Res Judicata is a trap that inexperienced litigants can fall into. Res judicata bars a party who had the opportunity to press its claims from later bringing another action involving the same occurrences, even though the causes of action are different. The term res judicata is generally used in two different ways, issue preclusion and claim preclusion. In Gener-Villar v. Adcom Group, Inc. , 417 F.3d 201 203 (3d Cir. 2005), the First Circuit explained:
The first doctrine (known variously as claim preclusion, merger and bar doctrine, or simply res judicata) “generally binds parties from litigating or relitigating any [claim] that was or could have been litigated in a prior adjudication and prevents claim splitting.” … The second doctrine (known as issue preclusion or collateral estoppel) forecloses relitigation in a subsequent action of a fact essential for rendering a judgment in a prior action between the same parties even when different causes of action are involved … .
In the case of copyright infringement, claim preclusion will bar later, related litigation if the first suit was brought in federal court. But what if the first suit was brought in state court? There can be no claim preclusion because claims arising under the Copyright Act can never be brought in state court due to the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts. This principle was affirmed this week by the Third Circuit in Walzer v. Muriel, Siebert & Co., Inc., 2007 WL 990265 (3d Cir. April 4, 2007), where the court, per curiam wrote:
Nor is claim preclusion a bar to Walzer's federal claims in this action. Under New York law, a prior judgment between the parties generally bars any subsequent cause of action arising out of the same occurrence or transaction. See O'Brien v. City of Syracuse, 54 N.Y.2d 353, 357, 429 N.E.2d 1158 (1981). However, the prior judgment will not act as res judicata if the current claim could not have been asserted in the previous action. Yoon v. Fordham Univ. Faculty and Admin. Ret. Plan, 236 F.3d 196, 206 (2d Cir.2001) (J. Kaplan concurring). If the current claim is in the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts, then the New York state court would not have had jurisdiction to hear it and a judgment will not act as res judicata. See Cullen v. Margiotta, 811 F.2d 698, 732 (2d Cir.1987) (holding RICO claim was not barred by prior New York judgment), overruled on other grounds, Agency Holding Corp. v. Malley-Duff & Assocs., Inc., 483 U.S. 143 (1987); see also RX Data Corp. v. Dept. of Social Servs., 684 F.2d 192, 198 (2d Cir.1982)(finding that copyright infringement claim was not barred by previous litigation in New York state courts because copyright infringement claims are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts).