This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).




Charles Williams, et al.,


National Freight, Inc., et al.,


Filed November 13, 2007

Reversed and remanded

Harten, Judge*


Steele County District Court

File No. C0-05-1718


Patrick S. Stoneking, Brandon E. Thompson, Stoneking Law Office, 3605 France Avenue North, Robbinsdale, MN 55422 (for appellants)


Jennifer K. Huelskoetter, Bowman and Brooke, LLP, 150 South Fifth Street, Suite 3000, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and


Jason Ferrante (pro hac vice), Sutter, O’Connell & Franchione, 3600 Erieview Tower, 1301 East Ninth Street, Cleveland OH 44114 (for respondents)       


            Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Harten, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellants challenge the district court’s summary judgment determination that res judicata and collateral estoppel bar their action.  Because we conclude that res judicata and collateral estoppel do not bar this action, we reverse the summary judgment and remand. 



            In December 1999, appellant Charles Williams, employed by New Prime, Inc., and respondent Steven Whitehead, employed by respondent National Freight, were both driving tractor-trailers north on I-35 on a foggy morning.   Whitehead had pulled off the road; as he drove back onto the road, Williams’s truck collided with the back of his truck.  Williams claims to have suffered injuries as a result of this collision.

            Williams’s truck then jackknifed across I-35 and was struck by other north-bound vehicles.  A northbound driver, David Van Guilder, was among those injured.  He brought an action (Van Guilder) against Williams, Whitehead, and their employers.  Williams and New Prime and respondents crossclaimed against each other.  In January 2003, after trial, a jury found that Williams had been 40% negligent, Whitehead 37.75% negligent, and Van Guilder 22.25% negligent, and that Van Guilder’s damages were $2,350,000.


            In November 2005, Williams and his wife, appellant Bonnie Williams, brought the instant action against respondents for Williams’s personal injuries.[2]  Respondents  moved for summary judgment on the ground that the jury verdict in Van Guilder precluded Williams’s action by res judicata and collateral estoppel.   The district court granted the motion, having determined that res judicata and collateral estoppel applied and also that appellants’ action was precluded by Minn. R. Civ. P. 13.01.  Appellants challenge both determinations.



1.                   Collateral Estoppel and Res Judicata


            We review de novo whether collateral estoppel and res judicata apply to a particular set of facts, but we review a district court’s decision to apply them under an abuse of discretion standard.  See In re Trusts Created by Hormel, 504 N.W.2d 505, 509 (Minn. App. 1993) (collateral estoppel),  review denied (Minn. 19 Oct. 1993); Erickson v. Comm’r of Human Servs., 494 N.W.2d 58, 61 (Minn. App. 1992) (res judicata).  

            Collateral estoppel bars litigation of an issue if (1) the issue is identical to one in a prior litigation; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the estopped party was a party or was in privity with a party to the prior action; and (4) the estopped party had a full and fair opportunity to be heard on the issue.  All four prongs must be met.  Hauschildt v. Beckingham, 686 N.W.2d 829, 837 (Minn. 2004).  Res judicata bars litigation of a claim if a prior claim (1) involved the same set of factual circumstances; (2) involved the same parties or their privies; (3) resulted in a final judgment on the merits; and provided that (4) the estopped party had a full and fair opportunity to be heard.  Once again, all four prongs must be met.  Id. at 840.  “Whereas collateral estoppel concerns issues that were actually litigated, determined, and were essential in a prior action, res judicata concerns circumstances giving rise to a claim and precludes subsequent litigation—regardless of whether a particular issue or legal theory was actually litigated.”  Id.  Neither doctrine is to be rigidly applied; the focus is on whether their application would be unjust to the party against whom they would be applied.  Id. at 837.  Res judicata in particular should be invoked only after careful inquiry because it may govern grounds and defenses not previously litigated and interfere with the discovery of the truth.  Id.

