Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Bucks County, No. 83-9346-09-1.
Jeffrey Hoyle, Lansdale, for appellants.
John N. Schaeffer, Doylestown, for appellee.
Wickersham, Wieand and Popovich, JJ.
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The issue in this appeal involves an application of the doctrine of res judicata. The trial court refused to apply
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the doctrine because judgment in a prior action between the same parties had been entered by agreement before a district justice and because, in the trial court's opinion, it did not constitute a final adjudication of the merits. We reverse.
Frederick and Veronica Clime, husband and wife, entered an oral agreement with A.C. Elfman & Sons, Inc., a contractor, by which the contractor agreed to make repairs to Climes' home. When the Climes failed to pay a balance which the contractor believed to be due, an action was commenced by the contractor before a district justice. Prior to the hearing on June 7, 1983, a judgment was entered by agreement in favor of the defendants. Following the entry of this judgment by the district justice, the contractor filed a notice of appeal in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County. When the contractor failed to file a complaint within twenty days thereafter, as required by Pa.R.C.P.D.J. 1004 A, the Climes moved, pursuant to Pa.R.C.P.D.J. 1006, to strike the appeal. The trial court granted the motion and struck the contractor's appeal by an order dated August 17, 1983. No appeal was taken from that order.
More than four months later, on December 30, 1983, the contractor filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas to a different docket number. The cause of action was the same as that for which recovery had been sought in the action commenced before the district justice. The Climes filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer, alleging that the prior judgment entered by the district justice was res judicata and barred the new action. The trial court dismissed the preliminary objections. The court also denied a later motion for summary judgment made by appellants on grounds that appellee's action was barred by res judicata. The case was thereafter heard by a board of arbitration, pursuant to compulsory arbitration rules in effect in Bucks County, and resulted in an award for the contractor in the amount of $871.85. An appeal was then filed in the Court of Common Pleas by the Climes, where the action was heard non-jury. The defense of res judicata
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was again asserted by the Climes and rejected by the trial court. A verdict was entered for the contractor in the same amount which had been awarded by the board of arbitrators. A post-trial motion for judgment n.o.v., again asserting the defense of res judicata, was denied, and judgment was entered on the verdict. The Climes appealed.
The doctrine of res judicata establishes that "a final valid judgment upon the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction bars any future suit between the parties or their privies, on the same cause of action." Keystone Building Corp. v. Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, 468 Pa. 85, 91, 360 A.2d 191, 194 (1976) quoting Burke v. Pittsburgh Limestone Corp., 375 Pa. 390, 395, 100 A.2d 595, 598 (1953). See: Stevenson v. Silverman, 417 Pa. 187, 190, 208 A.2d 786, 788, cert. denied, 382 U.S. 833, 86 S.Ct. 76, 15 L.Ed.2d 76 (1965). To establish the defense of res judicata, four elements must be shown: (1) identity of the thing sued upon; (2) identity of the cause of action; (3) identity of the parties to the action; and (4) identity of the quality or capacity of the parties suing or being sued. Keystone Building Corp. v. Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, supra; Shindel v. Leedom, 350 Pa. Super. 274, 277, 504 A.2d 353, 355 (1985); Estate of Hillegass, 322 Pa. Super. 139, 143-144, 469 A.2d 221, 223 (1983); Brandschain v. Lieberman, 320 Pa. Super. 10, 15, 466 A.2d 1035, 1038 (1983). Where the four identities are present, a judgment entered by consent or agreement will bind the parties with the same force and effect as if it had been entered after a full hearing on the merits. Keystone Building Corp. v. Lincoln Savings and Loan ...