D'Ambrosio v. Wolf

D’Ambrosio v. Wolf

Record No: 170521 (as published by the Virginia Supreme Court) The circuit court erred in concluding that a son’s challenge to the validity of his mother’s will is barred by claim preclusion, issue preclusion, or judicial estoppel. Under Rule 1:6(a), a final judgment forecloses successive litigation of the same claim, but claim preclusion will not bar a claim that does not accrue prior to the litigation triggering the bar. Since the testator was alive during the prior litigation, the son’s interest in the tentative dispositions of her will was nothing more than a bare expectancy, and he had suffered no injury. Thus, the present cause of action had not accrued, and claim preclusion cannot bar it now. Issue preclusion bars relitigation of common factual issues between the same or related parties, but the issue must have been actually litigated and essential to a valid and final personal judgment in the first action and here it is not certain that the issues were actually litigated and decided by the court. Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine intended to prevent litigants from adopting a position inconsistent with a stance taken in a prior litigation. Here, the son’s argument in the prior litigation that his mother was capable of executing powers of attorney is not fatally inconsistent with his present argument that she lacked the requisite testamentary capacity to execute a will. Further, the court did not rely upon his assertions in rendering its decision in the prior case. Thus, judicial estoppel does not apply. The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for further circuit court proceedings.