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Hardy v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp. - 681 F.2d 334 (5th Cir. 1982)

Rule:

A right, question, or fact distinctly put in issue and directly determined as a ground of recovery by a court of competent jurisdiction collaterally estops a party or his privy from relitigating the issue in a subsequent action. Collateral estoppel can only be applied against parties who have had a prior full and fair opportunity to litigate their claims.

Facts:

Insulators, pipefitters, carpenters, and other factory workers (collectively, “plaintiffs”) filed an action against defendants, various manufacturers, sellers, and distributors of asbestos-containing products. They alleged injury from exposure to products containing asbestos. The District court Court issued an omnibus order, which in effect was a partial summary judgment for plaintiffs. Under the order, no evidence could be introduced on the issue of whether asbestos caused either asbestosis or mesothelioma because of the collateral estoppel effect of a prior action involving some of the same defendants. Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal and challenged the order. 

Issue:

In this case involving alleged injury from exposure to products containing asbestos, could the doctrine of collateral estoppel be applied, given that the trial order, in its ominibus order that precluded the introduction of evidence by either party on the issue of whether asbestos caused either asbestosis or mesothelioma, failed to distinguish between those defendants who were parties in the prior action and those who were not?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Court of Appeals held that the district court abused its discretion in applying collateral estoppel and judicial notice. The order failed to distinguish between those defendants who were parties in the prior action and those who were not. Rather, under the order all defendants purportedly shared an identity of interests sufficient to constitute privity. Further, there was no evidence that defendants who were not involved in the prior action participated in that litigation. Finally, the Court held that the prior action did not hold that asbestos products were unreasonably dangerous or that asbestos as a generic element was in all products a competent producing cause of cancer. Thus, the Court reversed the district court's omnibus order. The district court could not estop defendants who did not participate in the prior action nor could it estop defendants who participated in that action because that action did not stand for the proposition that asbestos products were a cause of cancer.

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