Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore
439 U.S. 322 (1979)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322 (1979)

Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore

No. 77-1305

Argued October 30, 1978

Decided January 9, 1979

439 U.S. 322

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent brought this stockholder's class action in the District Court for damages and other relief against petitioners, a corporation, its officers, directors, and stockholders, who allegedly had issued a materially false and misleading proxy statement in violation of the federal securities laws and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations. Before the action came to trial, the SEC sued the same defendants in the District Court alleging that the proxy statement was materially false and misleading in essentially the same respects as respondent had claimed. The District Court, after a nonjury trial, entered a declaratory judgment for the SEC, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Respondent in this case then moved for partial summary judgment against petitioners, asserting that they were collaterally estopped from relitigating the issues that had been resolved against them in the SEC suit. The District Court denied the motion on the ground that such an application of collateral estoppel would deny petitioners their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held:

1. Petitioners, who had a "full and fair" opportunity to litigate their claims in the SEC action, are collaterally estopped from relitigating the question of whether the proxy statement was materially false and misleading. Pp. 439 U. S. 326-333.

(a) The mutuality doctrine, under which neither party could use a prior judgment against the other unless both parties were bound by the same judgment, no longer applies. See Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation,402 U. S. 313. Pp. 402 U. S. 326-328.

(b) The offensive use of collateral estoppel (when, as here, the plaintiff seeks to foreclose the defendant from litigating an issue that the defendant has previously litigated unsuccessfully in an action with another party) does not promote judicial economy in the same manner that is promoted by defensive use (when a defendant seeks to prevent a plaintiff from asserting a claim that the plaintiff has previously litigated and lost against another defendant), and such offensive use may also be unfair to a defendant in various ways. Therefore, the general rule should be that, in cases where a plaintiff could easily have joined in the

Page 439 U. S. 323

earlier action, or where the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to a defendant, a trial judge, in the exercise of his discretion, should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel. Pp. 439 U. S. 329-331.

(c) In this case, however, the application of offensive collateral estoppel will not reward a private plaintiff who could have joined in the previous action, since the respondent probably could not have joined in the injunctive action brought by the SEC. Nor is there any unfairness to petitioners in such application here, since petitioners had every incentive fully and vigorously to litigate the SEC suit; the judgment in the SEC action was not inconsistent with any prior decision; and in the respondent's action there will be no procedural opportunities available to the petitioners that were unavailable in the SEC action of a kind that might be likely to cause a different result. Pp. 439 U. S. 331-333.

2. The use of collateral estoppel in this case would not violate petitioners' Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. Pp. 439 U. S. 333-337.

(a) An equitable determination can have collateral estoppel effect in a subsequent legal action without violating the Seventh Amendment. Katchen v. Landy,382 U. S. 323. Pp. 439 U. S. 333-335.

(b) Petitioners' contention that, since the scope of the Seventh Amendment must be determined by reference to the common law as it existed in 1791, at which time collateral estoppel was permitted only where there was mutuality of parties, is without merit, for many procedural devices developed since 1791 that have diminished the civil jury's historic domain have been found not to violate the Seventh Amendment. See, e.g., Galloway v. United States,319 U. S. 372, 319 U. S. 388-393. Pp. 439 U. S. 335-337.

565 F.2d 815, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 439 U. S. 337.

Page 439 U. S. 324

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a party who has had issues of fact adjudicated adverse to it in an equitable action may be collaterally estopped from relitigating the same issues before a jury in a subsequent legal action brought against it by a new party.

The respondent brought this stockholder's class action against the petitioners in a Federal District Court. The complaint alleged that the petitioners, Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. (Parklane), and 13 of its officers, directors, and stockholders, had issued a materially false and misleading proxy statement in connection with a merger. [Footnote 1] The proxy statement, according to the complaint, had violated §§ 14(a), 10(b), and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 895, 891, 899, as amended, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78n(a), 78j(b), and 78t(a), as well as various rules and regulations promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The complaint sought damages, rescission of the merger, and recovery of costs.

