First motorist brought action against second motorist for injuries and property damage resulting from automobile collision. The first motorist made a motion to strike second motorist's defense of res judicata. The Superior Court, Herrmann, J., held that default judgment of justice of peace in favor of second motorist in action by second motorist against first motorist to recover for property damage arising from the same collision was not binding on first motorist and that first motorist was not estopped from litigating issues of negligence of the parties.
[48 Del. 492] Action for personal injuries and property damage arising from a motor vehicle collision. Upon the plaintiff's motion to strike the defense of res judicata. Motion granted.
Albert L. Simon and Stephen E. Hamilton, Jr., Wilmington, for plaintiff.
William H. Bennethum and Ernest S. Wilson, Jr., (Morford, Bennethum & Marvel), Wilmington, for defendant.
The complaint alleges that the plaintiff sustained personal injuries and property damage as the result of a motor vehicle collision caused by the negligence of the defendant. In his answer to the complaint, the defendant raises the affirmative defense of res judicata. The plaintiff moves to strike that defense on the ground that it is not a sufficient defense under the circumstances of this case. See Civil Rule 12(f), Del.C.Ann.
The complaint in this action was filed on February 24, 1953 and service of summons was made upon the defendant on March [48 Del. 493] 5, 1953. On March 3, 1953, two days before receiving service of summons in this action, the defendant herein brought suit against the plaintiff herein before a Justice of the Peace for property damage arising from the same accident which forms the basis of this action. Summons was issued by the Justice of the Peace on March 4, 1953 and service was made upon the plaintiff herein on March 9, 1953. On May 5, 1953, the defendant herein filed his answer in this case and on May 7, 1953, he appeared before the Justice of the Peace and took judgment by default for failure of the plaintiff herein to appear. On May 25, 1953, the defendant herein filed an amended answer asserting the defense of res judicata upon the basis of the default judgment. No appeal has been taken from the judgment of the Justice of the Peace.
The plaintiff first asserts that Civil Rule 13(a) makes the defense of res judicata unavailable to the defendant because the Rule required the defendant to assert his claim by counterclaim in this action. The plaintiff contends that, by his failure to do so, the defendant waived his right to relief and that he may not now base a defense of
res judicata upon the judgment of the Justice of the Peace.
In making this contention, the plaintiff disregards the fact that there is a final judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction which may not be ignored. Nothing in Civil Rule 13(a) changes the duty of this Court to give full recognition to the judgment of the Justice of the Peace. If the plaintiff wished to attack that judgment, he should have done so in such manner as to afford to this Court the means of reversing or vacating it. Civil Rule 13(a) is not the means to that end.
[48 Del. 494] Since we may not shut our eyes and pretend that the judgment of the Justice of the Peace is not there, as the plaintiff would like to do, there remains the question of the effect of that judgment upon the issues of negligence in this case. Consideration of that question revolves about two factors: (1) The judgment of the Justice of the Peace was a default judgment; and (2) this action is a different cause of action than that which was before the Justice of the Peace.
Since different causes of action are involved, we are dealing here with that refinement of the doctrine of res judicata known as collateral estoppel by judgment. The precise question is whether the plaintiff herein may now litigate in this action the issues of the negligences of the parties or whether the judgment of the Justice of the Peace is ...