            The complaint in the instant action alleges that, as a result of Whitehead’s negligence in operating his vehicle and failure to yield right-of-way to Williams, Williams sustained past pain and suffering and other past damages, will suffer future damages, and has incurred and will incur medical expenses.  The complaint also alleges that Bonnie Williams has suffered and will suffer the loss of her husband’s care, comfort, and society.  “The issue on which collateral estoppel is to be applied must be the same as that adjudicated in the prior action.”  Id.  The issue adjudicated in Van Guilder was the extent to which the negligence of Williams, Whitehead, and Van Guilder caused Van Guilder’s injuries.  But the issue here is the extent to which the negligence of Whitehead and Williams caused Williams’s injuries.  Moreover, evidence concerning the Whitehead/Williams collision would have been insufficient for the Van Guilder jury— Van Guilder was not even involved in that collision, which occurred before he arrived at the scene.  Res judicata applies when “the same evidence will sustain both actions.”  Id. at 840-41. 

            The Van Guilder jury was not asked to determine if Williams suffered injuries or to what extent those injuries were the result of Whitehead’s negligence or Williams’s own negligence.  Instead, the special verdict form in Van Guilder asked the jury to determine (1) Van Guilder’s damages resulting from “the December 3, 1999 collision”; (2) whether each of the three drivers was negligent “in connection with the automobile accident on December 3, 1999” and; if so, (3) whether that negligence was “a direct cause of the December 3, 1999 accident.”  Both the damages and the accident referred to on the verdict form are Van Guilder’s.  The jury considered the collision between Whitehead and Williams not as an event in itself but only as it related to Van Guilder’s subsequent collision with Williams.

            The jury’s determination of Williams’s negligence included both his negligence in striking Whitehead and his negligence in allowing his truck to go perpendicular on the freeway where it was struck by Van Guilder.  There was no final judgment on the merits as to whose negligence was responsible for the collision of Whitehead and Williams.  Consequently, res judicata and collateral estoppel do not apply to the case before us. 

2.                  Minn. R. Civ. P. 13.01

The district court also concluded that this action is precluded by Minn. R. Civ. P. 13.01, which requires a party to state as a counterclaim any claim against the opposing party “if it arises out of the transaction that is the subject matter of the opposing party’s claim.”  This language was construed in House v. Hanson, 245 Minn. 466, 72 N.W.2d 874 (1955):

Rule 13.01 was approved by this court with the express understanding and intent that the omission therefrom of the word ‘occurrence’ would insure that tort counterclaims would not be compulsory.  We hold therefore that the word ‘transaction’ as used in Rule 13.01 does not embrace claims in tort and that therefore the failure of a defendant to assert as a counterclaim any claim he has against the plaintiff does not estop him from asserting such claim in an independent action against the plaintiff.


Id. at 472-73, 72 N.W.2d at 878, quoted in Leiendecker v. Asian Women United, 731 N.W.2d 836, 840 (Minn. App. 2007), review denied (Minn. 7 Aug. 2007).

Respondents concede that “the House decision may have afforded [a]ppellants the right to bring an action independent of Van Guilder” but argue that House “does not impede the trial court’s [subsequent] application of res judicata and collateral estoppel.”  But this argument contradicts the supreme court’s intent in approving Minn. R. Civ. P. 13.01 and eviscerates House.  Furthermore, construing a rule to permit a plaintiff to assert a tort claim that could have been asserted as a counterclaim in a prior action and then permitting a defendant to defeat that tort claim by invoking res judicata and collateral estoppel would yield a manifestly unreasonable result.  


We reverse the district court’s judgment dismissing appellants’ claims on the grounds of collateral estoppel, res judicata, and Minn. R. Civ. P. 13.01 and remand for further proceedings.

Reversed and remanded.                                                              


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The district court noted, and the parties agree, that the facts relevant to this appeal are undisputed.

[2] Van Guilder is not a party to this action: Williams does not allege that he suffered injuries from the collision with Van Guilder.