U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit
filed: August 18, 1995.
BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY APPELLEE
HYUNDAI MERCHANT MARINE CO., LTD. APPELLANT
On Appeal From the United States District Court For the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civ. No. 93-cv-01478).
Before: Becker, Scirica, and Wood, Circuit Judges.*fn*
Opinion OF THE COURT
BECKER, Circuit Judge.
This appeal concerns the timeliness of a maritime indemnity claim under the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 11707, though its ultimate Disposition turns on the application of an "unmixed questions of law" exception to the doctrine of issue preclusion. The case arises from a shipment of furnace equipment by Tongil Co., Ltd. from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Pusan, South Korea that arrived in damaged condition. The goods were carried by rail from Milwaukee to Seattle by plaintiff Burlington Northern Railroad Company ("Burlington"), and thence by sea to Pusan by defendant Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. ("Hyundai"). The damage apparently occurred while the cargo was in the possession of Burlington, but Tongil sued Hyundai for the damage. The case settled and approximately one month following the settlement, Hyundai sought indemnity from Burlington, which refused to pay because notice of the claim was not given within nine months following the delivery of the shipment as required in a Burlington circular, adopted as part of the contract of carriage.
Burlington brought a declaratory judgment action in district court. The court granted summary judgment for Burlington, and Hyundai brought this appeal. Although the legal question implicated by the timeliness issue is an interesting and important one, this appeal turns not on that issue but on the doctrine of issue preclusion, for Hyundai's principal argument on appeal is that, in holding the notice of the claim untimely, the district court erred by failing to give issue preclusive effect to a decision by the District Court for the Western District of Washington in Atlantic Mutual v. OOCL, (W.D. Wash 1992). That case involved an indemnity claim brought against Burlington by a different ocean carrier for damage sustained to a shipment of Samsonite luggage from Taiwan to Denver via Seattle. The Atlantic Mutual court concluded that a time limit contained in a Burlington circular (adopted as part of the contract of carriage) did not foreclose the action in indemnity since such claims do not accrue and time limitations therefore cannot commence until liability is determined or a cognizable loss is incurred. If this general rule for indemnity claims were applied in the present action, Hyundai's claim would have been timely presented.
The district court in this case rejected Hyundai's argument and refused to apply the doctrine of issue preclusion to the issue resolved in Atlantic Mutual, relying on an exception for "unmixed questions of law," the scope of which is a question of first impression in this circuit. While the continued viability of this exception has been called into question by the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 464 U.S. 165, 104 S. Ct. 575, 78 L. Ed. 2d 388 (1984), we conclude that such an exception for questions of law continues to apply, and that it is satisfied only so long as the issue involved is one of law and either (1) the two actions involve claims that are substantially unrelated or (2) a new determination of the legal issue is warranted in order to take account of an intervening change in the applicable legal context or otherwise to avoid inequitable administration of the laws. See RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF JUDGMENTS § 28 (1982).
Because the Atlantic Mutual action and this case are not substantially unrelated and since a new determination of the legal issue involved is not warranted, we conclude that the district court erred by relying on this exception to the otherwise applicable doctrine of issue preclusion. Accordingly, we will reverse the order of the district court granting summary judgment to Burlington, and direct the district court on remand to grant issue preclusive effect to the decision of the district court in Atlantic Mutual.*fn1
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
A. The Tongil Action
Hyundai's indemnity claim originates in an action brought by Tongil in the District Court for the Central District of California for damages sustained to a cargo of furnace equipment shipped aboard M/V Hyundai Innovator in 1986 from Seattle, Washington to Pusan, South Korea. See Tongil Co. v. Vessel Hyundai Innovator, Case No. 88-04895 (C.D. Ca. 1988). The cargo had originally been shipped from Milwaukee to Seattle via Burlington railcar. On August 10, 1988, Tongil filed suit against Hyundai for the damages sustained to the shipment. On December 15, 1988, in response, Hyundai gave Burlington notice of its indemnity claim, but Burlington denied Hyundai's claim as not having been filed within the nine month time limitation prescribed in its circular and adopted as part of the contract of carriage. In particular, Burlington relied on Item 12 of its Rules Memorandum 2-C, which provides:
As a condition precedent to recovery, any claim for loss or damage to lading shall be filed with BN [Burlington Northern] within nine (9) months of the date of delivery of the shipment, or within nine (9) months of a reasonable time for delivery in the event of non-delivery. Claim shall be supported with a copy of the shipping order, invoice, inspection report, or other proof of loss, and, if possible, the paid freight bill.
