There is No Res Judicata Against Subsequent Claims That Are Not Premised on the Same "Primary Rights"

The doctrine of res judicata is the principle that a matter or action may not, generally be relitigated or raised again once a valid final judgment has been handed down in a lawsuit. Accordingly, claims that are based on the same cause of action must be decided in a single suit and may not be raised again at a later date. A claim that is raised in a subsequent lawsuit is "'based on the same cause of action' as one asserted in a prior action if they are both premised on the same 'primary right.'" A primary right is the right to be free from a particular unlawful conduct. In determining the primary right, the significant factor is the harm suffered. These were the issues confronted in the case of the Estate of Dito ((2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 791).

Elenice Dito (objector and respondent) worked as a live-in housekeeper for Frank Dito (decedent) and his wife, Rosana. Elenice did not have the proper papers to work legally in the United States. After Rosana died in 1995, Elenice continued to care for and live with Frank and eventually married him in 1997. They both entered into a prenuptial agreement which stated that each waived his or her right "to alimony, maintenance, or spousal support in the event of divorce, death or marriage." Frank died in 2004. Barbara (Frank's daughter, petitioner and appellant) sought to probate his will which excluded Elenice. Elenice filed a petition seeking her share of Frank's estate as an omitted spouse, and an adjudication that the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable. The trial court found that Elinice is Frank's surviving spouse and is entitled to a portion of his estate under Probate Code section 21610. The court also found that the prenuptial agreement was invalid. Barbara subsequently filed a petition with the trial court alleging that Elinice committed financial elder abuse against Frank and should be deemed to have predeceased Frank under Probate Code section 259. Elinice filed a demurrer (a written response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit) to Barbara's petition, contending that it was barred under the doctrine of res judicata. The trial court ruled in favor of Elenice. Barbara appealed.

Tune in for more on this topic on subsequent blog.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

Related Posts
  • How to Protect Your Business During Probate in California Read More
  • Where Are Probate Cases Filed? Read More
  • Does all property go through probate? Read More