Lynch v. Glass
In Lynch v. Glass (1975) 44 Cal. App. 3d 943, the Court of Appeal considered whether a prior action decided in favor of the defendants precluded the plaintiffs from bringing an action seeking a public easement to a road.
In the prior case, two corporations claimed a road was subject to a public easement. The judgment in the prior case determined that "the public had no recorded interest in the road." (Lynch, supra, 44 Cal. App. 3d at p. 946.)
Although the plaintiffs in the Lynch action were not parties to the prior case, one of the plaintiffs in the Lynch action had appeared as a witness in the prior case.
The Lynch court concluded that the plaintiffs were not bound by the prior litigation because the Lynch plaintiffs were not in privity with the corporations in the prior case.
The court reasoned:
"Appellants were apparently identified in interest with the two corporations in the prior case, with a view to developing their respective properties and establishing public access thereto. Appellants' side of the underlying dispute was urged by the corporations at trial and on appeal. ... Although appellants were fully aware of the prior litigation, the appearance of one of them as a witness gave them no power to control any aspect of the case. Moreover, appellants did not stand in a relationship with the two corporations which would put them on reasonable notice that they avoided the prior proceedings at their peril.
"It is true that the corporations asserted public rights to the roadway and that appellants stood to gain from any determination in the corporations' favor. If the first lawsuit had involved the City of Sausalito, which is in a position to safeguard the rights of the public, appellants might be precluded from asserting that a determination adverse to the city should not be binding upon them (see Rynsburger v. Dairymen's Fertilizer Coop., Inc., 1968 266 Cal. App. 2d 269). But collateral estoppel cannot fairly be applied on that basis against appellants in this action. Appellants are entitled to present at trial their claim that the road is subject to a public easement." (Lynch, supra, 44 Cal. App. 3d at pp. 949-950.)