Before this action came to trial, the SEC filed suit against the same defendants in the Federal District Court, alleging that the proxy statement that had been issued by Parklane was materially false and misleading in essentially the same respects as those that had been alleged in the respondent's complaint. Injunctive relief was requested. After a 4-day

Page 439 U. S. 325

trial, the District Court found that the proxy statement was materially false and misleading in the respects alleged, and entered a declaratory judgment to that effect. SEC v. Parklane Hosiery Co., 422 F.Supp. 477. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed this judgment. 558 F.2d 1083.

The respondent in the present case then moved for partial summary judgment against the petitioners, asserting that the petitioners were collaterally estopped from relitigating the issues that had been resolved against them in the action brought by the SEC. [Footnote 2] The District Court denied the motion on the ground that such an application of collateral estoppel would deny the petitioners their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that a party who has had issues of fact determined against him after a full and fair opportunity to litigate in a nonjury trial is collaterally estopped from obtaining a subsequent jury trial of these same issues of fact. 565 F.2d 815. The appellate court concluded that

"the Seventh Amendment preserves the right to jury trial only with respect to issues of fact, [and] once those issues have been fully and fairly adjudicated in a prior proceeding, nothing remains for trial, either with or without a jury."

Id. at 819. Because of an inter-circuit conflict, [Footnote 3] we granted certiorari. 435 U.S. 1006.

Page 439 U. S. 326

I

The threshold question to be considered is whether, quite apart from the right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment, the petitioners can be precluded from relitigating facts resolved adversely to them in a prior equitable proceeding with another party under the general law of collateral estoppel. Specifically, we must determine whether a litigant who was not a party to a prior judgment may nevertheless use that judgment "offensively" to prevent a defendant from relitigating issues resolved in the earlier proceeding. [Footnote 4]

A

Collateral estoppel, like the related doctrine of res judicata, [Footnote 5] has the dual purpose of protecting litigants from the burden of relitigating an identical issue with the same party or his privy and of promoting judicial economy by preventing needless litigation. Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation,402 U. S. 313, 402 U. S. 328-329. Until relatively recently, however, the scope of collateral estoppel was limited by the doctrine of mutuality of parties. Under this mutuality doctrine, neither party could use a prior judgment

Page 439 U. S. 327

as an estoppel against the other unless both parties were bound by the judgment. [Footnote 6] Based on the premise that it is somehow unfair to allow a party to use prior judgment when he himself would not be so bound, [Footnote 7] the mutuality requirement provided a party who had litigated and lost in a previous action an opportunity to relitigate identical issues with new parties.

By failing to recognize the obvious difference in position between a party who has never litigated an issue and one who has fully litigated and lost, the mutuality requirement was criticized almost from its inception. [Footnote 8] Recognizing the validity of this criticism, the Court in Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, supra, abandoned the mutuality requirement, at least in cases where a patentee seeks to relitigate the validity of a patent after a federal court in a previous lawsuit has already declared it invalid. [Footnote 9] The

Page 439 U. S. 328

"broader question" before the Court, however, was "whether it is any longer tenable to afford a litigant more than one full and fair opportunity for judicial resolution of the same issue." 402 U.S. at 402 U. S. 328. The Court strongly suggested a negative answer to that question:

"In any lawsuit where a defendant, because of the mutuality principle, is forced to present a complete defense on the merits to a claim which the plaintiff has fully litigated and lost in a prior action, there is an arguable misallocation of resources. To the extent the defendant in the second suit may not win by asserting, without contradiction, that the plaintiff had fully and fairly, but unsuccessfully, litigated the same claim in the prior suit, the defendant's time and money are diverted from alternative uses -- productive or otherwise to relitigation of a decided issue. And, still assuming that the issue was resolved correctly in the first suit, there is reason to be concerned about the plaintiff's allocation of resources. Permitting repeated litigation of the same issue as long as the supply of unrelated defendants holds out reflects either the aura of the gaming table or 'a lack of discipline and of disinterestedness on the part of the lower courts, hardly a worthy or wise basis for fashioning rules of procedure.' Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O-Two Co.,342 U. S. 180, 342 U. S. 185 (1952). Although neither judges, the parties, nor the adversary system performs perfectly in all cases, the requirement of determining whether the party against whom an estoppel is asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate is a most significant safeguard."

