Bernhard v. Bank of Am. Nat'l Tr. & Sav. Asso.

19 Cal. 2d 807, 122 P.2d 892 (1942)



Res judicata has three elements: Was the issue decided in the prior adjudication identical with the one presented in the action in question? Was there a final judgment on the merits? Was the party against whom the plea is asserted a party or in privity with a party to the prior adjudication?


The executor of an estate filed an account in probate court accompanied by his resignation. Beneficiaries under the will, including plaintiff, filed objections to the account alleging that money was improperly transferred to the former executor. The probate court settled the account and declared that the decedent made a gift of the amount of the deposit in question to the executor. Plaintiff was subsequently appointed as administratrix and instituted an action to recover the deposit against defendant bank on the grounds that defendant was indebted to the estate for the amount of the deposit because decedent never authorized its withdrawal. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California) entered judgment for the bank on the grounds of res judicata because ownership of the money had been conclusively established by an earlier finding of a probate court. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of California.


Did res judicata apply to estop a party in dual capacity from raising the same issue in a subsequent proceeding?




The court affirmed the trial court's ruling that the plea of res judicata was available against plaintiff as a party to the former proceeding, despite her formal change of capacity. Plaintiff represented the same persons and interests that were represented in the earlier hearing on the executor's account. The court reminded that where a party though appearing in two suits in different capacities is in fact litigating the same right, the judgment in one estops him in the other.

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