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Taking Two Bites at the Same Apple Barred by Res Judicata Doctrine – Glass & Goldberg | Financing, Property & Bankruptcy Law
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Taking Two Bites at the Same Apple Barred by Res Judicata Doctrine

The law in California, as in other states, gives a losing party in a lawsuit the chance to appeal the loss to a higher appellate court for review. It does not allow a defeated party to refile a new suit against some or all of the same parties based on the same facts, claims or set of occurrences. Such a losing party cannot merely refile with new related claims and name a few new similarly-situated defendants – the parties being sued – to get around this doctrine known as the principle of res judicata. (The rough Latin translation of the legal term, res judicata, is “the matter having been already litigated”.)

The purpose of the doctrine of res judicata is to promote finality in judicial decisions.  Once a court makes a decision, it should not be relitigated over and over absent an error by that court.  In the case of Fransiska Susilo v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.,et al., Case No. CV-11-1814 CAS (PJWx), Sisilo who had lost her home to foreclosure by Wells Fargo, filed suit against Wells Fargo and other parties for trespassing on her property after the foreclosure and converting her personal property unlawfully after the foreclosure.  Susilo claimed Wells Fargo bore responsibility for the loss of these personal belongings. The court in that earlier case entered summary judgment in favor of Wells Fargo meaning that Susilo could not recover against the bank.

Then in November of 2012, the same month the summary judgment was issued against her, Susilo brought a new set of claims against other parties which had access to the foreclosed property and was tasked to market it for eventual sale. At the earliest stage possible, these parties claimed that the eleven claims which were raised in this suit including (1) negligence, (2) breach of contract, (3) negligent misrepresentation, (4) fraud, concealment, deceit, (5) trespass and conversion, (6) wrongful eviction, (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress, (9) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (10) aiding and abetting conspiracy, and (11) violation of California’s unfair competition law, Business and Professions Code § 17200 (“UCL”), should all be barred as having been previously litigated.

Because each of these claims basically involved the same harm to the plaintiff, they were considered to be sufficiently similar under the doctrine of res judicata to justify barring the newer lawsuit. Whether the theory for relief is different is irrelevant where the claims are essentially identical and redress the same primary right. Also as the previous ruling in the first case constituted a final decision on the merits, that outcome has what is known as “preclusive effect” barring a second case on the same facts against the same parties. Although the second suit was filed against different parties, these parties had been dismissed from the first suit before they even had the chance to make a response. Accordingly, they should be viewed as the same parties for purposes of having the right to claim that the second suit is merely an unauthorized relitigation of the first.

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