Id. at 402 U. S. 329. [Footnote 10]

Page 439 U. S. 329

B

The Blonder-Tongue case involved defensive use of collateral estoppel -- a plaintiff was estopped from asserting a claim that the plaintiff had previously litigated and lost against another defendant. The present case, by contrast, involves offensive use of collateral estoppel -- a plaintiff is seeking to estop a defendant from relitigating the issues which the defendant previously litigated and lost against another plaintiff. In both the offensive and defensive use situations, the party against whom estoppel is asserted has litigated and lost in an earlier action. Nevertheless, several reasons have been advanced why the two situations should be treated differently. [Footnote 11]

First, offensive use of collateral estoppel does not promote judicial economy in the same manner as defensive use does. Defensive use of collateral estoppel precludes a plaintiff from relitigating identical issues by merely "switching adversaries." Bernhard v. Bank of America Nat. Trust Savings Assn., 19 Cal.2d at 813, 122 P.2d at 895. [Footnote 12] Thus, defensive collateral estoppel gives a plaintiff a strong incentive to join

Page 439 U. S. 330

all potential defendants in the first action if possible. Offensive use of collateral estoppel, on the other hand, creates precisely the opposite incentive. Since a plaintiff will be able to rely on a previous judgment against a defendant, but will not be bound by that judgment if the defendant wins, the plaintiff has every incentive to adopt a "wait and see" attitude, in the hope that the first action by another plaintiff will result in a favorable judgment. E.g., Nevarov v. Caldwell, 161 Cal.App.2d 762, 767-76, 327 P.2d 111, 115; Reardon v. Allen, 88 N.J.Super. 560, 571-572, 213 A.2d 26, 32. Thus, offensive use of collateral estoppel will likely increase, rather than decrease, the total amount of litigation, since potential plaintiffs will have everything to gain and nothing to lose by not intervening in the first action. [Footnote 13]

A second argument against offensive use of collateral estoppel is that it may be unfair to a defendant. If a defendant in the first action is sued for small or nominal damages, he may have little incentive to defend vigorously, particularly if future suits are not foreseeable. The Evergreens v. Nunan, 141 F.2d 927, 929 (CA2); cf. Berner v. British Commonwealth Pac. Airlines, 346 F.2d 532 (CA2) (application of offensive collateral estoppel denied where defendant did not appeal an adverse judgment awarding damages of $35,000 and defendant was later sued for over $7 million). Allowing offensive collateral estoppel may also be unfair to a defendant if the judgment relied upon as a basis for the estoppel is itself inconsistent with one or more previous judgments in favor of the defendant. [Footnote 14] Still another situation where it might be

Page 439 U. S. 331

unfair to apply offensive estoppel is where the second action affords the defendant procedural opportunities unavailable in the first action that could readily cause a different result. [Footnote 15]

C

We have concluded that the preferable approach for dealing with these problems in the federal courts is not to preclude the use of offensive collateral estoppel, but to grant trial courts broad discretion to determine when it should be applied. [Footnote 16] The general rule should be that. in cases where a plaintiff could easily have joined in the earlier action or where, either for the reasons discussed above or for other reasons, the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to a defendant, a trial judge should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel.

In the present case, however, none of the circumstances that might justify reluctance to allow the offensive use of collateral estoppel is present. The application of offensive collateral

Page 439 U. S. 332

estoppel will not here reward a private plaintiff who could have joined in the previous action, since the respondent probably could not have joined in the injunctive action brought by the SEC even had he so desired. [Footnote 17] Similarly, there is no unfairness to the petitioners in applying offensive collateral estoppel in this case. First, in light of the serious allegations made in the SEC's complaint against the petitioners, as well as the foreseeability of subsequent private suits that typically follow a successful Government judgment, the petitioners had every incentive to litigate the SEC lawsuit fully and vigorously. [Footnote 18] Second, the judgment in the SEC action was not inconsistent with any previous decision. Finally, there will in the respondent's action be no procedural opportunities available to the petitioners that were unavailable in the first action of a kind that might be likely to cause a different result. [Footnote 19]

We conclude, therefore, that none of the considerations that would justify a refusal to allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel is present in this case. Since the petitioners received a "full and fair" opportunity to litigate their claims in the

Page 439 U. S. 333

SEC action, the contemporary law of collateral estoppel leads inescapably to the conclusion that the petitioners are collaterally estopped from relitigating the question of whether the proxy statement was materially false and misleading.

