit this might result in different judgments on the same issues, and between the same parties in different jurisdictions throughout the State. Such a possible result should not be countenanced.' 353 Mich. at 680, 91 N.W.2d at 892.

In Halvorsen v. Grain Dealers Mutual Insurance Company, supra, one Phyllis Jones brought an action and won judgment against a Reva Halvorsen for injuries suffered in an automobile accident. Thereafter Reva Halvorsen sued Edward Jones, father of Phyllis and owner of the vehicle which the latter was driving. Jones was allowed to plead defensively the former adjudication which exonerated his daughter of negligence. We find

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immediate distinction from the case at bar in that there the plea of estoppel was made defensively by one whose liability was derivative from that of his daughter. The District Judge considered that these facts brought the case before him into '(the) apparent exception to the rule of mutuality 'where the liability of the defendant is altogether dependent upon the culpability of one exonerated in a prior suit, upon the same facts, when sued by the same plaintiff.'' 210 F.Supp., at 74. Applying Michigan law, it was his view that 'the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on this question' in Jones v. Chambers; he did not mention Clark v. Naufel. He noted our decision in Davis v. McKinnon & Mooney, 266 F.2d 870 (1959), wherein we held that agents-employees of an indemnity company which had been exonerated in a prior suit could maintain the defense of collateral estoppel in a subsequent action by the same plaintiff on the same issues previously litigated.

In each of the above three cases collateral estoppel was pleaded defensively; each involved an exception to the general rule requiring mutuality. In the only other relevant Michigan case discovered by our won research, the 1954 case of DePolo v. Greig, 338 Mich. 703, 709-713, 62 N.W.2d 441, the Michigan Supreme Court there acknowledged its awareness of the 'liberal trend' of decisions and commentaries regarding the requirement of mutuality, but based its decision...

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