Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 349546; Unpublished
Judges O’Brien, Kelly, and Redford; per curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Collateral Estoppel and Res Judicata
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of a motion for summary disposition filed by Pioneer State Mutual Insurance Company (Pioneer), and remanded for entry of an order dismissing the plaintiff’s third-party action against Pioneer on the basis of collateral estoppel. After the subject motor vehicle collision, the plaintiff filed an action against the other driver involved in the collision, as well as Pioneer, for underinsured motorist benefits. Pioneer and the plaintiff stipulated to dismiss without prejudice the plaintiff’s UIM claim, and the plaintiff’s case against the other driver proceeded to trial, ultimately resulting in a recovery of the other driver’s liability limits for the plaintiff. After trial, the plaintiff attempted to reinstate its UIM claim against Pioneer, and Pioneer moved for summary disposition, arguing that the plaintiff’s motion to reinstate its claim for UIM benefits was barred by collateral estoppel. The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that the subsequent action for UIM benefits would merely be a relitigation of the original lawsuit against the other driver.
Janet Parks was struck by a motor vehicle being driven by Joe Sandy and died as a result of her injuries. Parks’s Estate subsequently brought a wrongful death suit against Sandy, as well as a claim for UIM benefits against Pioneer, because Sandy’s bodily injury liability under his own policy was $100,000. Before trial, the plaintiff and Pioneer stipulated to dismiss without prejudice the plaintiff’s UIM claim, and the plaintiff proceeded to trial on just its wrongful death action against Sandy. Following the trial, the jury found that Parks and Sandy were equally at-fault, and that Parks’s damages were $200,000. The plaintiff’s award was therefore reduced by 50%, and the plaintiff then filed a motion to reinstate its UIM claim against Pioneer. Pioneer moved for summary disposition, arguing that the plaintiff’s claim for UIM benefits was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, but the trial court disagreed, denying the motion.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of Pioneer’s motion for summary disposition, holding that the plaintiff’s action against Pioneer would merely be a relitigation of the wrongful death suit against Sandy. To successfully invoke the doctrine of collateral estoppel, the following three elements must be met: “(1) that a question of fact essential to the judgment was actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, (2) that the same parties had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue, and (3) mutuality of estoppel.” The Court of Appeals held that the first two requirements were met, as “the amount of compensatory damages that plaintiff was legally entitled to recover from Sandy was actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgement,” and that “there is nothing on the record suggesting that plaintiff had anything short of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the amount of damages that it was legally entitled to recover from Sandy during the first action.” As for the third element, the Court of Appeals noted that it was bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in Monat v State Farm Ins Co, 469 Mich 679 (2004), in which it held “that when ‘collateral estoppel is being asserted defensively against a party who has already had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue, mutuality is not required.”
Thus, the Court of Appeals held that Plaintiff’s action against Pioneer for UIM benefits was barred by collateral estoppel.
In sum, collateral estoppel bars plaintiff from relitigating the amount of compensatory damages it is entitled to recover from Sandy. Because the amount of damages plaintiff is entitled to recover from Sandy is not in excess of the amount of damages plaintiff did, in fact, recover from Sandy as a result of the first action, no UIM benefits remain available to plaintiff under the terms of Parks’s insurance policy. It is irrelevant that, under different circumstances, Pioneer might have opted to use the policy language to avoid being bound by the judgment in the first action. Under the facts and circumstances actually present in this case, Pioneer consented to be bound by the judgment and the judgment resulted in plaintiff receiving all damages that it was legally entitled to recover from Sandy.