This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




Kenneth S. Benigni,



Cowles Media Company, a Delaware corporation, d/b/a Star Tribune,


Larry Oakes,


Filed August 19, 1997


Short, Judge

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 9613211

Kenneth S. Benigni, 7485 Kauppi Lake Road, Cotton, MN 55724 (pro se appellant)

John P. Borger, Eric E. Jorstad, Faegre & Benson LLP, 2200 Norwest Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and

Randy M. Lebedoff, Law Department, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55488 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Parker, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Short, Judge.


SHORT, Judge

This case arises from the Cowles Media Company's (newspaper's) 1990 publication of a human interest story entitled "He's a northern Minnesota rebel with a lot of causes." The subject of the article, Kenneth S. Benigni, brought a defamation suit against the newspaper, the article's author, Larry Oakes (writer), and a local sheriff quoted in the story. A trial court ordered summary judgment against Benigni and this court affirmed, holding the article, as a matter of law, was not defamatory. Benigni then filed a second action against the newspaper and the writer, alleging intentional and negligent infliction of mental anguish, injurious falsehoods, and invasion of privacy, all arising from the 1990 publication of the same article. The trial court dismissed Benigni's action on the ground of res judicata. We affirm.


In reviewing a judgment on the pleadings, the only question before us is whether the complaint sets forth a legally sufficient claim for relief. Elzie v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 298 N.W.2d 29, 32 (Minn. 1980); see also In re Trusts by Hormel, 543 N.W.2d 668, 671 (Minn. App. 1996) (permitting trial court to consider its own prior decisions and appellate review of those decisions in deciding motion for judgment on pleadings). Where there is no factual dispute regarding the issues addressed in an earlier proceeding, we review de novo the trial court's analysis concerning the applicability of res judicata. See Kolb v. Scherer Bros. Fin. Servs. Co., 6 F.3d 542, 544 (8th Cir. 1993) (reviewing de novo the application of res judicata to case's undisputed procedural history); Ascher v. Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 527 N.W.2d 122, 125 (Minn. App. 1995) (applying de novo standard of review to trial court's finding of claim preclusion), review denied (Minn. Mar. 21, 1995).

Res judicata operates to preclude a second suit predicated on a cause of action that has already been determined by a final judgment, no matter what issues were raised or litigated in the original cause of action. Hauser v. Mealey, 263 N.W.2d 803, 806 (Minn. 1978). Thus, a judgment on the merits bars new grounds for relief on the same cause of action that were not presented in the first case. Melady-Briggs Cattle Corp. v. Drovers State Bank, 213 Minn. 304, 309, 6 N.W.2d 454, 457 (1942); see United States v. Advance Mach. Co., 547 F. Supp. 1085, 1092 (D. Minn. 1982) (holding test is whether the wrong for which redress is sought is same in both actions); see also Burma v. Stransky, 357 N.W.2d 82, 89 (Minn. 1984) (noting summary judgment constitutes determination on merits). The rule is grounded in the policy that a party "should not be twice vexed for the same cause, and that it is for the public good that there be an end to litigation." Hauser, 263 N.W.2d at 807 (citation omitted).

Benigni argues the trial court erred in concluding this action was barred by res judicata. However, the record demonstrates: (1) the newspaper published the story concerning Benigni in October 1990; (2) Benigni brought a defamation suit against the newspaper, writer, and one other defendant, on the basis of the publication; (3) the trial court ordered summary judgment against Benigni, finding the article was not defamatory, and this court affirmed; (4) Benigni then filed this action against the newspaper and the writer, alleging torts other than defamation and again seeking damages arising from the original publication of the article; and (5) Benigni alleges no wrongful act by the newspaper or writer aside from the one-time publication. While Benigni claims his mental anguish claim accrued only after the termination of the first suit, both actions center on what Benigni considers to be the wrongful publication of the article concerning his political views. See Kolb, 6 F.3d at 544 (applying claim preclusion doctrine to actions sharing common nucleus of operative facts); Dalton v. Dow Chem. Co., 280 Minn. 147, 154, 158 N.W.2d 580, 585 (quoting Brush Beryllium Co. v. Meckley, 284 F.2d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 1960), and holding claim accrues when some damage results from defendant's act, even though ultimate harm is unknown or unpredictable). Benigni cannot split his various claims arising from the single act of publication by the newspaper and writer. See Vineseck v. Great Northern Ry. Co., 136 Minn. 96, 100, 161 N.W. 494, 496 (1917) (providing in tort case, all injuries must be included in one suit, and further actions are barred on claims voluntarily omitted). Under these circumstances, Benigni's second action is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Therefore, the trial court properly ordered judgment on the pleadings in favor of the newspaper and writer.