(251) 299-0101

Easement - Condemnation - Res Judicata

McCrary v. Cole, [Ms. 2170508, Aug. 17, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). The McCrarys filed a complaint in Autauga Probate Court seeking condemnation of real property pursuant to § 18-3-1, Ala. Code 1975, to afford access from a public roadway to their landlocked parcel. The evidence revealed the McCrarys had previously sought a prescriptive easement concerning the same means of ingress and egress to the landlocked parcel. The issue presented on appeal was whether the doctrine of res judicata barred the subsequent action for condemnation because it was an issue that could have been raised in the earlier action which sought the prescriptive easement.

“‘[T]he application of [the doctrine of res judicata] is a question of law. Thus, the appropriate standard of review is de novo.’ Walker v. Blackwell, 800 So. 2d 582, 587 (Ala. 2001).

“‘“The elements of res judicata, or claim preclusion, are (1) a prior judgment on the merits, (2) rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) with substantial identity of the parties, and (4) with the same cause of action presented in both suits. Hughes v. Allenstein, 514 So. 2d 858, 860 (Ala. 1987). If those four elements are present, any claim that was or could have been adjudicated in the prior action is barred from further litigation.”’

Webb v. City of Demopolis, 14 So. 3d 887, 894 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008) (quoting Dairyland Ins. Co. v. Jackson, 566 So. 2d 723, 725 (Ala. 1990)).”

Bullock v. Howton, 168 So. 3d 1270, 1272 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015).

Ms. *13-14.

In order to establish a prescriptive easement, a plaintiff must show she “had used the property over which [she] saw an easement, exclusively and continuously, for more than 20 years in a manner that was adverse to the rights of the [property owners] and under a claim of right.” Ms. *16, citingAndrews v. Hatten, 794 So. 2d 1184, 1186 (Ala. Civ. App. 2001). For a plaintiff to demonstrate a right to condemn a right-of-way across the property of others, she “must prove that [she] owns landlocked property that has no reasonable access to a public roadway.” [Ms. *16, citing Williams v. Deerman, 587 So. 2d 381, 382 (Ala. Civ. App. 1991).

The Court of Civil Appeals holds “[r]es judicata ... bars a party from asserting in a subsequent action a claim that it has already had an opportunity to litigate in a previous action.” Ms. *16-17, quoting Lee L. Saad Constr. Co. v. DPF Architects, P.C., 851 So. 2d 507, 517 (Ala. 2002). Further, “[c]ourts determine whether a cause of action could have been asserted in an earlier action by determining whether the evidence necessary to support the causes of action is the same.” Ms. *17.

“‘Discussing the same-cause-of-action element of res judicata, this Court has noted that “‘“the principal test for comparing causes of action [for the application of res judicata] is whether the primary right and duty or wrong are the same in each action.”’” Old Republic Ins. Co. v. Lanier, 790 So. 2d 922, 928 (Ala. 2000) (quoting Wesch v. Folsom, 6 F.3d 1465, 1471 (11th Cir. 1993)). This Court further stated: “‘Res judicata applies not only to the exact legal theories advanced in the prior case, but to all legal theories and claims arising out of the same nucleus of operative facts.’” 790 So. 2d at 928 (quoting Wesch, 6 F.3d at 1471). As a result, two causes of action are the same for res judicata purposes “‘when the same evidence is applicable in both actions.’” Old Republic Ins. Co., 790 So. 2d at 928 (quoting Hughes v. Martin, 533 So. 2d 188, 191 (Ala. 1988)).’”

Bullock v. Howton, 168 So. 3d at 1273 (quoting Chapman Nursing Home, Inc. v. McDonald, 985 So. 2d 914, 921 (Ala. 2007)). See also Equity Res. Mgmt., Inc. v. Vinson, 723 So. 2d at 637 (“[W]hether the second action presents the same cause of action depends on whether the issues in the two actions are the same and on whether substantially the same evidence would support a recovery in both actions.”).

Ms. *17-18.

The court concludes res judicata did not preclude the McCrarys from seeking to condemn a right-of-way because circuit courts do not have jurisdiction over such cases, such that the McCrarys could not have sought condemnation in the prior proceeding. Ms. *18-19.

“The doctrine of res judicata does not necessarily apply when ‘[t]he plaintiff was unable to rely on a certain theory ... or to seek a certain remedy or form of relief in the first action because of the limitations on the subject matter jurisdiction of the courts or restrictions on their authority to entertain multiple theories or demands for multiple remedies or forms of relief in a single action ....’ Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 26 (1982). In other words, ‘[i]f the court rendering judgment lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim or if the procedural rules of the court made it impossible to raise a claim, then it is not precluded.’ Browning v. Navarro, 887 F.2d 553, 558 (5th Cir. 1989).”

Lloyd Noland Found., Inc. v. HealthSouth Corp., 979 So. 2d 784, 795 (Ala. 2007).

Ms. *19.

In contrast, the court concludes the trial court did not err in ruling that the McCrarys’ claim seeking a declaration of a roadway as a public road was barred by the doctrine of res judicata because that issue could have been raised in the prior action which sought a prescriptive easement providing access to the alleged public road. Quoting (Ms. *23) Green v. Wedowee Hosp., 584 So. 2d 1309, 1315 (Ala. 1991), the court concludes the McCrarys could have litigated the issue about the public roadway in the prior filed action:

“As we emphasized in Whisman v. Alabama Power Co., 512 So. 2d 78, 81 (Ala. 1987), this Court has recognized the doctrine of res judicata in that ‘[t]he interest of society demands that there be an end to litigation, that multiple litigation be discouraged, not encouraged, and that the judicial system be used economically by promoting a comprehensive approach to the first case tried.’ See, also, Reed v. Farm Bureau Mut. Cas. Ins. Co., 549 So. 2d 3 (Ala. 1989) (a case in which we said that the purpose of the doctrine of res judicata was to prohibit the relitigation of claims, so as not to unnecessarily subject a defendant to the expense and trouble of repeatedly defending himself).”

Id.

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