App. at 107.
In the underlying action by Tongil against Hyundai, to which Burlington was not a party, the District Court for the Central District of California concluded, following a bench trial, that the cargo was in fact damaged while in the possession of Burlington; yet the court awarded Tongil $114,870.64 in damages, interests, and costs against Hyundai. Hyundai appealed the judgment to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed. See Tongil Co. v. Vessel Hyundai Innovator, 968 F.2d 999 (9th Cir. 1992). Following the appeal, Hyundai settled the action with Tongil for $10,000 and then on January 26, 1993, requested indemnity of this amount together with legal expenses and costs totaling $104,079.49, which Burlington again denied.
B. The Atlantic Mutual Action
While Burlington was relying on Item 2-C of its Rules Memorandum to deny Hyundai's indemnity claim, it was defending another indemnity action in the District Court for the Western District of Washington brought by Orient Overseas Container Line ("OOCL"). See Atlantic Mutual v. OOCL, (W.D. Wash. 1992). Like Hyundai's claim, the viability of OOCL's claim in the Atlantic Mutual action turned on the question whether the general rule for indemnity accrual -- that an indemnity claim "does not accrue until the indemnitee's liability is determined by judgment or payment," id. at * 9-10, and, therefore, that a statute of limitations on an indemnity claim cannot begin to run until such time -- should apply despite Item 2-C of Burlington's Rules Memorandum, which provided that the time limitation should be measured from the date of delivery. Atlantic Mutual had filed suit against OOCL to recover payments that Atlantic Mutual had made as an insurer to Samsonite Pacific, Ltd. ("Samsonite") for damages to a shipment of luggage en route from Taiwan to Denver via Seattle. In response, OOCL had filed a third party claim against Burlington for indemnity for its liability to Atlantic Mutual.
Burlington's denial of OOCL's indemnity claim was based solely on its contention that the claim was time barred since OOCL had failed to bring suit within the time period specified in Burlington Rules Memorandum 2-C. This provision provided that "all suits against BN [Burlington Northern] shall be commenced no later than 1 year after the date of delivery." Id. at * 5. OOCL, which notified Burlington of its claim more than one year after delivery, contended that this contractual limitations period did not alter the general rule governing actions in indemnity. The Washington district court agreed with OOCL and concluded that its "cross-claim for indemnification is not barred by the limitations period in Burlington Northern's Rules Memorandum 2-C." Id. at * 12. In reaching this Conclusion, the court relied on the opinion of the Ninth Circuit in States S.S. Co. v. American Smelting & Refining Co., 339 F.2d 66, 70 (9th Cir. 1964), cert. denied 380 U.S. 964, 14 L. Ed. 2d 155, 85 S. Ct. 1109 (1965), which it read as concluding that an "indemnity claim . . . does not accrue until the indemnitee has made actual payment." Atlantic Mutual at * 12; see also id. ("An action for indemnification accrues at the time of the indemnitee's payment despite a shorter contractual time limitations period applying to claims between the parties.").
C. The Hyundai Action
Following the decision in Atlantic Mutual, Burlington, having already denied Hyundai's claim for indemnity in connection with the shipment of furnace equipment on several occasions, instituted this action on April 1, 1993, in the District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking a declaratory judgment that Hyundai had no timely claim against Burlington. In response, Hyundai filed a counterclaim seeking the $104,079.49 from Burlington in indemnity, and moved to transfer both actions to either the Central District of California or the Western District of Washington pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), given that none of the facts in the present case or the underlying action occurred in New Jersey and that neither of the parties is incorporated or has a principal place of business in New Jersey.
