RES JUDICATA means “a thing decided” in Latin. It is a common law doctrine meant to bar re-litigation of cases between the same parties in Court. Once a final judgment has been handed down in a lawsuit subsequent judges who are confronted with a suit that is identical to or substantially the same as the earlier one will apply res judicata to preserve the effect of the first judgment. This is to prevent injustice to the parties of a case supposedly finished, but perhaps mostly to avoid unnecessary waste of resources in the court system. Res judicata does not merely prevent future judgments from contradicting earlier ones, but also prevents them from multiplying judgments, so a prevailing plaintiff could not recover damages from the defendant twice for the same injury.
Res judicata includes two related concepts: claim preclusion, and issue preclusion (also called collateral estoppel), though sometimes res judicata is used more narrowly to mean only claim preclusion. Claim preclusion focuses on barring a suit from being brought again on a legal cause of action that has already been finally decided between the parties. Issue preclusion bars the re-litigation of factual issues that have already been necessarily determined by a judge or jury as part of an earlier claim. It is often difficult to determine which, if either, of these apply to later lawsuits that are seemingly related, because many causes of action can apply to the same factual situation and vice versa. The scope of an earlier judgment is probably the most difficult question that judges must resolve in applying res judicata. Sometimes merely part of a subsequent lawsuit will be affected, such as a single claim being struck from a complaint, or a single factual issue being removed from reconsideration in the new trial.
However, there are limited exceptions to res judicata that allow a party to attack the validity of the original judgment, even outside of appeals. These exceptions–usually called collateral attacks–are typically based on procedural or jurisdictional issues, based not on the wisdom of the earlier court’s decision but its authority or competence to issue it. A collateral attack is more likely to be available (and to succeed) in judicial systems with multiple jurisdictions, such as under federal governments, or when a domestic court is asked to enforce or recognize the judgment of a foreign court.
Res Judicata as Defined Under Code of Civil Procedure, 1908
Section 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure embodies the doctrine of res judicata or the rule of conclusiveness of a judgement,
as to the points decided either of fact, or of law, or of fact and law, in every subsequent suit between the same parties. It enacts that once a matter is finally decided by a competent court, no party can be permitted to reopen it in a subsequent litigation. In the absence of such a rule there will be no end to litigation and the parties would be put to constant trouble, harassment and expenses. The doctrine has been explained in the simplest possible manner by Das Gupta, J., the principle of Res Judicata is based on the need of giving a finality to the judicial decisions. What it says is that once a res judicata, it shall not be adjudged again. Primarily it applies as between past litigation and future litigation. When a matter- whether on a question of fact or a question of law has been decided between two parties in one suit or proceeding and the decision is final, either because no appeal was taken to a higher court or because the appeal was dismissed, or no appeal lies, neither party will be allowed in a future suit or proceeding between the same parties to canvas the matter again.
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