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Haize v. Hanover Insurance Co.


decided: June 2, 1976.


Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands Division of St. Croix.

Van Dusen, Adams and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen

VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant challenges the application by the district court of collateral estoppel in entering judgment for Hanover Insurance Co. and Underwriters Adjustment Co. on the record in this case. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

On September 9, 1974, a fire broke out and substantially destroyed premises leased by plaintiff Haize from Mary Moorhead. The instant case, alleging three causes of action, was commenced on May 14, 1975. In the first count, Haize sought to recover on a contract of insurance with defendant Hanover the value of the contents of the premises destroyed by the fire. In count two, Haize stated that he believed he was purchasing fire insurance in the amount of $58,000. on the blanket contents of the premises when he transacted business with defendant Caribbean Atlantic Insurance and Sales Agency, Inc. He went on to state that if the insurance as actually sold by Caribbean Atlantic "is not such a contract as was intended to be purchased, then plaintiff claims damages against said . . . defendant. . . ." In the third count, plaintiff sought recovery from defendant Underwriters Adjustment Co. ("UNACO") on the ground that it was unreasonably delaying the adjustment of his fire loss.

Defendants Hanover and UNACO moved for summary judgment on August 28, 1975, alleging that, in a previous action between Haize and his landlady (Moorhead), it was conclusively determined that Haize had deliberately set fire to the premises on September 9, 1974. Haize v. Hanover Insurance Co., Document 8, Civil No. 75-397 (D.V.I.) These defendants asserted that the findings made in the previous action, Haize v. Moorhead, Civil No. 75-267 (D. V.I.), collaterally estopped Haize from relitigating the above-mentioned determination that he had deliberately set fire to the premises. Hanover and UNACO contended that if collateral estoppel were applied on this issue, then Haize could not recover on his claims as a matter of law. The district court, apparently accepting this contention of the defendants, granted summary judgment dismissing the action as to them on September 29, 1975.

Defendant Caribbean Atlantic filed a motion for summary judgment on September 22, contending that if plaintiff could not recover against the other two defendants, neither could he recover against it. This motion was granted by order of October 3, 1975.

On October 24 plaintiff filed a timely notice of appeal "from that certain order dated September 29, 1975 dismissing the complaint herein." The issues before us, therefore, relate only to defendants Hanover and UNACO.*fn1

The prior adjudication, Haize v. Moorhead, involved inter alia, a claim by the owner of the burned premises against Haize, her tenant, for the damage done by the fire. The issue to be resolved in the adjudication of this claim was whether Haize caused the fire. This issue was resolved adversely to Haize in a trial to the court before a municipal court judge. The municipal court trial judge did not purport to resolve the very distinct issue of whether Haize intentionally set the fire, or whether he merely negligently caused the fire.*fn2 He stated in the last sentence of his findings of fact:

"On the basis of the preponderance of the evidence the Court finds that the charge of plaintiff's being responsible for the fire was substantiated."*fn3 (Appendix of appellees at 3A)

Restatement of Judgments ยง 68(1) (1942)*fn4 states:

"Where a question of fact essential to the judgment is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, the determination is conclusive between the parties in a subsequent action on a different cause of action . . . ."

Thus, there are at least four requirements which must be met before collateral estoppel effect can be given to a prior action: (1) the issue sought to be precluded must be the same as that involved in the prior action; (2) that issue must have been actually litigated; (3) it must have been determined by a valid and final judgment; and (4) the determination must have been essential to the prior judgment.*fn5 At least two of the requirements for the application of collateral estoppel were not met in this case: (1) the issue sought to be precluded was not the same as that involved in the prior action; and (2) even if it could be said that the issue of intent was decided against Haize in the Moorhead case, that determination was not essential*fn6 to the prior judgment. The judgment in Haize v. Moorhead, therefore, cannot collaterally estop Haize from litigating in this action the question of whether he intentionally set the fire.

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court will be reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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