Federated Department Stores, Inc v. Moitie, 79-1517

Decision Date15 June 1981
Docket NumberNo. 79-1517,79-1517
Citation69 L.Ed.2d 103,101 S.Ct. 2424,452 U.S. 394
PartiesFEDERATED DEPARTMENT STORES, INC., et al., Petitioners, v. Marilyn MOITIE and Floyd R. Brown, etc
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Seven private antitrust actions (including separate actions by each of the respondents) were brought by plaintiffs seeking to represent classes of retail purchasers against petitioners, owners of various department stores, for alleged price fixing. The actions were consolidated in Federal District Court, which dismissed them for failure to allege an "injury" to the plaintiffs' "business or property" within the meaning of the Clayton Act. Plaintiffs in five of the actions appealed, but respondents chose instead to refile their two actions in state court, making allegations similar to those made in the prior complaints. Petitioners removed these new actions to the District Court, which dismissed them under the doctrine of res judicata, and respondents appealed. Because of this Court's intervening decision in Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, 99 S.Ct. 2326, 60 L.Ed.2d 931, the Court of Appeals thereafter reversed and remanded the five cases which had been initially decided with respondents' first actions, and later reversed the District Court's dismissal of respondents' subsequent actions. The Court of Appeals held that because respondents' position was "closely interwoven" with that of the successfully appealing parties, the doctrine of res judicata must give way to "public policy" and "simple justice."

Held : Res judicata bars relitigation of the unappealed adverse judgments against respondents as to their federal-law claims. The res judicata consequences of a final, unappealed judgment on the merits are not altered by the fact that the judgment may have been wrong or rested on a legal principle subsequently overruled in another case. There is no general equitable doctrine which countenances an exception to the finality of a party's failure to appeal merely because his rights are "closely interwoven" with those of another party who successfully appeals. Cf. Reed v. Allen, 286 U.S. 191, 52 S.Ct. 532, 76 L.Ed. 1054. Nor is there any principle of law or equity which sanctions rejection of the salutary principle of res judicata on the basis of "simple justice" or "public policy." "[The] doctrine of res judicata is not a mere matter of practice or procedure . . . . It is a rule of fundamental and substantial justice, 'of public policy and of private peace,' which should be cordially regarded and enforced by the courts . . . ." Hart Steel Co. v. Railroad Supply Co., 244 U.S. 294, 299, 37 S.Ct. 506, 507, 61 L.Ed. 1148. Pp. 398-402.

9th Cir., 611 F.2d 1267, reversed and remanded.

Jerome I. Chapman, Washington, D. C., for petitioners.

Jerrold N. Offstein, San Francisco, Cal., for respondents.

Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The only question presented in this case is whether the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit validly created an exception to the doctrine of res judicata. The court held that res judicata does not bar relitigation of an unappealed adverse judgment where, as here, other plaintiffs in similar actions against common defendants successfully appealed the judgments against them. We disagree with the view taken by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and reverse.

I

In 1976 the United States brought an antitrust action against petitioners, owners of various department stores, alleging that they had violated § 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, by agreeing to fix the retail price of women's clothing sold in northern California. Seven parallel civil actions were subsequently filed by private plaintiffs seeking treble damages on behalf of proposed classes of retail purchasers, including that of respondent Moitie in state court (Moitie I ) and respondent Brown (Brown I ) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Each of these complaints tracked almost verbatim the allegations of the Government's complaint, though the Moitie I complaint referred solely to state law. All of the actions originally filed in the District Court were assigned to a single federal judge, and the Moitie I case was removed there on the basis of diversity of citizenship and federal-question jurisdiction. The District Court dismissed all of the actions "in their entirety" on the ground that plaintiffs had not alleged an "injury" to their "business or property" within the meaning of § 4 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 15. Weinberg v. Federated Department Stores, 426 F.Supp. 880 (1977).

Plaintiffs in five of the suits appealed that judgment to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The single counsel representing Moitie and Brown, however, chose not to appeal and instead refiled the two actions in state court, Moitie II and Brown II.1 Although the complaints purported to raise only state-law claims, they made allegations similar to those made in the prior complaints, including that of the Government. Petitioners removed these new actions to the District Court for the Northern District of California and moved to have them dismissed on the ground of res judicata. In a decision rendered July 8, 1977, the District Court first denied respondents' motion to remand. It held that the complaints, though artfully couched in terms of state law, were "in many respects identical" with the prior complaints, and were thus properly removed to federal court because they raised "essentially federal law" claims. The court then concluded that because Moitie II and Brown II involved the "same parties, the same alleged offenses, and the same time periods" as Moitie I and Brown I, the doctrine of res judi- cata required that they be dismissed this time, Moitie and Brown appealed.

Pending that appeal, this Court on June 11, 1979, decided Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, 99 S.Ct. 2326, 60 L.Ed.2d 931, holding that retail purchasers can suffer an "injury" to their "business or property" as those terms are used in § 4 of the Clayton Act. On June 25, 1979, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the five cases which had been decided with Moitie I and Brown I, the cases that had been appealed, for further proceedings in light of Reiter.

When Moitie II and Brown II finally came before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the court reversed the decision of the District Court dismissing the cases. 611 F.2d 1267.2 Though the court recognized that a "strict application of the doctrine of res judicata would preclude our review of the instant decision," id., at 1269, it refused to apply the doctrine to the facts of this case. It observed that the other five litigants in the Weinberg cases had successfully appealed the decision against them. It then asserted that "non-appealing parties may benefit from a reversal when their position is closely interwoven with that of appealing parties," ibid., and concluded that "[b]ecause the instant dismissal rested on a case that has been effectively overruled," the doctrine of res judicata must give way to "public policy" and "simple justice." Id., at 1269-1270. We granted certiorari, 449 U.S. 991, 101 S.Ct. 526, 66 L.Ed.2d 288 (1980), to consider the validity of the Court of Appeals' novel exception to the doctrine of res judicata.

II

There is little to be added to the doctrine of res judicata as developed in the case law of this Court. A final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Commissioner v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 597, 68 S.Ct. 715, 719, 92 L.Ed. 898 (1948); Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 352-353, 24 L.Ed. 195 (1877). Nor are the res judicata consequences of a final, unappealed judgment on the merits altered by the fact that the judgment may have been wrong or rested on a legal principle subsequently overruled in another case. Angel v. Bullington, 330 U.S. 183, 187, 67 S.Ct. 657, 659, 91 L.Ed. 832 (1947); Chicot County Drainage District v. Baxter State Bank, 308 U.S. 371, 60 S.Ct. 317, 84 L.Ed. 329 (1940); Wilson's Executor v. Deen, 121 U.S. 525, 534, 7 S.Ct. 1004, 1007, 30 L.Ed. 980 (1887). As this Court explained in Baltimore S.S. Co. v. Phillips, 274 U.S. 316, 325, 47 S.Ct. 600, 604, 71 L.Ed. 1069 (1927), an "erroneous conclusion" reached by the court in the first suit does not deprive the defendants in the second action "of their right to rely upon the plea of res judicata. . . . A judgment merely voidable because based upon an erroneous view of the law is not open to collateral attack, but can be corrected only by a direct review and not by bringing another action upon the same cause [of action]." We have observed that "[t]he indulgence of a contrary view would result in creating elements of uncertainty and confusion and in undermining the conclusive character of judg ments consequences which it was the very purpose of the doctrine of res judicata to avert." Reed v. Allen, 286 U.S. 191, 201, 52 S.Ct. 532, 534, 76 L.Ed. 1054 (1932).

In this case, the Court of Appeals conceded that the "strict application of the doctrine of res judicata" required that Brown II be dismissed. By that, the court presumably meant that the "technical elements" of res judicata had been satisfied, namely, that the decision in Brown I was a final judgment on the merits and involved the same claims and the same parties as Brown II.3 The court, however, declined to dismiss Brown II because, in its view, it would be unfair to bar respondents from relitigating a claim so "closely interwoven" with that of the successfully appealing parties. We believe that such an unprecedented departure from accepted principles of res judicata is unwarranted. Indeed, the decision below is all but foreclosed by our prior case law.4

In Reed v. Allen, supra, this Court addressed the issue presented here. The case...

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