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Esper v. Manhattan Transit Co.

Decided: January 16, 1934.

WILLIAM J. ESPER, RESPONDENT,
v.
MANHATTAN TRANSIT COMPANY, INCORPORATED, APPELLANT



On appeal from the District Court of the city of Passaic.

For the appellant, Maurice J. McKeown (Robert G. Howell, on the brief).

For the respondent, Louis Santorf (Joseph D. Donato, on the brief).

Lloyd

The opinion of the court was delivered by

LLOYD, J. Esper brought an action against the transit company to recover damages for personal injuries and also for damage to his automobile. At the trial the property damage claim was withdrawn and the case proceeded to judgment in favor of the plaintiff for the damages for the personal injuries. From this judgment the defendant appeals.

The ground urged for reversal is that in the progress of the trial it developed that the defendant (appellant here) had

instituted an action in another court to recover for injuries to his automobile growing out of the same collision upon which the present suit was predicated. That suit proceeded to judgment against the present plaintiff resting on the averment in the complaint that respondent was guilty of negligence in the operation of his car. While the record of the earlier cases was informally before the District Court in the present case no point is made of this feature, and the respondent conceded at the argument that if the earlier case was properly dispositive of the one now before us no irregularity in its presentation would be claimed. The case was argued orally and is presented in adequate briefs on the appeal.

There is perhaps no rule of law of greater importance than that of res adjudicata. There must come a time when litigation is at an end and this doctrine came into being for the purpose of determining when this result should be reached, and what it should be. The doctrine has been proclaimed in the jurisprudence of all civilized nations (2 Freem. Judg. 1321), found its most distinctive recognition in England in 1776 in the Duchess of Kingston's case (3 Sm. Lead. Cas. 1998), has found general acceptance in the states of the union, and in this state as defined and applied in In re Walsh Estate, 80 N.J. Eq. 565. In the latter case it was declared by the Court of Errors and Appeals to be the law that the "judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction on a question of law or fact, or a question of mixed law and fact, once litigated and determined, is, so long as it remains unreversed, conclusive upon the parties and their privies, not only as to the particular property involved in the suit in which it is pronounced, but as to all future litigation between the same parties or their privies touching the subject-matter, though the property involved in the subsequent litigation is different from that which was involved in the first."

Tested by this rule it is quite clear that in the earlier action here involved it was determined that the accident was caused by the negligence of the present plaintiff and not by the negligence of the present defendant. This was a question of fact definitely determined between the parties and when

pleaded here was a barrier to recovery by the present plaintiff for it established conclusively and finally the negligence of the plaintiff which precluded recovery here. This result should forever set at rest any right of either party resting upon negligence in the accident which is the basis of litigation in both cases.

The respondent has cited a number of cases which he claims are at variance with the view here expressed. A careful analysis we think demonstrates that they not only are not at variance, but that they ...


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