Conley v. Spillers, 15697

Citation301 S.E.2d 216,171 W.Va. 584
Decision Date15 March 1983
Docket NumberNo. 15697,15697
PartiesMarjorie Long CONLEY, et al., etc. v. The Hon. George L. SPILLERS, Judge, etc.
CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia

Syllabus by the Court

1. " 'An adjudication by a court having jurisdiction of the subject-matter and the parties is final and conclusive, not only as to the matters actually determined, but as to every other matter which the parties might have litigated as incident thereto and coming within the legitimate purview of the subject-matter of the action. It is not essential that the matter should have been formally put in issue in a former suit, but it is sufficient that the status of the suit was such that the parties might have had the matter disposed of on its merits. An erroneous ruling of the court will not prevent the matter from being res judicata.' Point 1, Syllabus, Sayre's Adm'r v. Harpold, 33 W.Va. 553 ." Syllabus Point 1, In re Estate of McIntosh, 144 W.Va. 583, 109 S.E.2d 153 (1959).

2. Collateral estoppel is designed to foreclose relitigation of issues in a second suit which have actually been litigated in the earlier suit even though there may be a difference in the cause of action between the parties of the first and second suit. We have made this summary of the doctrine of collateral estoppel:

"But where the causes of action are not the same, the parties being identical or in privity, the bar extends to only those matters which were actually litigated in the former proceeding, as distinguished from those matters that might or could have been litigated therein, and arises by way of estoppel rather than by way of strict res adjudicata." Lane v. Williams, 150 W.Va. 96, 100, 144 S.E.2d 234, 236 (1965).

3. The doctrine of collateral estoppel also requires as does res judicata that the first judgment be rendered on the merits and be a final judgment by a court having competent jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties.

4. A common requirement for the application of res judicata and collateral estoppel was that there had to be mutuality of parties between the first suit which had proceeded to judgment and the second suit where the defense of res judicata or collateral estoppel was being asserted. The concept of mutuality extended not only to the named parties but to those who were privy to them.

5. In this jurisdiction under certain conditions mutuality of parties is no longer necessary in order to enforce a judgment against a party or his privy.

6. Whether a stranger to the first action can assert collateral estoppel in the second action depends on several general inquiries: Whether the issues presented in the present case are the same as presented in the earlier case; whether the controlling facts or legal principles have changed substantially since the earlier case; and, whether there are special circumstances that would warrant the conclusion that enforcement of the judgment would be unfair.

7. The application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel is discretionary with the trial court and rests upon a number of factual predicates, therefore, a writ of prohibition will not issue on the basis that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to enforce collateral estopped.

8. A fundamental due process point relating to the utilization of collateral estoppel is that any person against whom collateral estoppel is asserted must have had a prior opportunity to have litigated his claim.

Edward A. Zagula, Zagula & Hill, Weirton, for petitioners.

William J. Ridgway, Weirton, for respondent.

Charles D. Bell, Wellsburg, for Mfrs. Light & Heat Co.

William E. Watson, Barnes, Watson, Cuomo, Hinerman & Fahey, Wellsburg, for Tri-State Asphalt Corp.

George J. Anetakis, Frankovitch & Anetakis, Weirton, for James White Const. Co.

MILLER, Justice:

In this original prohibition case, we are asked to apply the doctrine of collateral estoppel and hold that the trial court had exceeded its legitimate authority in failing to grant a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, Marjorie Long and Floyd Conley, petitioners herein, and against the defendants, the City of Weirton and Manufacturer's Light & Heat Company (hereinafter Gas Company). The latter is an intervenor herein. We granted a motion to intervene to the two other prior defendants, Tri-State Asphalt Corporation and James White Construction Company, who were found not to be liable at an earlier trial and who assert the benefit of collateral estoppel. For the reasons set out herein, we decline to issue a writ of prohibition.

The petitioners in this case are husband and wife. The wife sustained personal injuries in a gas explosion and her husband brings his derivative claim for loss of consortium and for necessary medical and hospital expenses incurred on behalf of his wife. The gas explosion which gave rise to this litigation was the subject matter of previous litigation which was appealed to this Court in Long v. City of Weirton, 158 W.Va. 741, 214 S.E.2d 832 (1975). The plaintiff in that case was the minor daughter of Mrs. Conley, the petitioner herein. Mrs. Conley acted as guardian ad litem or next friend along with her husband in bringing the suit for her daughter's injuries.

