Claim preclusion, also known as res judicata, prohibits parties from relitigating claims that was fully litigated previously. This doctrine is important for a variety of reasons. First, claim preclusion is fair for a defendant against having to litigate the same thing several times. Additionally, it prevents plaintiffs from testing several theories in different proceedings and encourages them to bring all arguments at the same time. Further, it minimizes the expenses on the court and the parties. Finally, claim preclusion strengthens the public confidence in the judicial system.

This doctrine is easy to confuse with retrials, collateral proceedings, and double jeopardy. However, retrials are simply a continuation of an original proceeding. Additionally collateral proceedings are enforcement of an original proceeding. Finally, although double jeopardy is similar to claim preclusion, there are a few key differences. Double jeopardy only applies to criminal cases, is constitutionally based (instead of common law), and only benefits defendants.

There are three main elements to this doctrine:

  1. The claim must be the same as previously litigated.
  2. There is a final judgment on the original litigation based on merits.
  3. The parties involved are the same.

In other words, failure to bring these related claims waives the ability to bring the claims later. It is important to note that preclusion applies to all jurisdictions, state and federal. The burden is on the defendant to show that claim preclusion applies (affirmative defense).

Defining a Claim

How do you determine whether the claim is the same one as previously litigated?

River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park

703 N.E.2d 883 (Ill. 1998).

River Park originally lost in all federal courts. When they attempted to make claims in state court, they lost on the circuit (trial) level but won on appeal. The City now appeals.


How do you determine if the cause of action previously litigated is the same as the present litigation?


“The assertion of different kinds of theories of relief still constitutes a single cause of action if a single group of operative facts give rise to the assertion of relief.”

In other words, if both litigations are related to the same fact pattern, then the two cases are the same cause of action.


Here, the cause of action is the same. All the elements for res judicata is satisfied. Therefore, the appellate court is reversed and the district court is affirmed.


River Park has acquired several acres of land (162) for development of a country club. However, to begin development, they had to get approval from the City Council. Little did River Park know, the City Council wanted to purchase the land. Consequently, they were slow in approving the development plan resulting in foreclosure of the property. As a result of the foreclosure, the bank was able to purchase the land at a discount.

River Park sued the city in federal court for “depriving them of their property rights without due process of the law in violation of the United States Constitution.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, the federal courts determined that no violation had occurred and dismissed the case. Not to be deterred, River Park took the case to state courts arguing “1) tortious interference with business expectancy, 2) breach of implied contract, and 3) abuse of governmental power.” The argument is that these are different theories of the law and therefore a different cause of action.


There were two possible tests that the court could choose to adopt. First, the same evidence test. Second, the transactional test. The same evidence test is pretty narrow, meaning most new claims could pass that test. Thus, the court adopted the broader transactional test. This test should be applied as the sole test because it falls in line of recent precedent and aligns with federal courts (and many other state courts).

Thus, the application of the transactional test will show that all theories of the claim arise from the same fact pattern. Therefore, the cause of action is the same. Because this element is met and the other elements are satisfied (final judgment and same parties involved) the claim is precluded.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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