What is Issue Preclusion?
How do you legally define it?
What are the important elements you should know!
In this article, we will break down the legal definition of Issue Preclusion so you know all there is to know about it!
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Table of Contents
Issue Preclusion Overview
Issue Preclusion (also known as collateral estoppel) is a legal doctrine found in common law stating that a party to a lawsuit cannot file suit to relitigate an issue that has already been decided by the court.
What this means is that if a person has filed a lawsuit against another and obtained a final judgment on the merits, it can no longer file a lawsuit for the same issue.
Collateral estoppel may appear simple but it is not as simple as one might assume.
The doctrine applies to the relitigation of factual or legal issues when the same factual and legal elements were litigated before a court resulting in a final ruling.
The notion of preclusion can be raised between the judgment of different states or between states and the federal courts.
Issue Preclusion elements
What are the elements of issue preclusion?
Although the specific requirements can vary in every jurisdiction, we can draw certain general conclusions about the elements required to prove issue preclusion.
For the court to conclude that a matter has already been decided, it will consider the following elements:
- A prior lawsuit involved the same issue in fact and law
- The issue was actually litigated in the previous case
- The court’s judgment dealt with the issue in its judgment
- The court had personal and subject-matter jurisdiction
- The judgment must be valid and final
Claim preclusion vs issue preclusion
What is the difference between claim vs issue preclusion?
Claim preclusion is a legal concept barring a person or entity from relitigating “all issues of a claim”.
Claim preclusion operates as a full and complete bar to the relitigation of an entire claim.
On the other hand, issue preclusion is a legal doctrine barring a person or entity from relitigating a specific issue that was actually litigated in the past before the courts.
This means that a new and different claim may proceed before the courts but those already litigated and decided by the court will remain barred.
Doctrine of Mutuality
Issue preclusion is generally based on the doctrine of mutuality.
In other words, the argument of issue preclusion collateral estoppel will bind the parties involved in the past litigation.
In some cases, there have been exceptions made to this rule where the reach of issue preclusion goes beyond the parties to the lawsuit.
The case Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880 (2008) is a good example to see the application of the exception.
Both the plaintiff and defendant can leverage the legal theory of issue preclusion in court.
A plaintiff may use this argument offensively against a defendant who is bound to respect a prior ruling of the court.
A defendant may use this argument as a defensive measure to bar a plaintiff’s action against it.
When the argument is raised offensively or defensively between the same parties in the original suit, we say that the strategy is used “mutually”.
However, a non-mutual strategy can also be utilized.
In the event a new plaintiff files a lawsuit against the defendant involved in a past case (with a different plaintiff in the original case), the defendant may argue that the issues must be precluded.
Similarly, if the same plaintiff in the original lawsuit filed a lawsuit for the same issues against a new defendant, the new defendant can assert a defense based on the preclusion of issues resulting from a non-mutual judgment.
Issue Preclusion Example
What is an example of how issue preclusion may apply in a case?
Let’s take an example where there are two different statutes that provide possible remedies with regards to trademark infringements.
In that case, a plaintiff may file a lawsuit under statute one and a second lawsuit under statute two.
The court has found that if the underlying issue was the same and that issue was dealt with in the first lawsuit, the second lawsuit for the same issue (although based on a different but similar statute) should be barred.
So what is the legal definition of Issue Preclusion?
Let’s look at a summary of our findings.
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