Res judicata precludes the same parties or their privies from relitigating claims that were raised or could have been raised in a prior action resulting in a final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction. The applicability of res judicata is a question of law.
Plaintiff student had a national letter of intent and played hockey at defendant university. As part of a preseason conditioning program, plaintiff ran a road race sponsored by defendant association. He became severely dehydrated during the race and later required organ transplants. Plaintiff sued defendant university for breach of contract, and he contended that defendant association was liable under negligence and in concert claims. Defendants moved for dismissal on the ground that a Minnesota lawsuit had resolved the matter. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants and dismissed the case. On plaintiff’s appeal, the Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed summary judgment for defendants.
Was the Minnesota court’s prior judgment, which declared that plaintiff student’s contract claim against defendant university failed as a matter of law, a decision on the merits that barred plaintiff’s breach of contract claim against defendant university in North Dakota?
The Minnesota court had personal jurisdiction over defendant university for the breach of contract claim. It held that plaintiff student’s claim failed as a matter of law. That decision unequivocally decided the breach of contract claim against defendant university on the merits and was entitled to full faith and credit. Accordingly, plaintiff’s breach of contract claim against defendant university was barred by res judicata.