Tumacacori Mission Land Devt. v. Union Pacific Railroad (CA2 1/30/13)

This res judicata case could have been short, clear, and helpful.

Tumacacori sued to establish a prescriptive easement over a Union Pacific line. UP moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted it and the Court of Appeals affirmed. After that Tumacacori moved to amend its Complaint to assert other easement theories. The trial court denied the motion; Tumacacori appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirms. It is black-letter law that a final judgment makes all claims that were or could have been brought res judicata. Tumacacori tried to argue that res judicata doesn’t apply in equity, which the court dismisses easily.

But the court doesn’t seem to feel that that’s quite enough so it adds other things, none of which are useful.

For example, the court points out that Tumacacori did not file a Rule 60(c) motion. But what difference would that have made? On what basis could the trial judge possibly have granted that motion? Its true that setting aside the judgment can be a way around res judicata but that isn’t the court’s point – it mentions 60(c) “preliminarily,” before even starting its res judicata analysis. So what is the court’s point? Goodness knows.

Tumacacori argued that the judgment was on the issue of prescriptive easement. The court points out that UP’s summary-judgment motion also dealt with easements by implied necessity. But so what? The court admits that its opinion in the first appeal talked about prescriptive easements. The point of res judicatai.e., the point of this case – is that it doesn’t matter what was actually argued since everything that could have been argued is also concluded.

UP used the term “res judicata.” The court includes a footnote to say “We use the more modern term ‘claim preclusion’ instead of res judicata.” The court is apparently proud of that, which is depressing. The movement by law professors to replace the established terms “res judicata” and “collateral estoppel” with the the bland and confusing “claim preclusion” and “issue preclusion” – which are less, not more, descriptive of the concepts – has been followed in the practice largely by those whose grasp of what any of them means is sometimes less than clear. We wish the courts could be prouder of knowledge than of modernity.

(link to opinion)