Burlington responded by moving for summary judgment on its declaratory judgment action. Hyundai opposed this motion on the grounds that (1) Burlington was estopped from relitigating the issues decided in Atlantic Mutual and (2) that, on the merits, Hyundai's indemnity claim was timely presented. The district court rejected both of these arguments, granted Burlington's request for summary judgment in the declaratory judgment action, dismissed Hyundai's counterclaim, and denied as moot Hyundai's motion to transfer the case. In rejecting Hyundai's estoppel argument, the district court held: "The Court interprets the Atlantic Mutual decision as involving a pure question of law, decided under the law of another Circuit, and therefore will not accord it issue-preclusive effect." Dist Op. at 8. This appeal followed.
Since the district court's decision to grant summary judgment rested on a legal determination of when issue preclusion should apply to "unmixed questions of law," our review is plenary. In reviewing the district court's decision, we apply federal common law principles of issue preclusion since we are examining the issue preclusive effect of a prior federal court action. See NLRB v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 930 F.2d 316, 320 (3d Cir. 1991); Hicks v. Quaker Oats Co., 662 F.2d 1158, 1166 (5th Cir. 1981).
II. ISSUE PRECLUSION
The doctrine of issue preclusion,*fn2 which is at issue in this action, derives from the simple principle that "later courts should honor the first actual decision of a matter that has been actually litigated." 18 CHARLES A. WRIGHT ET. AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 4416 (1981) [hereinafter WRIGHT & MILLER].*fn3 This doctrine ensures that "once an issue is actually and necessarily determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, that determination is conclusive in subsequent suits based on a different cause of action involving a party to the prior litigation," Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153, 99 S. Ct. 970, 973, 59 L. Ed. 2d 210 (1979). The prerequisites for the application of issue preclusion are satisfied when: "(1) the issue sought to be precluded [is] the same as that involved in the prior action; (2) that issue was actually litigated; (3) it was determined by a final and valid judgment; and (4) the determination [was] essential to the prior judgment." In re Graham, 973 F.2d 1089, 1097 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting In re Braen, 900 F.2d 621, 628-29 n.5 (3d Cir. 1979), cert. denied 498 U.S. 1066, 111 S. Ct. 782, 112 L. Ed. 2d 845 (1991)).
Complete identity of parties in the two suits is not required for the application of issue preclusion. Here Hyundai, which was not a party to the first suit (the Atlantic Mutual action), attempts to use issue preclusion offensively against Burlington, which was a party in the first action. Such an application of issue preclusion is referred to as offensive*fn4 non-mutual*fn5 collateral estoppel, which has been recognized as proper by the Supreme Court in Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326, 99 S. Ct. 645, 649, 58 L. Ed. 2d 552 (1979).*fn6 The Court in Parklane concluded that "a litigant who was not a party to a prior judgment may nevertheless use that judgment 'offensively' to prevent a defendant from relitigating issues resolved in the earlier proceeding," id. at 326, 99 S. Ct. at 649, subject to an overriding fairness determination by the trial Judge.*fn7
B. The Exception for Unmixed Questions of Law
In this action, the parties did not dispute (with one exception detailed in the margin) that all of the primary requirements for application of non-mutual offensive collateral estoppel were satisfied*fn8 and the sole basis of the district court's decision not to apply issue preclusion in this action was based on an exception for "unmixed questions of law." In this appeal, Hyundai contends that the district court erred in applying this exception, and in refusing to grant issue preclusive effect to the decision of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Atlantic Mutual. The viability and/or proper scope of the exception for "unmixed questions of law" is an issue of first impression in this Circuit.
