The doctrine of collateral estoppel applies when a party or someone in privity with a party participates in two separate and consecutive cases arising on different causes of action and some controlling fact or question material to the determination of both causes has been adjudicated against that party in the former suit by a court of competent jurisdiction. The adjudication of the fact or question in the first cause will, if properly presented, be conclusive of the same question in the later suit but the judgment in the first suit operates as an estoppel only as to the point or question actually litigated and determined and not as to other matters which might have been litigated and determined.
The association wanted to build a parking lot on a piece of property. The housing authority claimed that it owned the property and brought an action to enjoin the construction. In previous condemnation litigation against the housing authority's predecessor in title, a default judgment had been entered against the predecessor. When the trial court granted the association's motion for summary judgment and the appellate court affirmed, the housing authority sought review.
Was the summary judgment in favor of the association proper?
The court found that a previous default judgment entered in a condemnation proceeding against the housing authority's predecessors in title operated as res judicata. The court determined that a prior judgment had preclusive effect under both collateral estoppel and res judicata. The court reasoned that, because the claim involved in the prior litigation was the very same claim that the housing authority was litigating against the association, res judicata applied. A default judgment had the same preclusive effect as any other judgment. The court declined to recognize that any special circumstances existed that would warrant a relaxation of the ordinary application of the preclusion doctrine. The court noted that an absence of an incentive to litigate by the previous owner was relevant only to collateral estoppel, not res judicata.