McCoy v. Colonial Baking Co., Inc.

Decision Date28 November 1990
Docket Number89-CA-134,Nos. 07-CA-58766,s. 07-CA-58766
PartiesMrs. Ruby L. McCOY v. COLONIAL BAKING COMPANY, INC. and Jerry McCOY and his Wife, Mrs. Ruby L. McCoy v. COLONIAL BAKING COMPANY, INC., a Delaware Corporation, and James S. Adams.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Louis Fondren, Pascagoula, for appellant.

Fred Mannino, Page Mannino & Peresich, Ronald S. Cochran, Biloxi, Victoria W. Jenkins, Phelps Dunbar Marks Claverie & Sims, Jackson, Vincent J. Castigliola, Jr., Ernest R. Schroeder, Bryan Nelson Allen Schroeder & Backstrom, Pascagoula, for appellee.

En Banc.

BLASS, Justice, for the Court:


This appeal involves two separate cases which have been consolidated.

A. The First Case

On May 22, 1986, Ruby McCoy was injured in an automobile accident involving James Adams and Gregory Osborne--the latter of whom had been making deliveries for his employer, Colonial Baking Company (Colonial). Ruby subsequently filed a negligence action against Colonial for her personal injuries. A jury trial was held at the Jackson County Circuit Court--after which a verdict was rendered in favor of the defendant. Ruby appealed.

B. The Second Case

Subsequent to his wife's trial, Jerry McCoy filed an action against Adams and Colonial for loss of consortium resulting from the injuries Ruby sustained in the accident. Colonial moved for a dismissal on the basis that the jury in Ruby's action ("the first case") found it not guilty of negligence and, thus, Jerry should be collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of negligence in his action. The trial judge agreed and dismissed the action. Jerry appealed.

C. The Issue

Numerous issues were presented in this consolidated appeal. All are deemed devoid of merit, and only one warrants discussion: Whether the trial judge properly ruled that Jerry was collaterally estopped from relitigating the negligence issue in his loss-of-consortium action?


A. Collateral Estoppel: A Multi-Purpose Doctrine

The doctrine of " '[c]ollateral estoppel [issue preclusion], like the related doctrine of res judicata [claim preclusion], has the dual purpose of protecting litigants from the burden of relitigating an identical issue ... and of providing judicial economy.' " Roy v. Jasper Co., 666 F.2d 714, 715 (1st Cir.1981) (loss-of-consortium action in which collateral estoppel applied) (quoting Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326, 99 S.Ct. 645, 649, 58 L.Ed.2d 552, 559 (1979)). The doctrine additionally "protects the integrity of judgments by preventing inconsistent results." Bender v. Peay, 433 N.E.2d 788, 792 (Ind.App.1982) (Neal, J., dissenting) (citing numerous authorities). Accordingly, "[w]hen the injured party has lost his personal-injury action, 1 most of the more modern authorities apply issue preclusion against [subsequent] claims for spousal consortium." 2 Restatement (Second) of Judgments Sec. 48, Reporter's Note to comment c, at 33 (1982).

B. Judicial Application of Collateral Estoppel to

Loss-of-Consortium Actions: An Historical


Nearly three decades ago, the supreme court of our neighboring state of Arkansas aligned itself with the then-minority view and opined: (1) that the consortium claim is derivative in the sense that it is dependent upon the right of the personally-injured spouse to recover against the defendant; (2) that every element of a personal-injury claim must be proved to support a loss-of-consortium claim and every defense good against the personal-injury claim is good against the loss-of-consortium claim; and (3) that the spouses are in "privity" for purposes of the operation of collateral estoppel. Sisemore v. Neal, 236 Ark. 574, 367 S.W.2d 417 (1963). The supreme court concluded: "We think logic unquestionably supports [our alignment with] the view taken here [and our rejection of the then-majority view which] would authorize 'two bites' and would have the actual effect of rendering the prior judgment, wherein [the defendant] was exonerated of liability, a nullity." Id. 367 S.W.2d at 418.

Arkansas' minority view was exemplary. For example, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held:

Because of the privity between the plaintiff husband in his [consortium] action and the plaintiff wife in her earlier [personal-injury] and considering further the fact that apparently no adversity of interest is shown as between the husband and his wife, and, finally because the determinative issue in the wife's action (alleged negligence of the common defendant and causation) is also the determinative issue in the husband's action, we hold that the husband was and is collaterally estopped from litigating the issue.

