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Posted: July 13, 2014

Small Claims Decision Has Res Judicata Effect in Supreme Court

On July 10, 2014, the Third Department issued a decision in Tovar v. Tesoros Property Management, L.L.C., 2014 NY Slip Op. 05233, holding that UCCA 1808 does not deprive small claims judgments of res judicata effect.

In Tovar, the plaintiff sued the defendant “in Schenectady City Court for unpaid wages for work from June 2008 through August 2008.” The City Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. Three years later, the plaintiff sued the defendant in Supreme Court for “unpaid wages for work that he allegedly performed between August 2007 and March 2008.”

The trial court dismissed the complaint, holding that it was barred by res judicata. The Third Department affirmed, explaining:

Under the doctrine of res judicata, once a claim is brought to a final conclusion, all other claims arising out of the same transaction or series of transactions are barred, even if based upon different theories or if seeking a different remedy, so long as the party to be barred had a full and fair opportunity to litigate any cause of action arising out of the same transaction and the prior disposition was a final judgment on the merits. Thus, where those requirements have been met, if a plaintiff in a later action brings a claim for damages that could have been presented in a prior action against the same party, based upon the same harm and arising out of the same or related facts, the claim is barred by res judicata. Stated another way, when a plaintiff brings an action for only part of his or her cause of action, the judgment obtained in that action precludes him or her from bringing a second action for the residue of the claim.

. . .

Plaintiff’s further contention that UCCA 1808 deprives City Court’s judgment of any res judicata effect is also unavailing. We subscribe to the view that the language of this statute, as amended in 2005, only prevents small claims judgments from having issue preclusion effect (collateral estoppel), but not from having claim preclusion effect (res judicata), in subsequent actions. As the elements of res judicata were otherwise satisfied here, Supreme Court correctly dismissed the complaint on that basis.

(Internal quotations and citations omitted) (emphasis added).

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