The question that remains is whether, notwithstanding the law of collateral estoppel, the use of offensive collateral estoppel in this case would violate the petitioners' Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. [Footnote 20]

A

"[T]he thrust of the [Seventh] Amendment was to preserve the right to jury trial as it existed in 1791." Curtis v. Loether,415 U. S. 189, 415 U. S. 193. At common law, a litigant was not entitled to have a jury determine issues that had been previously adjudicated by a chancellor in equity. Hopkins v. Lee, 6 Wheat. 109; Smith v. Kernochen, 7 How.198, 48 U. S. 217-218; Brady v. Daly,175 U. S. 148, 175 U. S. 158-159; Shapiro & Coquillette, The Fetish of Jury Trial in Civil Cases: A Comment on Rachal v. Hill, 85 Harv.L.Rev. 442, 448-458 (1971). [Footnote 21]

Recognition that an equitable determination could have collateral estoppel effect in a subsequent legal action was the major premise of this Court's decision in Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover,359 U. S. 500. In that case, the plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that certain arrangements between it

Page 439 U. S. 334

and the defendant were not in violation of the antitrust laws, and asked for an injunction to prevent the defendant from instituting an antitrust action to challenge the arrangements. The defendant denied the allegations and counterclaimed for treble damages under the antitrust laws, requesting a trial by jury of the issues common to both the legal and equitable claims. The Court of Appeals upheld denial of the request, but this Court reversed, stating:

"[T]he effect of the action of the District Court could be, as the Court of Appeals believed, 'to limit the petitioner's opportunity fully to try to a jury every issue which has a bearing upon its treble damage suit,' for determination of the issue of clearances by the judge might 'operate either by way of res judicata or collateral estoppel so as to conclude both parties with respect thereto at the subsequent trial of the treble damage claim.'"

Id. at 359 U. S. 504.

It is thus clear that the Court in the Beacon Theatres case thought that, if an issue common to both legal and equitable claims was first determined by a judge, relitigation of the issue before a jury might be foreclosed by res judicata or collateral estoppel. To avoid this result, the Court held that, when legal and equitable claims are joined in the same action, the trial judge has only limited discretion in determining the sequence of trial, and "that discretion . . . must, wherever possible, be exercised to preserve jury trial." Id. at 359 U. S. 510. [Footnote 22]

Both the premise of Beacon Theatres and the fact that it enunciated no more than a general prudential rule were confirmed by this Court's decision in Katchen v. Landy,382 U. S. 323. In that case, the Court held that a bankruptcy court, sitting as a statutory court of equity, is empowered to adjudicate

Page 439 U. S. 335

equitable claims prior to legal claims, even though the factual issues decided in the equity action would have been triable by a jury under the Seventh Amendment if the legal claims had been adjudicated first. The Court stated:

"Both Beacon Theatres and Dairy Queen recognize that there might be situations in which the Court could proceed to resolve the equitable claim first, even though the results might be dispositive of the issues involved in the legal claim."

Id. at 382 U. S. 339. Thus, the Court in Katchen v. Landy recognized that an equitable determination can have collateral estoppel effect in subsequent legal action and that this estoppel does not violate the Seventh Amendment.

B

Despite the strong support to be found both in history and in the recent decisional law of this Court for the proposition that an equitable determination can have collateral estoppel effect in a subsequent legal action, the petitioners argue that application of collateral estoppel in this case would nevertheless violate their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. The petitioners contend that, since the scope of the Amendment must be determined by reference to the common law as it existed in 1791, and since the common law permitted collateral estoppel only where there was mutuality of parties, collateral estoppel cannot constitutionally be applied when such mutuality is absent.

The petitioners have advanced no persuasive reason, however, why the meaning of the Seventh Amendment should depend on whether or not mutuality of parties is present. A litigant who has lost because of adverse factual findings in an equity action is equally deprived of a jury trial whether he is estopped from relitigating the factual issues against the same party or a new party. In either case, the party against whom estoppel is asserted has litigated questions of fact, and has had the facts determined against him in an earlier proceeding.