Laws v. Fisher, 513 P.2d 876, 878 (Okla.1973).

The first federal court to publish an opinion on the application of collateral estoppel to loss-of-consortium actions concurred with the Arkansas Supreme Court's rationale:

The interests of the spouses in their respective claims are so closely aligned that they should be deemed "in privity." ... This court, therefore, concludes that the plaintiff in this [loss-of-consortium] action is precluded from relitigating those issues determined in defendants' favor in plaintiff's husband's personal injury action. As a result, plaintiff's claim must fail.

Jones v. Beasley, 476 F.Supp. 116, 119 (M.D.Ga.1979) (citing and quoting Sisemore, 367 S.W.2d at 417-18).

Two years later, in 1981, the First Circuit Court of Appeals joined the trend:

In a loss of consortium action, issues that also arose in the underlying personal injury action brought by the other spouse are precluded because the loss of consortium action is fundamentally derivative of the first spouse's personal injury action.... Even though the spouses are separate individuals, there is no point in allowing litigation of issues in a loss of consortium action when those same issues have been litigated in the underlying claim.

Jasper, 666 F.2d at 718 (citing the Restatement (Second) of Judgments).

And finally, in aligning itself with what has ultimately become the majority view, the federal district court in Courtney v. Remler wrote:

Collateral estoppel is a broad rule, which unlike res judicata, does not require technical privity between the parties or a requirement that the causes of action in the two suits be the same.... Applying the definition of collateral estoppel to the instant case, it is apparent that consortium ... claim[ ] should be barred because in the prior judgment, exonerating all defendants, all the issues presented in the instant case were fully and fairly litigated.

612 F.Supp. 967, 973 (D.C.S.C.1985).

Today, the "distinct weight of authority is that a judgment against the injured person in his action for personal injuries precludes a subsequent [consortium] action for losses that [s]he might have [suffered]." Restatement (Second) of Judgments Sec. 48 Reporter's Note to comment c, at 33 (1982).

C. Mississippi's Position

In the early consortium case, Palmer v. Clarksdale Hosp., this Court noted that "[t]here is practically an unbroken line of authority to the effect that an adjudication unfavorable to the [husband] in an action for personal injuries is no bar to an action by the [wife] for loss of ... consortium arising out of the same injuries." 213 Miss. 611, 620, 57 So.2d 476, 476 (1952).

Nearly four decades later, this Court seemed to be moving away from the antiquated Palmer position. In the consortium case of Choctaw v. Wichner, this Court cited with approval the Arkansas Supreme Court's long-standing position: "[O]ur neighbor Arkansas ... reasoned that the husband's right to such damages for loss of consortium was derivative, and that it was only logical that since the husband's cause of action was derivative he could have no better standing in court than his wife had." 521 So.2d 878, 881 (Miss.1988) (emphasis added).

This Court now follows Choctaw's lead 3 and adopts the American Law Institute's ("ALI") recommended approach:

(1) When a loss resulting from injury to a person may be recovered by either the injured person or another person [e.g., for loss of consortium]:

(a) A judgment for or against the injured party has preclusive effects on any such other person's claim for the loss to the same extent as upon the injured person.

(b) A judgment for or against any such other person precludes recovery by or on behalf of the injured person of any loss that could have been recovered in the first action.

(2) When a person with a family relationship to one suffering personal injury has a claim for loss to himself resulting from the injury, the determination of issues in an action by the injured person to recover for his injuries is preclusive against the family member, unless the judgment was based on a defense that is unavailable against the family member in the second action.

RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF JUDGMENTS Sec. 48 (1982). The ALI explains that, by declaring that the "supplemental" (consortium) claim "should stand or fall with the injured person's claim," its approach promotes the purposes of the collateral-estoppel doctrine. See id. comment a, at 32; id. Reporter's Note, at 32-33. Notably, the ALI concedes that its approach is "second-best" and that the matter is "better dealt with by rules of compulsory joinder." 4 See MISS.R.CIV.P. 20 (providing for "permissive joinder of parties").

With all the foregoing in mind, collateral estoppel must be applied cautiously on a ad hoc basis in order to preserve the critical component of due process--i.e., the requirement that every party have an opportunity to fully and fairly litigate an issue. See, e.g., RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF JUDGMENTS Sec. 29 & comment (1982). More specifically, the facts of each case should be perused in order to determine whether the issue--of which a party seeks to collaterally estop relitigation--was fully and fairly tried in the personal-injury action.


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