The Restatement (Second) of Judgments defines the exception for "unmixed questions of law" as follows:
§ 28. Exceptions to the General Rule of Issue
Although an issue is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment, relitigation of the issue in the subsequent action between the parties is not precluded in the following circumstances:
(2) The issue is one of law and (a) the two actions involve claims that are substantially unrelated, or (2) a new determination is warranted in order to take account of an intervening change in the applicable legal context or otherwise to avoid inequitable administration of the laws.
RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF JUDGMENTS § 28(2) (1982).*fn9
This exception to the doctrine of issue preclusion has its roots in a statement made by the Supreme Court over seventy years ago in United States v. Moser, 266 U.S. 236, 45 S. Ct. 66, 69 L. Ed. 262 (1924). Moser was a retired Navy captain, who successfully contended, in an initial case before the U.S. Court of Claims, that time spent as a Naval Academy cadet during the Civil War qualified as "service during the civil war", entitling him to a pension enhancement under an applicable pension statute. Moser, 266 U.S. at 240, 45 S. Ct. at 66. In a later case, which did not involve Moser, the Court of Claims changed its interpretation of the pension statute and concluded that service as a naval cadet did not qualify as "service during the war" under the statute. Id. Notwithstanding this change in the law, in subsequent actions brought by Moser for later installments of his enhanced pension benefits, the Court of Claims relied on, inter alia, the doctrine of issue preclusion to permit Moser to continue to receive the enhanced pension benefits. The government appealed, and the Supreme Court affirmed the application of issue preclusion.
In Moser, the Court addressed, and rejected, the contention that issue preclusion should not apply on the ground that a pure question of law was involved:
The contention of the Government seems to be that the doctrine of res judicata does not apply to questions of law; and, in a sense, that is true. It does not apply to unmixed questions of law. Where, for example, a court in deciding a case has enunciated a rule of law, the parties in a subsequent action upon a different demand are not estopped from insisting that the law is otherwise, merely because the parties are the same in both cases. But a fact, question or right distinctly adJudged in the original action cannot be disputed in a subsequent action, even though the determination was reached upon an erroneous view or by an erroneous application of the law. That would be to affirm the principle in respect of the thing adJudged but, at the same time, deny it all efficacy by sustaining a challenge to the grounds upon which the judgment was based.
Id. at 242, 45 S. Ct. at 67. Thus the Court concluded that "the question expressly and definitely presented in this suit is the same as that definitely and actually litigated and adJudged in favor of the claimant in the three preceding suits, viz: whether he occupied the status of an officer who had served during the civil war." Id. at 242, 45 S. Ct. at 67. For this reason, the Court concluded issue preclusion was proper.
The Supreme Court next addressed the possible application of this exception some fifty-five years later in Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 99 S. Ct. 970, 59 L. Ed. 2d 210 (1979), a case of mutual defensive collateral estoppel which involved successive Supremacy Clause challenges to Montana's imposition of a one percent gross receipts tax on public, but not private, construction projects. In the initial action, a public contractor, financed by the federal government, litigated the constitutionality of the tax in state court. The Montana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the tax. Instead of seeking certiorari, the government, acting on its own behalf, brought a similar challenge in the federal district court in Montana, and that case reached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court determined that, under these circumstances, mutuality of parties existed since the government, which directed the litigation on behalf of the public contractor in the first action, was, for all practical purposes, the party in the first action. The Court affirmed the defensive use of mutual collateral estoppel against the federal government since the issue sought to be litigated was identical to the issue already litigated in the state court action and no change in controlling facts or legal principles had occurred. Id. at 155-62, 99 S. Ct. at 974-78. The Court rejected the contention that issue preclusion should not apply under an exception for "unmixed question of law":
Of possible relevance is the exception which obtains for "unmixed questions of law" in successive actions involving substantially unrelated claims. . . .
Id. at 162-63, 99 S. Ct. at 978 (citations omitted).
