Waller v. State

Decision Date26 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 33831.,33831.
Citation146 Idaho 234,192 P.3d 1058
PartiesRandell WALLER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. STATE of Idaho, Idaho DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND WELFARE, Defendant-Respondent.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Brad B. Poole, Boise, for appellant.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Michael Scott Keim argued.

HORTON, Justice.

Appellant Randell Waller (Waller) appeals from the district court's dismissal of his complaint wherein he sought relief from a default judgment entered eleven years earlier. We affirm.


The material facts of this case are not in dispute. On November 7, 1990, Waller and Jennifer Waller (Jennifer) were married. On March 13, 1991, Jennifer gave birth to a child. The child was conceived prior to the marriage between Waller and Jennifer. Based upon 2003 DNA test results, it is undisputed that Waller is not the child's biological father. Waller and Jennifer separated in March 1992, but did not divorce until much later.

In approximately January 1994, the State of Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (State) began to provide public assistance benefits on behalf of the child. On June 22, 1994, the State filed an action against Waller in Ada County (the state case) seeking an order for reimbursement for benefits provided on behalf of the child and to establish Waller's child support obligations. As a result of ongoing substance abuse, Waller neglected his personal affairs and did not respond to the complaint. Default judgment was entered against Waller on January 17, 1995. Waller was ordered to reimburse the State for public assistance benefits previously provided on behalf of the child, to make monthly child support payments terminating when the child reached majority unless the child continued his education, to carry medical insurance on the child and pay 66% of the medical insurance premiums, to pay one half of all work-related child care expenses, and to pay attorney fees and costs.

On February 19, 2004, Waller filed for divorce from Jennifer in Canyon County (the divorce case). The divorce decree was entered on March 19, 2004, based upon the stipulation of the parties. In the decree, the court found that Waller was not the biological father of the child and stated, in pertinent part, that Waller "has no financial responsibility regarding said minor child, past, present, or future, and that he is relieved from any child support or child support arrearage." The State was not a party to the divorce case.

On July 26, 2004, Waller and the State stipulated to consolidate the divorce case into the state case. Waller filed a motion to set aside the judgment and order in the state case. In September 2004, the State, Waller, and a custodial caretaker of the child signed a stipulation to set aside the judgment in the state case. However, at the hearing on the motion to set aside the judgment, the court held that the motion was untimely pursuant to Rule 60(b), I.R.C.P. and denied the motion. Waller did not appeal this decision.

The presiding magistrate suggested that Jennifer and the child's grandmother execute waivers of child support payment. This was done. As a result, the State has suspended accrual of additional child support under the terms of the 1995 Judgment and Order and has eliminated all debt owed to either of those individuals. However, prior to Waller obtaining either the Judgment and Decree of Divorce, or the two waivers, the State had provided over $20,000 in public assistance benefits on behalf of the child. The sole obligation at issue is the State's claim for reimbursement of those public assistance benefits.

On April 21, 2006, Waller brought the instant action seeking an order that his child support obligations "be removed" and that he be reimbursed for sums collected from him, as well as attorney fees and costs. The State answered and moved, pursuant to I.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), to dismiss Waller's complaint on the basis that his claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata and thus fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Because each of the parties requested the district court to decide the motion on the basis of documents other than the pleadings, the State filed a reply brief requesting that the district court treat the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment under I.R.C.P. 56, as permitted by I.R.C.P. 12(b)(6).

The district court dismissed Waller's complaint. The district court found that the relief Waller sought was barred by the doctrine of res judicata and that Waller failed to demonstrate that he was entitled to equitable relief. Waller then appealed to this Court.


When reviewing a district court's grant of summary judgment, this Court uses the same standard a district court uses when it rules on a summary judgment motion. Ticor Title Co. v. Stanion, 144 Idaho 119, 122, 157 P.3d 613, 616 (2007); Jordan v. Beeks, 135 Idaho 586, 589, 21 P.3d 908, 911 (2001). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(c). All facts are viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Ticor Title Co., 144 Idaho at 122, 157 P.3d at 616 (citing R.G. Nelson, A.I.A. v. Steer, 118 Idaho 409, 410, 797 P.2d 117, 118 (1990)).

