Law School Case Brief
Felger v. Nichols - 370 A.2d 141, 35 Md. App. 182, 1977 Md. App. LEXIS 466
Between the same parties upon the same cause of action, claim or demand, or subject matter, a judgment rendered on the merits constitutes an absolute bar, not only as to all matters which were actually raised, litigated and determined in the former proceeding, but also as to all matters which could have been raised and litigated.
Zane Nichols, the appellee, filed suit against Milton Felger, the appellant, for $345 in unpaid legal fees on the basis that his legal services were inadequately performed and therefore, the fee was unreasonable. The court entered a judgement for Nichols in the amount of $345. Felger then appealed to the Circuit Court. Felger also filed a legal malpractice suit against Nichols in the Circuit Court, alleging that he gave him “false and untrue” legal advice. Felger made a motion to consolidate the appeal from the District Court with the malpractice suit in Circuit Court, which was denied by the court. Felger then dismissed his appeal from the District Court and that Court’s judgement became final. Nichols moved for summary judgement shortly after that, arguing that the final judgement for Nichols in the legal fee suit made the issue in the legal malpractice suit res judicata.
Can a person litigate an issue that has already been litigated in another lawsuit?
The Court granted the motion for summary judgement. In Maryland, the doctrine of res judicata, or estoppel by judgment, consists of two branches: direct estoppel by judgment, and collateral estoppel by judgment.Thedoctrine of direct estoppel by judgment establishes that in a subsequent action between the same parties upon the same cause of action, claim or demand, or subject matter, a judgment rendered on the merits constitutes an absolute bar, not only as to all matters which were actually raised, litigated and determined in the former proceeding, but also as to all matters whichcould have been raised and litigated. Here, the appellant's contention that he had no opportunity to "litigate the issue of professional malpractice in the District Court suit," because he was precluded by Maryland District Rule 314 from filing a counter-claim in excess of that Court's jurisdictional amount, is without merit.
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