The Supreme Court most recently addressed the proper scope of this exception in United States v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 464 U.S. 165, 104 S. Ct. 575, 78 L. Ed. 2d 388 (1984), which involved successive actions brought by the EPA against Stauffer in response to the company's refusal to submit to inspections by private contractors hired by the EPA. At issue was whether private contractors were "authorized representatives" under § 114(a)(2) of the Clean Air Act. In the initial action, which involved an attempt by the EPA to inspect Stauffer's Wyoming plant, the Tenth Circuit held for Stauffer, concluding that private contractors were not "authorized representatives" under the statute. The identical question then arose with regard to an EPA inspection of Stauffer's Tennessee plant, leading the Sixth Circuit to conclude, inter alia , that the federal government was estopped from relitigating the question whether private contractors constituted authorized representatives under the Clean Air Act.
The government appealed and the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding "that the doctrine of mutual defensive collateral estoppel is applicable against the Government to preclude relitigation of the same issue already litigated against the same party in another case involving virtually identical facts." Id. at 169, 104 S. Ct. at 578. In so doing it rejected the government's reliance on an exception for "unmixed questions of law" and expressed serious doubt regarding the proper scope of the exception:
While our Discussion in Montana indicates that the exception is generally recognized, we are frank to admit uncertainty as to its application. The exception seems to require a determination as to whether an "issue of fact" or an "issue of law" is sought to be relitigated and then a determination as to whether the "issue of law" arises in a successive case that is so unrelated to the prior case that relitigation of the issue is warranted. Yet we agree that, for the purpose of determining when to apply an estoppel, when the claims in two separate actions between the same parties are the same or are closely related it is not ordinarily necessary to characterize an issue as one of fact or of law for purposes of issue preclusion. In such a case, it is unfair to the winning party and an unnecessary burden on the courts to allow repeated litigation of the same issue in what is essentially the same controversy, even if the issue is regarded as one of "law."
Id. at 171, 104 S. Ct. at 579 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Court further explained that "an exception which requires a rigid determination of whether an issue is one of fact, law, or mixed fact and law, as a practical matter, would often be impossible to apply because the journey from a pure question of fact to a pure question of law is one of subtle gradations rather than one marked by a rigid divide." Id. at 171 n.4, 104 S. Ct. at 579 n.4.
Hyundai contends that given these statements, the Stauffer Court effectively overruled the issue preclusion exception for "unmixed questions of law." We disagree. Despite its diffidence and ruminations, we do not believe that the Court's decision in Stauffer overruled the exception for unmixed questions of law as set forth in the Restatement and by Wright & Miller. See 18 WRIGHT & MILLER, supra, § 4425, at 198 (1994 Supp.) ("The approach suggested in the main volume is supported by the result reached in United States v. Stauffer Chem. Co. " (footnote omitted)).*fn10
In Stauffer, the Court found the prerequisites for the exception for unmixed questions of law unsatisfied. The Court determined that neither of the two elements justifying application of the exception to issue preclusion for unmixed questions of law were present: "The Government does not argue that the § 114(a)(2) issues in Stauffer I and Stauffer II are dissimilar nor that controlling law or facts have changed since Stauffer I." Stauffer, 464 U.S. at 170, 104 S. Ct. at 578. In particular, the Court analogized to its decision in Montana, where it "determined that the exception was inapplicable because of the close alignment of time and subject matter between the [two actions],"*fn11 id. at 172, 104 S. Ct. at 579. The Court reasoned in Stauffer that "any factual differences between the two cases [the prior and instant adjudications], such as the difference in the location of the plants and the difference in the private contracting firms involved, are of no legal significance whatever in resolving the issue presented in both cases." Id. at 172, 104 S. Ct. at 579.
