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Court of Appeals Holds that Offensive, Non-Mutual Collateral Estoppel May Be Used Against the District of Columbia Only in Exception Circumstances

On June 30, 2016, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided District of Columbia Office of Tax & Revenue v. ExxonMobil Oil Corp., Lead No. 14-AA-1401, slip op. (D.C. June 30, 2016) in which it considered whether and under what circumstances offensive, non-mutual collateral estoppel may be used against the District of Columbia. Slip op. at 1-3.

By way of background, the doctrine of collateral estoppel may be used to preclude a party from re-litigating an issue that was actually litigated and decided in a prior case. The doctrine is used offensively when it is asserted in support of a claim or defense, and defensively when asserted to rebut a claim or defense. The party against whom the doctrine is asserted must have been a party to the prior case. Assertion of the doctrine is non-mutual if the party who is asserting it was not also a party to the prior case.

The Court of Appeals held that offensive, non-mutual collateral estoppel may be used against the District of Columbia but only in exceptional circumstances. First, the traditional requirements for asserting collateral estoppel must be met; specifically, the relevant issue must have been actually litigated and decided by a valid and final judgment after a full and fair opportunity for litigation. Id. at 14 & n.8. Second, the traditional requirement for asserting the non-mutual variant of collateral estoppel must be met; specifically, assertion of the doctrine must be deemed fair based upon a balancing of various factors. Id. at 14. Third, in cases against the District of Columbia, there must be a showing of exceptional circumstances, i.e., that the interests of justice clearly require application of offensive, non-mutual collateral estoppel. Id. at 15.

To view the Court of Appeals’ opinion, click here.