Page 439 U. S. 336

In either case, there is no further factfinding function for the jury to perform, since the common factual issues have been resolved in the previous action. Cf. Ex parte Peterson,253 U. S. 300, 253 U. S. 310 ("No one is entitled in a civil case to trial by jury unless and except so far as there are issues of fact to be determined").

The Seventh Amendment has never been interpreted in the rigid manner advocated by the petitioners. On the contrary, many procedural devices developed since 1791 that have diminished the civil jury's historic domain have been found not to be inconsistent with the Seventh Amendment. See Galloway v. United States,319 U. S. 372, 319 U. S. 388-393 (directed verdict does not violate the Seventh Amendment); Gasoline Products Co. v. Champlin Refining Co.,283 U. S. 494, 283 U. S. 497-498 (retrial limited to question of damages does not violate the Seventh Amendment even though there was no practice at common law for setting aside a verdict in part); Fidelity & Deposit Co. v. United States,187 U. S. 315, 187 U. S. 319-321 (summary judgment does not violate the Seventh Amendment). [Footnote 23]

The Galloway case is particularly instructive. There the party against whom a directed verdict had been entered argued that the procedure was unconstitutional under the Seventh Amendment. In rejecting this claim, the Court said:

"The Amendment did not bind the federal courts to the exact procedural incidents or details of jury trial according

Page 439 U. S. 337

to the common law in 1791, any more than it tied them to the common law system of pleading or the specific rules of evidence then prevailing. Nor were 'the rules of the common law' then prevalent, including those relating to the procedure by which the judge regulated the jury's role on questions of fact, crystallized in a fixed and immutable system. . . ."

"The more logical conclusion, we think, and the one which both history and the previous decisions here support, is that the Amendment was designed to preserve the basic institution of jury trial in only its most fundamental elements, not the great mass of procedural forms and details, varying even then so widely among common law jurisdictions."

319 U.S. at 319 U. S. 390, 319 U. S. 392 (footnote omitted).

The law of collateral estoppel, like the law in other procedural areas defining the scope of the jury's function, has evolved since 1791. Under the rationale of the Galloway case, these developments are not repugnant to the Seventh Amendment simply for the reason that they did not exist in 1791. Thus, if, as we have held, the law of collateral estoppel forecloses the petitioners from relitigating the factual issues determined against them in the SEC action, nothing in the Seventh Amendment dictates a different result, even though, because of lack of mutuality, there would have been no collateral estoppel in 1791. [Footnote 24]

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is

Affirmed.

[Footnote 1]

The amended complaint alleged that the proxy statement that had been issued to the stockholders was false and misleading because it failed to disclose: (1) that the president of Parklane would financially benefit as a result of the company's going private; (2) certain ongoing negotiations that could have resulted in financial benefit to Parklane; and (3) that the appraisal of the fair value of Parklane stock was based on insufficient information to be accurate.

[Footnote 2]

A private plaintiff in an action under the proxy rules is not entitled to relief simply by demonstrating that the proxy solicitation was materially false and misleading. The plaintiff must also show that he was injured and prove damages. Mills v. Electric Auto-Lite Co.,396 U. S. 375, 396 U. S. 386-390. Since the SEC action was limited to a determination of whether the proxy statement contained materially false and misleading information, the respondent conceded that he would still have to prove these other elements of his prima facie case in the private action. The petitioners' right to a jury trial on those remaining issues is not contested.

[Footnote 3]

The position of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is in conflict with that taken by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Rachal v. Hill, 435 F.2d 59.

[Footnote 4]

In this context, offensive use of collateral estoppel occurs when the plaintiff seeks to foreclose the defendant from litigating an issue the defendant has previously litigated unsuccessfully in an action with another party. Defensive use occurs when a defendant seeks to prevent a plaintiff from asserting a claim the plaintiff has previously litigated and lost against another defendant.

[Footnote 5]

Under the doctrine of res judicata, a judgment on the merits in a prior suit bars a second suit involving the same parties or their privies based on the same cause of action. Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, on the other hand, the second action is upon a different cause of action, and the judgment in the prior suit precludes relitigation of issues actually litigated and necessary to the outcome of the first action. 1B J. Moore, Federal Practice

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