Admitting that "the purpose underlying the exception for 'unmixed questions of law' in successive actions on unrelated claims is far from clear," id., the Court concluded: "whatever its purpose or extent, we think that there is no reason to apply it here . . ., [and doing so] would substantially frustrate the doctrine's purpose of protecting litigants from burdensome relitigation and of promoting judicial economy." Id. Moreover, the Court rejected the government's argument that "two cases presenting the same legal issue must arise from the very same facts or transaction before an estoppel can be applied." Id. at 172 n.5, 104 S. Ct. at 579 n.5. "Whatever applicability that interpretation may have in the tax context, see Commissioner v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591, 601-602, 92 L. Ed. 898, 68 S. Ct. 715 (1948) (refusing to apply an estoppel when two tax cases presenting the same issue arose from 'separable facts'), [the Court] rejected its general applicability outside of that context." Id.*fn12
In sum, the Stauffer opinion is consistent with the approach codified in the Restatement. See Clark-Cowlitz Joint Operating Agency v. F.E.R.C., 249 U.S. App. D.C. 316, 775 F.2d 366, 375 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (recognizing after the Court's decision in Stauffer that "the test for the exception seems to be . . . whether 'the issue of law arises in a successive case that is so unrelated to the prior case that relitigation of the issue is warranted.'" (quoting Stauffer, 464 U.S. at 171, 104 S. Ct. at 579)); see also 18 WRIGHT & MILLER, supra, § 4425, at 199 (Supp. 1994) ("The reasons for caution are sufficiently strong . . . to rely on the opinion [Stauffer ] as a possibly appropriate response to the specific case without reading it as establishing a new general policy."). In sum, the exception continues to apply following Stauffer.
C. Application of the Unmixed Questions of Law Doctrine
The exception to the application of issue preclusion for unmixed questions of law is satisfied, as we have explained, only when the previously determined issue is one of law, and either (1) "the two actions involve claims that are substantially unrelated" or (2) "a new determination is warranted in order to take account of an intervening change in the applicable legal context or otherwise to avoid inequitable administration of the laws." RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF JUDGMENTS § 28(2). We take up the two facets of the exception in turn.
In determining whether two cases involve claims that are "substantially unrelated," we must assess whether the two cases involve the same application of law. A party cannot satisfy the "substantially unrelated claim" test where "the same general legal rules govern both cases and . . . the facts of both cases are indistinguishable as measured by those rules." 18 WRIGHT & MILLER, supra, § 4425, at 253-54 (footnotes omitted). As the Supreme Court recognized in Stauffer, issue preclusion does not require that the "two cases presenting the same legal issue must arise from the very same facts or transaction before an estoppel can be applied." Stauffer, 464 U.S. at 172 n.5, 104 S. Ct. at 579 n.5. In fact, estoppel will be applied unless "the 'issue of law' arises in a successive case that is so unrelated to the prior case that relitigation of the issue is warranted." Id. (emphasis added).
The Atlantic Mutual case, like this one, involved the denial of an indemnity claim by Burlington based solely on a Burlington contention that the claim was time barred because the claimant, in that case OOCL, had failed to provide notice of its claim within a time period specified in Burlington Rules Memorandum 2-C. And, like the provision in this action, the provision in Atlantic Mutual measured the limitations period from the date of delivery.*fn13 Like Hyundai's claim here, the viability of OOCL's claim in the Atlantic Mutual action turned on the question whether the general rule for indemnity accrual and the concomitant commencement of limitations periods should apply regardless of a contractually defined period. As we have stated, the Atlantic Mutual court, relying on Ninth Circuit precedent, concluded that a "claim for indemnification is not barred by the limitations period in Burlington Northern's Rules Memorandum 2-C," Atlantic Mutual at * 12, since "an action for indemnification accrues at the time of the indemnitee's payment despite a shorter contractual time limitations period applying to claims between the parties," id. ( citing States S.S. Co. v. American Smelting & Refining Co., 339 F.2d at 70 (9th Cir. 1964)).
In our view, the issue of law arising in this action is not "so unrelated" to the decision of the court in Atlantic Mutual "that relitigation of the issue is warranted." Stauffer, 464 U.S. at 171, 104 S. Ct. at 579. Indeed, the issue and its application are identical. Hyundai, like OOCL, seeks to recover in indemnity from Burlington on the grounds that a limitations period prohibiting shipment damage claims presented beyond a specified time cannot start running until the time that liability is determined or a cognizable loss is incurred, since actions in indemnity do not accrue until such time. If this rule for the accrual of actions in indemnity were applied in the present action Hyundai's claim would have been timely presented, like OOCL's claim against Burlington in the Atlantic Mutual action.