The jury in the trial of Long v. City of Weirton, supra, returned a verdict against the Gas Company and the City of Weirton. It returned no verdict against the two other defendants. The trial court set the judgment aside as to the City of Weirton based on its claim of municipal immunity and an appeal followed. We determined that the defense of municipal immunity was no longer available and reversed the trial court's exoneration of the City of Weirton and reinstated the jury verdict. We also affirmed the jury verdict against the Gas Company as well as the exoneration of Tri-State Asphalt Corporation and James White Construction Company. 158 W.Va. 973, 214 S.E.2d at 864. 1

As might be expected, the petitioners in this case who prevailed in the first case are arguing for collateral estoppel. The Gas Company's main argument against collateral estoppel is that Mrs. Conley is pursuing her own cause of action in this case, while in the earlier case, she was merely a nominal party as a next friend or guardian ad litem pursuing the personal injury claim of her injured daughter. It contends that this is a separate cause of action which under principles of res judicata is not controlled by Long v. City of Weirton. It also asserts that there has been a substantial change in our law of contributory negligence as a result of Bradley v. Appalachian Power Co., 163 W.Va. 332, 256 S.E.2d 879 (1979), which was decided after Long v. City of Weirton. Consequently, the Gas Company maintains that it should have the benefit of these new principles in the present litigation.

As a preliminary consideration, it is necessary to differentiate between the doctrine of res judicata and collateral estoppel. We have defined res judicata in somewhat varying, although not inconsistent, degrees of terminology. In Syllabus Point 1 of In re Estate of McIntosh, 144 W.Va. 583, 109 S.E.2d 153 (1959), we summarized res judicata based on one of our earlier cases:

" 'An adjudication by a court having jurisdiction of the subject-matter and the parties is final and conclusive, not only as to the matters actually determined, but as to every other matter which the parties might have litigated as incident thereto and coming within the legitimate purview of the subject-matter of the action. It is not essential that the matter should have been formally put in issue in a former suit, but it is sufficient that the status of the suit was such that the parties might have had the matter disposed of on its merits. An erroneous ruling of the court will not prevent the matter from being res judicata.' Point 1, Syllabus, Sayre's Adm'r v. Harpold, 33 W.Va. 553 ." 2

The underlying purpose of the doctrine of res judicata was initially to prevent a person from being "twice vexed for one and the same cause." State ex rel. Connellsville By-Product Coal Company v. Continental Coal Company, 117 W.Va. 447, 449, 186 S.E. 119, 120 (1936). There are also additional public policy reasons as expressed in Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153-54 99 S.Ct. 970, 973-74, 59 L.Ed.2d 210, 217 (1979):

"To preclude parties from contesting matters that they have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate protects their adversaries from the expense and vexation attending multiple lawsuits, conserves judicial resources, and fosters reliance on judicial action by minimizing the possibility of inconsistent decisions." (Footnote omitted)

These same policy considerations also support the doctrine of collateral estoppel which is related in some degree to res judicata. Collateral estoppel is designed to foreclose relitigation of issues in a second suit which have actually been litigated in the earlier suit even though there may be a difference in the cause of action between the parties of the first and second suit. We have made this summary of the doctrine of collateral estoppel:

"But where the causes of action are not the same, the parties being identical or in privity, the bar extends to only those matters which were actually litigated in the former proceeding, as distinguished from those matters that might or could have been litigated therein, and arises by way of estoppel rather than by way of strict res adjudicata." Lane v. Williams, 150 W.Va. 96, 100, 144 S.E.2d 234, 236 (1965).

The doctrine of collateral estoppel also requires as does res judicata that the first judgment be rendered on the merits and be a final judgment by a court having competent jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties. 3 Because collateral estoppel recognizes that the second suit may be on a different cause of action, its focus is on whether the issues which are being sought to be litigated in the second suit were actually litigated in the first suit....

To continue reading

Request your trial
118 cases
  • Myers v. Frazier
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 27, 1984
    ......1165, 1167 (W.D.Pa.1978). See also Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Kincaid v. Spillers, W.Va., 268 S.E.2d 137 (1980). .         We, therefore, conclude that under Rule 11, a ... W.Va.Code, 53-1-1." See also Conley v. Spillers, W.Va., 301 S.E.2d 216, 224 (1983). 31 .         The special circuit judge ......
  • City of Huntington v. Bacon
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 14, 1996
    ......pt. 2, in part, Conley v. Spillers, 171 W.Va. 584, 301 S.E.2d 216 (1983). We have outlined four conditions which must be ......
  • Slack v. Kanawha County Housing and Redevelopment Authority
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 9, 1992
    ...... See Syllabus Point 2, Conley v. Spillers, 171 W.Va. 584, 301 S.E.2d 216 (1983). . 14 Because Mr. Vinson ceased to be the ......
  • Rowe v. Grapevine Corp.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 15, 1999
    ...... Conley v. Spillers, 171 W.Va. 584, 301 S.E.2d 216 (1983) ; Lane v. Williams, 150 W.Va. 96, 100, 144 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT