Hackley v. Hackley

Decision Date24 November 1986
Docket NumberDocket No. 75389
Citation395 N.W.2d 906,426 Mich. 582
PartiesTravis Leroy HACKLEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Lynel HACKLEY, Defendant, and Antoine O'Neal Hackley, Minor Child-Appellee.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Martin C. Basch, Kalamazoo, for plaintiff-appellant.

James J. Gregart, Pros. Atty., Richard A. Santoni, Asst. Pros. Atty., Kalamazoo, for Minor Child-appellee.

BOYLE, Justice.

The opinion for reversal excepting this case from the application of res judicata appears to have two bases: (1) the doctrine of res judicata should not preclude the relitigation of Antoine's paternity because Travis did not concede the issue at the original divorce proceedings; and (2) the doctrine should not apply because of subsequent changes in the legal climate affecting the evidence admissible on the issue of paternity.

Ordinarily, preclusion is appropriate as to issues defined by application of legal rules to historic facts that were completed by the time of the initial decision, 18 Wright, Miller & Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure, Sec. 4425, pp. 242-264. Even if it is conceded, as the opinion for reversal suggests, that the application of doctrine of res judicata depends upon a weighing of the competing public policy concerns involved, we would conclude that the need for finality as to the paternity determination is compelling and that the doctrine of res judicata bars Travis' attempt to disestablish his paternity of Antoine. Therefore, we would affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

I

"The doctrine of res judicata operates to prevent the relitigation of facts and law between the same parties or their privies." Socialist Workers Party v. Secretary of State, 412 Mich. 571, 583, 317 N.W.2d 1 (1982), citing Gose v. Monroe Auto Equipment Co, 409 Mich. 147, 161, 294 N.W.2d 165 (1980).

The doctrine of res judicata was judicially created in order to "relieve parties of the cost and vexation of multiple lawsuits, conserve judicial resources, and, by preventing inconsistent decisions, encourage reliance on adjudication." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 101 S.Ct. 411, 415, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980). The central goal of the doctrine's application is to "free people from the uncertain prospect of litigation, with all its costs to emotional peace and the ordering of future affairs." 18 Wright, Miller & Cooper, supra, Sec. 4403, p. 15.

In Michigan, the doctrine of res judicata applies, except in special cases, in a subsequent action between the same parties and " 'not only to points upon which the court was actually required by the parties to form an opinion and pronounce a judgment, but to every point which properly belonged to the subject of litigation, and which the parties, exercising reasonable diligence, might have brought forward at the time.' " Curry v. Detroit, 394 Mich. 327, 332, 231 N.W.2d 57 (1975), quoting Gursten v. Kenney, 375 Mich. 330, 134 N.W.2d 764 (1965).

A support order arising from a divorce decree constitutes an adjudication of paternity and establishes the defendant's duty of support. Baum v. Baum, 20 Mich.App. 68, 74, 173 N.W.2d 744 (1969). A party cannot withhold a defense to be used in the retrial of a paternity dispute when that defense could have brought in the prior suit. Baum, supra; see Jacobson v. Miller, 41 Mich. 90, 96, 1 N.W. 1013 (1879). The doctrine of res judicata precludes this from happening. Baum, supra; Stewart v. Stewart, 91 Mich.App. 602, 605, 283 N.W.2d 809 (1979); see also Anno: Effect, in subsequent proceedings, of paternity findings or implications in divorce or annulment decree or in support or custody order made incidental thereto, 78 A.L.R.3d 846.

The opinion for reversal excepts the instant case from the general application of res judicata because of the operation of Lord Mansfield's Rule 1 in the trial court. Lord Mansfield's Rule precluded testimony concerning nonaccess by either a husband or wife which would tend to bastardize a child born of the marriage. The presumption that a child born during wedlock is a legitimate issue could be rebutted, however, by testimony from third persons indicating nonaccess. Yanoff v. Yanoff, 237 Mich. 383, 211 N.W. 735 (1927); Yager v. Yager, 313 Mich. 300, 21 N.W.2d 138 (1946). In 1977, the rule was abrogated by this Court's decision in Serafin v. Serafin, 401 Mich. 629, 258 N.W.2d 461 (1977).

The opinion for reversal concludes that Travis did not concede the issue of paternity in the court below and intimates that the operation of Lord Mansfield's Rule precluded Travis from litigating the issue:

"Travis did not concede the issue of paternity. He sought to offer testimony on that issue at the pro confesso hearing, but the court refused to allow him to do so. While his failure to appeal made the decree final and, under the general rule of issue preclusion, the determination of paternity was 'conclusive in a subsequent action between the parties,' he had not conceded the issue." Infra pp. 916-17.

We agree with our colleagues that Travis did not concede the issue of paternity. They have, however, failed to explain why that fact makes the determination of paternity and support any less final. Lord Mansfield's Rule precluded testimony of the husband and wife as to nonaccess to prove a husband's lack of paternity. It did not preclude litigation of the paternity issue. As indicated above, Travis could have offered testimony of third persons as to nonaccess if such testimony were available. See Yanoff, supra.

Another reason why our colleagues arrive at this conclusion is to distinguish this case from Hlady v. Wolverine Bolt Co., 393 Mich. 368, 380, 224 N.W.2d 856 (1975) in which this Court held:

"Plaintiff may not concede an issue, necessarily determinative of and included in the judgment of this Court, and then, after another has successfully raised the issue she did not wish to contest, ask the Court again for relief. The doctrine of res judicata bars this from happening."

A review of Hlady, however, indicates that Hlady's earlier concession of the issue was not the basis for precluding relitigation of the issue in that case. Indeed, the majority decision in Gose v. Monroe Auto Equipment, supra, 409 Mich. at 161-162, 294 N.W.2d 165, teaches that the true rationale behind Hlady 's holding is the public policy concern requiring finality in workers' compensation adjudications:

"A compensation award represents ' "an adjudication as to the condition of the injured workman at the time it is entered." ' Theodore v. Packing Materials, Inc, 396 Mich 152, 158; 240 N.W.2d 255 (1976), citing 58 Am Jur [Workmen's Compensation, Sec. 508]. Disability benefits 'are a form of income maintenance for persons whose wage-earning capacity has been suspended or terminated. A claimant's entitlement to such benefits depends on the circumstances at the time of application and payment.' Hlady, supra, 393 Mich. at 391, 224 N.W.2d 856 (Levin, J., concurring).

"The requirement that he present all of his available claims in a single proceeding is consistent with this purpose of adjudicating the worker's needs. The remedial character of the legislation, if affected at all by this rubric, would scarcely be enhanced by a construction which would authorize piecemeal compensation for an injury."

Surely, neither Hlady nor any other authority resolves the issue of res judicata on whether a party litigated or conceded the issue.

The opinion for reversal, in footnote 6, attempts at great length to clarify that its decision was not based on the fact that Travis never conceded the paternity issue. 2 In so doing, it actually opens the door for consideration of concession of an issue as a factor in determining whether res judicata applies. Our colleagues state that

"[w]hether or not as stated in the opinion for affirmance, 'Hlady's earlier concession of the issue was not the basis for precluding relitigation of the issue in that case,' ... Hlady made a point out of Hlady's concession of the issue. Because Hlady emphasized Hlady's concession of the issue, we have noted in the accompanying test that Travis did not concede the issue of paternity. We do not wish to be understood as saying that a person may relitigate an issue that he had an opportunity to contest on the basis that he did not concede the issue." Infra p. 919, n. 6.

This creates the impression that nonconcession of the issue may have been a factor in determining the applicability of res judicata. Concession or nonconcession of an issue has never been, and should not now be, a factor in determining the res judicata effect of a prior decision. If our colleagues do not base their decision on plaintiff's nonconcession of paternity, the discussion in footnote 6 and the accompanying text is superfluous at best, as well as obfuscating.

Further, after discussing Hlady's concession, the majority does nothing more to distinguish Hlady. The reason for that omission is that Hlady cannot be distinguished from this case. Both involve a factual determination accompanied by a subsequent change in law. Both involve a party to the prior determination seeking to change the earlier factual conclusion. In both cases, the plaintiff, aggrieved by the factual determination, could have appealed, but did not. The plaintiff in Hlady was precluded from relitigating the issue, as should be plaintiff here.

As pointed out earlier, the rationale behind Hlady is the public policy of requiring finality in workers' compensation cases. That rationale is as compelling, if not more so, in the highly emotion-charged area of paternity determinations. One contested paternity proceeding is disturbing in itself. To force the party contesting the redetermination to go through that unpleasantness again is unfair, as well as an unnecessary burden on the courts.

The question for present purposes is whether the party seeking to relitigate had the opportunity to litigate the issue. The opinion...

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