Civil Procedure II

Searle Bros. v. Searle

Supreme Court of Utah, 1978

Facts:

Defendant and her husband divorced, with the divorce court awarding her a house. The divorcees' sons sued their mother, claiming that their partnership owned half of the house.

Procedural History:

The trial court dismissed plaintiff's complaint on the basis of the divorce court's prior judgment precluding its claim.

Issue:

Is plaintiff collaterally estopped by the divorce court's holding?

Rules:

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 690

    Collateral estoppel . . . prevents parties or their privies from relitigating facts and issues in the second suit that were fully litigated in the first suit. This means that the plea of collateral estoppel can be asserted only against a party in the subsequent suit who was also a party or in privity with a party in the prior suit.

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 691

    The legal definition of a person in privity with another, is a person so identified in interest with another that he represents the same legal right. This includes a mutual or successive relationship to rights in property. Our Court has said that as applied to judgments or decrees of court, privity means "one whose interest has been legally represented at the time."

Reasoning:

Plaintiffs' interest was independent of their father's, not mutual or successive. It arose before the divorce proceedings. It was not and could not have been represented in divorce court. They therefore were not in privity and not affected by claim preclusion.

Holding:

No, the divorce court's holding does not preclude plaintiff's claim. Reversed and remanded.

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