While, as Burlington points out, the contractual limitations provision in this case provides for a shorter period of time (nine months as opposed to one year), and applies to the presentation of "claims" as compared to the filing of "suits," these distinctions are of no legal significance to the issue decided in Atlantic Mutual and presented here. In both cases Burlington denied the indemnity claims on the grounds that they were untimely because the contract term limited liability to a period of time (commencing at the date of delivery) that had already run. Similarly, in both actions, the indemnity claimant sought recovery notwithstanding such provision on the grounds that any time limit for indemnity claims must commence when liability is determined or a cognizable loss is incurred. In sum, given these relevant similarities, we cannot conclude that the issue of law arising in this action is so unrelated to the Atlantic Mutual case that relitigation of the issue is warranted.*fn14
2.Intervening Change and Inequitable Administration
When two actions involve claims that are not "substantially unrelated," issue preclusion still does not apply to an issue of law if a new determination of the legal issue is warranted "in order to take account of an intervening change in the applicable legal context or otherwise to avoid inequitable administration of the laws." See Haitian Ctrs. Council, Inc. v. McNary, 969 F.2d 1350, 1356 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF JUDGMENTS § 28(2) (internal quotation marks omitted)), rev'd on other grounds sub. nom. Sale v. Haitian Ctrs. Council, 125 L. Ed. 2d 128, 113 S. Ct. 2549 (1993); see also Haitian Ctrs., 969 F.2d at 1356 ("'Relitigation of an issue of public importance should not be precluded when there has been an intervening change in the applicable legal context.'" (quoting Kania v. Fordham, 702 F.2d 475, 476 n. 2 (4th Cir. 1983) (internal quotation marks omitted)); Montana, 440 U.S. at 163, 99 S. Ct. at 978 ("Unreflective invocation of collateral estoppel . . . could freeze doctrine in areas of the law where responsiveness to changing patterns of conduct or social mores is critical."). No such concerns are present in this case.
Burlington does not point to, and we are unaware of, any intervening change in the applicable legal context which would warrant new consideration of the issue decided against Burlington in Atlantic Mutual. Moreover, application of issue preclusion in this case would not constitute an inequitable administration of the laws. Burlington was aware of Hyundai's claim at the time of the Atlantic Mutual litigation, and it had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the legal issue in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
We also believe that application of issue preclusion is particularly appropriate in this case, given that reconsideration of the issue already addressed in Atlantic Mutual would reward Burlington's attempt to forum shop. See Fulani v. Bentsen, 862 F. Supp. 1140, 1151 (S.D.N.Y. 1994) ("To rule otherwise would encourage the parties to forum shop, thereby undermining the purpose of collateral estoppel in promoting the finality of judgments."). By instituting this action for declaratory judgment in New Jersey, Burlington seeks to avoid the result that would have been reached in a court within the Ninth Circuit, where this case would more properly have been brought since the facts and parties to this action have virtually no connection to New Jersey.*fn15
Having already litigated and lost this issue within the Ninth Circuit in Atlantic Mutual, Burlington now attempts to institute another action raising the same issue within another federal circuit in the hopes that this court would reach a Conclusion different from that previously reached. But, as we have stated, "once an issue is actually and necessarily determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, that determination is conclusive in subsequent suits based on a different cause of action involving a party to the prior litigation." Montana, 440 U.S. at 153, 99 S. Ct. at 973. Accordingly, Burlington cannot now relitigate this issue that it already contested and lost in Atlantic Mutual. Issue preclusion applies.*fn16
For the foregoing reasons, we will reverse the order of the district court granting summary judgment to Burlington, and remand the case with the direction to grant issue preclusive effect to the applicable legal issue resolved by the District Court for the Western District of Washington in the Atlantic Mutual litigation.