"Res judicata is comprised of claim preclusion (true res judicata) and issue preclusion (collateral estoppel)." Navarro v. Yonkers, 144 Idaho 882, 885, 173 P.3d 1141, 1144 (2007) (quoting Hindmarsh v. Mock, 138 Idaho 92, 94, 57 P.3d 803, 805 (2002)). Whether claim preclusion or issue preclusion bars relitigation between the same parties to an earlier litigation is a question of law upon which this Court exercises free review. Ticor Title Co., 144 Idaho at 122, 157 P.3d at 616 (citing Lohman v. Flynn, 139 Idaho 312, 319, 78 P.3d 379, 386 (2003)). "Res judicata is an affirmative defense and the party asserting it must prove all of the essential elements by a preponderance of the evidence." Ticor Title Co., 144 Idaho at 122, 157 P.3d at 616 (citing Foster v. City of St. Anthony, 122 Idaho 883, 890, 841 P.2d 413, 420 (1992)).

A trial court's decision whether to grant relief pursuant to I.R.C.P. 60(b) is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Flood v. Katz, 143 Idaho 454, 456-57, 147 P.3d 86, 88-89 (2006). The decision will be upheld if it appears that the trial court (1) correctly perceived the issue as discretionary, (2) acted within the boundaries of its discretion and consistent with the applicable legal standards, and (3) reached its determination through an exercise of reason. Id. "A determination under Rule 60(b) turns largely on questions of fact to be determined by the trial court." Idaho State Police ex rel. Russell v. Real Property Situated in the County of Cassia, 144 Idaho 60, 62, 156 P.3d 561, 563 (2007). Those factual findings will be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous. Id. "If the trial court applies the facts in a logical manner to the criteria set forth in Rule 60(b), while keeping in mind the policy favoring relief in doubtful cases, the court will be deemed to have acted within its discretion." Id.


The district court dismissed Waller's Complaint for the following reasons: (i) the 1995 default judgment establishing paternity and ordering Waller to pay child support had preclusive effect under the doctrine of res judicata; and (ii) Waller did not establish that he was entitled to equitable relief under I.R.C.P. 60(b) because he failed to establish a claim of fraud and his eleven-year-delay in contesting the default judgment was neither reasonable nor excusable.

A. The district court correctly found that res judicata barred Waller from relitigating the issue of paternity.

The district court held that, under the doctrine of res judicata, "the underlying default and child support order constitutes a final decision that was decided on the merits, and now bars relitigation of paternity." As we have previously noted, the doctrine of res judicata covers both claim preclusion and issue preclusion. In this case, the question before this Court is whether issue preclusion applies because Waller is attempting to relitigate the issue of paternity. "Issue preclusion protects litigants from litigating an identical issue with the same party or its privy." Ticor Title Co., 144 Idaho at 123, 157 P.3d at 617 (citing Rodriguez v. Dep't of Corr., 136 Idaho 90, 92, 29 P.3d 401, 403 (2001)). The general rule is that once a judgment is entered it is res judicata with respect to all issues which were or could have been litigated. Compton v. Compton, 101 Idaho 328, 333, 612 P.2d 1175, 1180 (1980); Magic Valley Radiology, P.A. v. Kolouch, 123 Idaho 434, 436-37, 849 P.2d 107, 109-10 (1993); Farmers Nat'l Bank v. Shirey, 126 Idaho 63, 70, 878 P.2d 762, 769 (1994). Five factors are required for collateral estoppel to bar relitigation of an issue decided in an earlier proceeding:

(1) the party against whom the earlier decision was asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue decided in the earlier case; (2) the issue decided in the prior litigation was identical to the issue presented in the present action; (3) the issue sought to be precluded was actually decided in the prior litigation; (4) there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior litigation; and (5) the party against whom the issue is asserted was a party or in privity with a party to the litigation.

Ticor Title Co., 144 Idaho at 124, 157 P.3d at 618 (citations omitted).

Waller argues that the State failed to prove these elements. His first argument is that he had no full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of paternity because the judgment was entered by default. This argument is without merit. This Court...

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