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Gambocz v. Yelencsics

decided: October 12, 1972.

BILL J. GAMBOCZ, APPELLANT,
v.
ANTHONY M. YELENCSICS ET AL.



Seitz, Chief Judge, and Van Dusen and Aldisert, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

This appeal from an order of the district court dismissing a complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1983 and 1985, and permanently enjoining appellant from instituting proceedings against appellees and those in privity with them, presents questions of res judicata and collateral estoppel.

On January 3, 1968, appellant brought suit against John Ellmyer, Lillian Apel, Louis La Plaga and Marie Keller, over an incident involving a $55.00 check.*fn1 On November 8, 1968, appellant requested that the suit be withdrawn. The district court granted the motion and dismissed with prejudice. Subsequently, on May 11, 1970, appellant moved to reopen the judgment. The motion was denied and we affirmed. Gambocz v. Ellmyer, 438 F.2d 915 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 403 U.S. 919, 91 S. Ct. 2232, 29 L. Ed. 2d 697 (1971), reh. denied, 404 U.S. 875, 92 S. Ct. 30, 30 L. Ed. 2d 121 (1972). Two and one half weeks after affirmance of the denial of his motion to reopen, but before denial of his petition for rehearing en banc and denial of his petition for a writ of certiorari, appellant filed the complaint in the present case. Certain irrelevant changes of a de minimis nature were made in this complaint as compared to his previous complaint. Anthony Yelencsics, Joseph Ferenczi, and the Township of Edison, New Jersey, were added as defendants. However, the operative facts of the two suits are identical.*fn2

Dismissal with prejudice constitutes an adjudication of the merits as fully and completely as if the order had been entered after trial. Lawlor v. National Screen Service Corp., 349 U.S. 322, 327, 75 S. Ct. 865, 99 L. Ed. 1122 (1955). Therefore res judicata bars relitigation of the claims dismissed in the prior suit against the defendants John Ellmyer, Lillian Apel, Louis La Plaga and Marie Keller. Fiumara v. Sinclair Refining Co., 385 F.2d 395 (3d Cir. 1967).

As to the defendants Yelencsics, Ferenczi, and the township,*fn3 none of whom were parties to the first action, we must consider the application of the doctrine first enunciated by this court in Bruszewski v. United States, 181 F.2d 419 (3d Cir. 1950). There we held that res judicata may be invoked against a plaintiff who has previously asserted essentially the same claim against different defendants where there is a close or significant relationship between successive defendants.*fn4 In construing Bruszewski, Judge Hastie, the author of that opinion, has stated, "It was our view in Bruszewski. . . that . . . a party who as plaintiff had asserted a claim and had lost should not be heard again on the merits of that claim even in a second suit which he thereafter has instituted against a stranger to the original claim." Nickerson v. Kutschera, 419 F.2d 983, 985 (3d Cir. 1969) (Hastie, J., dissenting).*fn5

In the application of the Bruszewski doctrine, however, it is important that we be governed by the principle of the law rather than by the nomenclature affixed to it. Thus, the doctrine is sometimes called "collateral estoppel," see Provident Tradesmens Bank & Trust Co. v. Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co., 411 F.2d 88, 92 (3d Cir. 1969), because the plaintiff is indeed estopped from proceeding on the same cause of action against the new defendants. Use of the adjective "collateral" to characterize this form of estoppel grows out of the fact that the bar of the prior adjudication is not interposed directly, by parties to the prior suit, but indirectly, by new defendants, strangers to the earlier action. However, the conceptual basis of such an estoppel is closer to that of pure res judicata than pure "collateral estoppel," because the bar is interposed on the theory that the second action is but an attempt to relitigate the same cause of action, although the names of the defendants may be different. The distinction between this form of estoppel, res judicata, and "pure" collateral estoppel has been frequently emphasized:

Thus, under the doctrine of res judicata, a judgment "on the merits" in a prior suit involving the same parties or their privies bars a second suit based on the same cause of action. Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, on the other hand, such a judgment precludes relitigation of issues actually litigated and determined in the prior suit, regardless of whether it was based on the same cause of action as the second suit.

Lawlor v. National Screen Service Corp., supra, 349 U.S. at 326, 75 S. Ct. at 867 (emphasis supplied). See also Judge Goodrich's opinion in Lawlor, before this court, 211 F.2d 934, 935 (3d Cir. 1954).

The above distinction becomes important in this case. The cause of action was terminated in the first proceedings, and, therefore, the principle of res judicata would apply in favor of the original defendants and those new defendants encompassed by the Bruszewski rule. On the other hand, the orthodox doctrine of collateral estoppel described by Chief Justice Warren in Lawlor is inapplicable here because the first "judgment was unaccompanied by findings and hence did not bind the parties on any issue." Lawlor v. National Screen Service Corp., supra, 349 U.S. at 327, 75 S. Ct. at 868; United States v. International Building Co., 345 U.S. 502, 505, 73 S. Ct. 807, 97 L. Ed. 1182 (1953). Only if the second suit relates to the same cause of action as the first, Bruszewski, as distinguished from merely presenting an identity of certain issues, United States v. International Building Co., supra, can it be said that "the [first] judgment dismissing the previous suit 'with prejudice' bars a later suit on the same cause of action." Lawlor v. National Screen Corp., supra, 349 U.S. at 327, 75 S. Ct. at 868.

We previously determined that the essential allegations of the second complaint parallel those of the first. Moreover, what was averred in the original action was a conspiracy participated in by named individuals, and the sole material change in the later suit was the addition of certain defendants, some of whom had been named in the original complaint as participating in the conspiracy but had not been named as parties defendant at that time. We conclude that the relationship of the additional parties to the second complaint was so close to parties to the first that the second complaint was merely a repetition of the first cause of action and, therefore, it is barred by application of the Bruszewski doctrine.

The court below granted appellee's request for a permanent injunction restraining appellant from instituting proceedings against appellees and their privies based upon the operative facts alleged in the complaint. Injunctive relief was a proper remedy under the circumstances of this case. ...


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