The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Barry Ted Moskowitz United States District Judge
COMPLAINT WITH PREJUDICE ORDER DISMISSING CROSS AND RELATED CROSS-COMPLAINT.
Pending before the Court is Cross-Defendant Minnesota Life Insurance Company's motion to dismiss the cross-complaint. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS Cross-Defendant's motion and DISMISSES the cross-complaint (Doc. 22) with prejudice.
At the time of his death, William Roberts's life was insured by Plaintiff/Cross-Defendant Minnesota Life Insurance Company ("Minnesota Life") in the amount of $154,000.00. Defendant/Cross-Complainant Sue Roberts, the wife of the late Mr. Roberts, was the designated beneficiary under that policy (the "policy"). (RJN, Doc. 23-3, Ex. A.)
During the course of Minnesota Life's claims investigation, Minnesota Life learned that Mr. Roberts's death was considered a homicide, and that Ms. Roberts had not been cleared as a suspect. (Id.)
On August 20, 2010, Minnesota Life commenced this action by filing a complaint for interpleader (Doc. 1), interpleading the amount owing on the policy plus statutory interest ($173,404.00, or the "disputed amount") and requesting the Court to resolve actual and potential conflicting claims to the disputed amount between Ms. Roberts and Defendant Bryan Roberts, the deceased's son.
On December 23, 2010, the Court entered a Stipulated Judgment (Doc. 13), signed by all parties, in which the Court found, in relevant part, that: (a) Minnesota Life "filed its Complaint in Interpleader in good faith . . . , that this is a proper cause for interpleader, and that Minnesota Life is hereby granted judgment of interpleader;" and (b) "Minnesota Life is hereby released, discharged, and acquitted of and from any liability of any kind or nature whatsoever under the Policy[.]" (RJN, Ex. C ¶¶ 1, 4 (emphasis added).)
Shortly thereafter, Bryan Roberts and Ms. Roberts's reached a settlement regarding the disputed amount, and, on January 6, 2011, they jointly moved for an order dismissing the matter with prejudice and directing the distribution of the disputed amount to the parties in accordance with the terms of their settlement. (RJN, Ex. D.) On January 13, 2011, the Court dismissed the entire action with prejudice. (RJN, Ex. E.)
All was quiet for nearly seven months until Ms. Roberts filed a cross-complaint against Minnesota Life. The cross-complaint alleges, in relevant part, the following: (a) Counsel for Ms. Roberts provided evidence to Minnesota Life in July 2010 indicating that the police believed that "everyone" is a potential suspect, and there were "compelling reasons" to pay the full benefit to Ms. Roberts; (b) Minnesota Life filed a "Rule 22 Complaint in Interpleader without a good faith basis or legal justification[;]" and (c) Minnesota Life's failure to pay the full benefit to Ms. Roberts upon receipt of proof the late Mr. Roberts died while the policy was in effect constitutes "'post claims underwriting;' i.e., adding new terms to the insurance policy after the policy was issued and after the death of the insured." (Doc. 22 ¶¶ 20, 23, 26.) On these grounds, Ms. Roberts alleges nine causes of action: declaratory relief; breach of contract; tortious breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; Brandt fees; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; fraud; negligent misrepresentation; and coverage by estoppel. Ms. Roberts seeks, inter alia, payment of the full amount of the policy benefit, costs incurred investigating the death of Mr. Roberts, all attorneys' fees and costs incurred pursuing the payment of the benefit (prior to and during this lawsuit), and other damages in excess of $500,000.
Pending before the Court is Minnesota Life's motion to dismiss the cross-complaint with prejudice.
The posture of this case is unusual: Notwithstanding the fact that the Court has already entered the Stipulated Judgment and dismissed the entire case with prejudice, Ms. Roberts has chosen to file a cross-complaint in this same action--rather than challenging the judgment by motion under Rules 59 or 60(b), appealing, or commencing a new action. As a result of the posture of this case, the Court analyzes the preclusive effect of the Stipulated judgment and the dismissal of this action with prejudice under the doctrine of res judicata, rather than the law-of-the-case doctrine ordinarily governing preclusion issues that arise within a single litigation prior to the entry of a final judgment.*fn1
"Res judicata, or claim preclusion, prevents relitigation of a claim previously tried and decided." Clark v. Bear Stearns & Co., 966 F.2d 1318, 1320 (9th Cir. 1992). "Res judicata bars all grounds for recovery which could have been asserted, whether they were or not, in a prior suit between the same parties on the same cause of action." Id. (citing McClain v. Apodaca, 793 F.2d 1031, 1033 (9th Cir. 1986)). The Court considers four factors "when determining whether successive lawsuits involve the same 'cause of action': (1) whether rights or interests established in the prior judgment would be destroyed or impaired by the prosecution of the second action; (2) whether substantially the same evidence is presented in the two actions; (3) whether the two actions involve infringement of the same right; and (4) whether the two actions arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts." Littlejohn v. United States, 321 F.3d 915, 920 (9th Cir. 2003).
Res judicata clearly bars the majority of Ms. Roberts's cross-complaint. There is no doubt that the primary purpose of the present lawsuit is "to compel Cross-Defendant's performance of its contractual and statutory obligations under its insurance policy[.]" (Cplt. ¶ 29, see also id. ¶¶ 30-31.) The issue of Minnesota Life's obligations under the policy is the precise issue already litigated to completion in this matter and permanently resolved by the entry of the Stipulated Judgment and the dismissal of the interpleader action with prejudice. (RJN, Exs. D and E.) To remove any doubt, the Stipulated Judgment states in clear terms that "Minnesota Life is hereby released, discharged, and acquitted of and from any liability of any kind or nature whatsoever under the Policy[.]" (RJN, Ex. C ¶ 4.) Thus, the Court dismisses with prejudice all causes of action that would require the Court to revisit the issue of Minnesota Life's obligations arising ...