Res Judicata is a Latin phrase that means a certain matter has already been decided. In courts, it means a preclusion against making a repeated claim. A preclusion situation happens when a final judgment has already been decided. That previously adjudicated matter cannot be brought again to the attention of a court. An alternate meaning of Res Judicata, is when a final judgment is no longer subject to appeal. Res Judicata means that a final judgment already decided in one court should not be retried in the same, or in any other court.
This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
Res Judicata helps to stop duplicate work in civil courts. In criminal courts, Res Judicata is known as Double Jeopardy, which helps to prevent duplicate criminal court proceedings. The basic concept for both civil and criminal courts is claim preclusion, meaning the same issues cannot be re-litigated; and people do not usually get punished twice for the same crime or misdeed, at least not in court.
Res Judicata helps prevents wasting of the court’s resources. Whether or not Res Judicata applies, is not always an easy decision for the judge. The scope of the previous judgment is ussually difficult to compare with any new issues being considered. Sometimes, just one claim is struck from a lawsuit complaint, so just one factual issue is removed from reconsideration for a new trial.
There are four requirements that must be true, before Res Judicata (preclusion) can apply to stop a new lawsuit from proceeding:
1) The same facts, claims, and causes of action, must be in both the old judgment and the new lawsuit.
2) The previous judgment must be final.
3) The parties must be the same in both the previous judgment and the new lawsuit.
4) The defendant in the first judgment had a fair chance to be heard on the issues. In some courts, especially bankruptcy courts, default judgments may sometimes be treated as if the defendant may have been cheated out of their chance to defend themselves; instead of the reality that they chose to ignore the previous lawsuit and judgment.
Res Judicata does not apply when a judgment gets appealed. This is because the appeal process addresses the issues in original judgments. The appeals court process (which is a bit unfair) gives a second chance to the defendant, and allows them to bring up new facts; while the plaintiff is usually not allowed to bring up new facts (to get a “second bite at the apple”).
Collateral judgment attacks can bypass Res Judicata, because they can challenge the validity of a judgment; instead of the facts that led to the judgment. Collateral judgment attacks are often based on procedural or jurisdictional issues. Collateral attacks are very rare, and when they happen, they usually involve multiple jurisdiction situations; for example, when domesticating state or federal judgments.
Note that many bankruptcy courts ignore res-judicata, and prefer to re-try default judgments for fraud. The attorneys make more money, the trustee can bill more, and the creditor gets less. Bankruptcy courts are usually unfair to creditors. In bankruptcy court, the doctrine is called collateral estoppel (issue preclusion), not res judicata (claim preclusion).