439 U.S. 322 (1979), 77-1305, Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore

Docket Nº:No. 77-1305
Citation:439 U.S. 322, 99 S.Ct. 645, 58 L.Ed.2d 552
Party Name:Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore
Case Date:January 09, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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439 U.S. 322 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 645, 58 L.Ed.2d 552

Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc.

v.

Shore

No. 77-1305

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 9, 1979

Argued October 30, 1978

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent brought this stockholder's class action in the District Court for damages [99 S.Ct. 647] and other relief against petitioners, a corporation, its officers, directors, and stockholders, who allegedly had issued a materially false and misleading proxy statement in violation of the federal securities laws and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations. Before the action came to trial, the SEC sued the same defendants in the District Court alleging that the proxy statement was materially false and misleading in essentially the same respects as respondent had claimed. The District Court, after a nonjury trial, entered a declaratory judgment for the SEC, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Respondent in this case then moved for partial summary judgment against petitioners, asserting that they were collaterally estopped from relitigating the issues that had been resolved against them in the SEC suit. The District Court denied the motion on the ground that such an application of collateral estoppel would deny petitioners their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held:

1. Petitioners, who had a "full and fair" opportunity to litigate their claims in the SEC action, are collaterally estopped from relitigating the question of whether the proxy statement was materially false and misleading. Pp. 326-333.

(a) The mutuality doctrine, under which neither party could use a prior judgment against the other unless both parties were bound by the same judgment, no longer applies. See Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, 402 U.S. 313. Pp. 326-328.

(b) The offensive use of collateral estoppel (when, as here, the plaintiff seeks to foreclose the defendant from litigating an issue that the defendant has previously litigated unsuccessfully in an action with another party) does not promote judicial economy in the same manner that is promoted by defensive use (when a defendant seeks to prevent a plaintiff from asserting a claim that the plaintiff has previously litigated and lost against another defendant), and such offensive use may also be unfair to a defendant in various ways. Therefore, the general rule should be that, in cases where a plaintiff could easily have joined in the

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earlier action, or where the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to a defendant, a trial judge, in the exercise of his discretion, should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel. Pp. 329-331.

(c) In this case, however, the application of offensive collateral estoppel will not reward a private plaintiff who could have joined in the previous action, since the respondent probably could not have joined in the injunctive action brought by the SEC. Nor is there any unfairness to petitioners in such application here, since petitioners had every incentive fully and vigorously to litigate the SEC suit; the judgment in the SEC action was not inconsistent with any prior decision; and in the respondent's action there will be no procedural opportunities available to the petitioners that were unavailable in the SEC action of a kind that might be likely to cause a different result. Pp. 331-333.

2. The use of collateral estoppel in this case would not violate petitioners' Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. Pp. 333-337.

(a) An equitable determination can have collateral estoppel effect in a subsequent legal action without violating the Seventh Amendment. Katchen v. Landy, 382 U.S. 323. Pp. 333-335.

(b) Petitioners' contention that, since the scope of the Seventh Amendment must be determined by reference to the common law as it existed in 1791, at which time collateral estoppel was permitted only where there was mutuality of parties, is without merit, for many procedural devices developed since 1791 that have diminished the civil jury's historic domain have been found not to violate the Seventh Amendment. [99 S.Ct. 648] See, e.g., Galloway v. United States, 319 U.S. 372, 388-393. Pp. 335-337.

565 F.2d 815, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 337.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a party who has had issues of fact adjudicated adverse to it in an equitable action may be collaterally estopped from relitigating the same issues before a jury in a subsequent legal action brought against it by a new party.

The respondent brought this stockholder's class action against the petitioners in a Federal District Court. The complaint alleged that the petitioners, Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. (Parklane), and 13 of its officers, directors, and stockholders, had issued a materially false and misleading proxy statement in connection with a merger.1 The proxy statement, according to the complaint, had violated §§ 14(a), 10(b), and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 895, 891, 899, as amended, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78n(a), 78j(b), and 78t(a), as well as various rules and regulations promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The complaint sought damages, rescission of the merger, and recovery of costs.

Before this action came to trial, the SEC filed suit against the same defendants in the Federal District Court, alleging that the proxy statement that had been issued by Parklane was materially false and misleading in essentially the same respects as those that had been alleged in the respondent's complaint. Injunctive relief was requested. After a 4-day

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trial, the District Court found that the proxy statement was materially false and misleading in the respects alleged, and entered a declaratory judgment to that effect. SEC v. Parklane Hosiery Co., 422 F.Supp. 477. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed this judgment. 558 F.2d 1083.

The respondent in the present case then moved for partial summary judgment against the petitioners, asserting that the petitioners were collaterally estopped from relitigating the issues that had been resolved against them in the action brought by the SEC.2 The District Court denied the motion on the ground that such an application of collateral estoppel would deny the petitioners their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that a party who has had issues of fact determined against him after a full and fair opportunity to litigate in a nonjury trial is collaterally estopped from obtaining a subsequent jury trial of these same issues of fact. 565 F.2d 815. The appellate court concluded that

the Seventh Amendment preserves the right to jury trial only with respect to issues of fact, [and] once those issues have been fully and fairly adjudicated in a prior proceeding, nothing remains for trial, either [99 S.Ct. 649] with or without a jury.

Id. at 819. Because of an inter-circuit conflict,3 we granted certiorari. 435 U.S. 1006.

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I

The threshold question to be considered is whether, quite apart from the right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment, the petitioners can be precluded from relitigating facts resolved adversely to them in a prior equitable proceeding with another party under the general law of collateral estoppel. Specifically, we must determine whether a litigant who was not a party to a prior judgment may nevertheless use that judgment "offensively" to prevent a defendant from relitigating issues resolved in the earlier proceeding.4

A

Collateral estoppel, like the related doctrine of res judicata,5 has the dual purpose of protecting litigants from the burden of relitigating an identical issue with the same party or his privy and of promoting judicial economy by preventing needless litigation. Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, 402 U.S. 313, 328-329. Until relatively recently, however, the scope of collateral estoppel was limited by the doctrine of mutuality of parties. Under this mutuality doctrine, neither party could use a prior judgment

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as an estoppel against the other unless both parties were bound by the judgment.6 Based on the premise that it is somehow unfair to allow a party to use prior judgment when he himself would not be so bound,7 the mutuality requirement provided a party who had litigated and lost in a previous action an opportunity to relitigate identical issues with new parties.

By failing to recognize the obvious difference in position between a party who has never litigated an issue and one who has fully litigated and lost, the mutuality requirement was criticized almost from its inception.8 Recognizing the validity of this criticism, the Court in Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, [99 S.Ct. 650] Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, supra, abandoned the mutuality requirement, at least in cases where a patentee seeks to relitigate the validity of a patent after a federal court in a previous lawsuit has already declared it invalid.9 The

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"broader question" before the Court, however, was "whether it is any longer tenable to afford a litigant more than one full and fair opportunity for judicial resolution of the same issue." 402 U.S. at 328. The Court strongly suggested a negative answer to that question:

In any lawsuit where a defendant, because of the...

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