January 10, 2012
RAJESHWAR SINGH YADAV AND ROOPA YADAV, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
TOWNSHIP OF WEST WINDSOR AND MAYOR SHING-FU HSUEH, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-0439-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 28, 2011
Before Judges Lihotz, Waugh and St. John.
Since 1981, plaintiffs Rajeshwar Singh Yadav and Roopa Yadav have initiated ten lawsuits against defendant West Windsor Township in both federal and state courts regarding their unsuccessful efforts to subdivide their 4.47-acre property in the Township, while challenging zoning changes in the Township that they claim have decreased the value of their property. The Yadavs have maintained for thirty years that they are entitled to subdivide their property into seven lots, despite zoning laws requiring larger lot sizes. They have also argued that the Township council unconstitutionally enacted changes to the zoning code, which were implemented without required due process, and prejudicial to the value of their property. The Yadavs have not won any of their previous lawsuits. Consequently, they have been barred from litigating their contentions any further in federal court and, as set forth in the order under review, must seek permission to file additional actions in state court.*fn1
The Yadavs appeal the Law Division's order dated May 25, 2010, which dismissed their sixth Superior Court action, Docket No. MER-L-439-10. The motion judge determined that the Yadavs' claims are barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and claim preclusion.
The Yadavs assert that their claims should not be barred since the previous judgments were "not on the merits but on [the] Township's lies, fraudulent actions, willful actions to circumvent court proceedings, [and] willful misrepresentations to the court for obtaining favorable adjudications, so the adjudication of the issues can not [be] precluded." We conclude these arguments lack sufficient merit to warrant extensive review in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We include only these brief comments.
Claims can be barred by the doctrine of res judicata which "contemplates that when a controversy between parties is once fairly litigated and determined it is no longer open to relitigation." Lubliner v. Bd. of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 33 N.J. 428, 435 (1960). "'The doctrine of collateral estoppel is a branch of the broader law of res judicata which bars relitigation of any issue actually determined in a prior action generally between the same parties and their privies involving a different claim or cause of action.'" Figueroa v. Hartford Ins. Co., 241 N.J. Super. 578, 584 (App. Div. 1990) (quoting N.J. Mfrs. Ins. Co. v. Brower, 161 N.J. Super. 293, 297 (App. Div. 1978)). Although collateral estoppel overlaps with and is closely related to res judicata, the distinguishing feature of collateral estoppel is that it alone bars relitigation of issues in suits that arise from different causes of action. United Rental Equip. Co. v. Aetna Life & Cas. Ins. Co., 74 N.J. 92, 101 (1977). As in the case of res judicata, the application of collateral estoppel is an issue of law to be determined by a judge in a subsequent proceeding after giving appropriate weight to the factors bearing upon the issues. Colucci v. Thomas Nicol Asphalt Co., 194 N.J. Super. 510, 518 (App. Div. 1984). Our review of the record in light of the applicable law leads us to conclude that the motion judge appropriately held that the Yadavs' claims were barred by the issue preclusion doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel.
The remainder of the Yadavs' arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).