Thursday, November 13, 2014

The "Wrongness" Exception to Collateral Estoppel

Gottschall v. Crane Co., A136516 (D1d2 Oct. 22, 2014)

Asbestos plaintiffs often sue numerous defendants who might have been the supplier of the asbestos that caused their disease.  Here, plaintiff sued a bunch of defendants in San Francisco Superior Court and a few more in the Northern District of California.  The federal case got transferred to the big federal asbestos MDL in Philadelphia, and the MDL panel ultimately dismissed the case based on the sophisticated user defense.  One of the defendants in the state court case then moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff was collaterally estopped by the federal decision to deny the defense. The trial court granted the motion.

The court here declines to apply collateral estoppel. The federal court made an incorrect decision on a pure question of California law. Prior court of appeal cases have held that collateral estoppel will not bind California courts to erroneous interpretations of California law by non-California courts. Further, applying collateral estoppel to bind the plaintiff to an erroneous application of California law by a foreign court would work an injustice.


**If this ruling sounded a little strange, maybe it is. The California Supreme Court granted review on January 21, 2015.

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