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Darcy v. Khoury

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk

January 26, 2018

Paul DARCY dba P.A. Darcy Co.
v.
Kimberly KHOURY, M.D.

          File Date: February 1, 2018

DECISION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 18.0), AND PLAINTIFF’S CROSS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 18.5)

          Brian A. Davis, J.

         Plaintiff Paul Darcy, d/b/a P.A. Darcy Co. (" Plaintiff" or " Mr. Darcy"), commenced this action in August 2016 in an effort to collect more than $46, 000.00 allegedly owed to him by defendant Kimberly Khoury, M.D. (" Defendant" or " Dr. Khoury") for certain exterior landscaping and construction work that Plaintiff purportedly performed at Defendant’s home in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in or about 2015 (the " Project").

         This is the second lawsuit between the parties arising out of the Project. Dr. Khoury previously filed a small claims action against Mr. Darcy in Dedham District Court in June 2016, seeking to recover approximately $7, 000.00 in unearned Project payments that Dr. Khoury claimed she had made to Mr. Darcy (the " Prior Action"). Mr. Darcy responded to Dr. Khoury’s summons and complaint in the Prior Action, but asserted no counterclaim. The parties voluntarily resolved the Prior Action in July 2016 by filing an Agreement for Judgment that called for " [Mr. Darcy] to pay [Dr. Khoury] $5, 000 by bank check within 10 days, " with " mutual releases" to be exchanged (the " Agreement for Judgment"). Joint Appendix (" App., " Docket No. 18.3), Tab 9. It is undisputed that Mr. Darcy did not make the required payment to Dr. Khoury within the ten-day period prescribed in the Agreement for Judgment, with the result that Judgment in the amount of $5, 000.00 entered for Dr. Khoury in the Prior Action in September 2016. It also is undisputed that no mutual releases were ever exchanged. Plaintiff did not appeal, and eventually paid, the Judgment entered in favor of Dr. Khoury.

         Having lost the Prior Action, this action represents Mr. Darcy’s follow-up effort to recover what he claims Dr. Khoury still owes him for the work that Mr. Darcy insists he performed on the Project. Dr. Khoury has responded to Plaintiff’s complaint with a series of counterclaims, [1] and with a motion for summary judgment based on collateral estoppel or res judicata (Docket No. 18.0).[2] More specifically, Dr. Khoury argues that the Judgment entered in the Prior Action, which concerned the very same Project, bars Plaintiff’s claims in this proceeding. See Kobrin v. Board of Registration in Medicine, 444 Mass. 837, 843 (2005) (" The term ‘res judicata’ includes both claim preclusion and issue preclusion. Claim preclusion makes a valid, final judgment conclusive on the parties and their privies, and prevents relitigation of all matters that were or could have been adjudicated in the action"). (Internal quotation marks and citations omitted.)

         Interestingly, Mr. Darcy has filed a cross motion for summary on Dr. Khoury’s counterclaims, arguing that her claims in this proceeding are barred by the doctrine of res judicata (Docket No. 18.5). Mr. Darcy challenges the application of res judicata to his own claims, however, on the basis that he was not procedurally required to assert any affirmative claims he may have against Dr. Khoury in the Prior Action because that case was litigated in small claims court. See Massachusetts Uniform Small Claims Rules 3(c) (" In the answer, or in a separate writing filed with the court, the defendant may set forth any claim which he or she has against the plaintiff within the jurisdiction of the court in small claims cases, without incurring any filing fee or surcharge ... Such claims shall not be compulsory ...") (emphasis added). Dr. Khoury, not surprisingly, opposes Mr. Darcy’s cross motion for summary judgment.

         The Court conducted a hearing on the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment on November 30, 2017. Upon consideration of the written submissions of the parties and the oral arguments of counsel, both motions are ALLOWED for the reasons stated on the record at the motion hearing and summarized, briefly, here.

         The Court’s analysis starts with the undisputed fact that both this action and the Prior Action arise (or arose) from or concern the same " matter, " that is, the Project whereby Mr. Darcy performed (or failed to perform) certain exterior landscaping and construction work at Defendant’s home in or about 2015. Thus, in ordinary circumstances, both sides would be expected to assert any and all claims that they had against one another in the Prior Action, or face losing their claims through the operation of collateral estoppel. As explained by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (" SJC"), the judicial doctrine of collateral estoppel,

provides that " [w]hen an issue of fact or law is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment, the determination is conclusive in a subsequent action between the parties, whether on the same or a different claim." The purpose of the doctrine is to conserve judicial resources, to prevent the unnecessary costs associated with multiple litigation, and to ensure the finality of judgments.

Martin v. Ring, 401 Mass. 59, 60-61 (1987) (quoting Fireside Motors, Inc. v. Nissan Motor Corp. in U.S.A., 395 Mass. 366, 372 (1985)). The " guiding principle" in determining whether to permit the defensive use of collateral estoppel in any particular case " is whether the party against whom it is asserted lacked full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the first action or [whether] other circumstances justify affording him an opportunity to relitigate the issue." Id. at 62.

         In this case, it is apparent that Mr. Darcy had a " full and fair opportunity" to litigate his affirmative claims against Dr. Khoury in the Prior Action, even if he was not procedurally required to do so. While the purported value of Mr. Darcy’s affirmative claims (more than $46, 000.00) significantly exceeds the jurisdictional limit in small claims court matters (less than $7, 000.00), Mr. Darcy was free to request a transfer of the Prior Action to the regular docket of the District Court, or even to the Superior Court, in order to allow him to press his claims. See Massachusetts Uniform Small Claims Rules 4 (" The court may, upon request of a party or upon its own motion, transfer a claim or counterclaim begun under the small claims procedure to the regular civil docket pursuant to G.L.c. 218, § 24"). See also G.L.c. 231, § 104 (" Any other party, a plaintiff against whom a claim, counterclaim, or cross claim is brought, and a defendant who asserts a compulsory counterclaim, may, provided that the amount of the claim against such other party, the amount of the claim, counterclaim or cross claim brought against such plaintiff, or the amount of the compulsory counterclaim asserted by such defendant, as the case may be, exceeds twenty-five thousand dollars, file in the district court in which the action is pending a claim of trial by the superior court ..."). The SJC has held that " a judge should rarely, if ever, exercise his discretion to prevent removal" of a small claims action when requested to do so. Daum v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 396 Mass. 1013, 1014 (1986). Thus, Mr. Darcy almost certainly could have pursued his affirmative claims against Dr. Khoury in the Prior Action, and his failure to seize that opportunity bars him from asserting his claims in this subsequent proceeding between the same parties. See Kobrin, 444 Mass. at 843 (" Claim preclusion makes a valid, final judgment conclusive on the parties and their privies, and prevents relitigation of all matters that were or could have been adjudicated in the action.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted, emphasis added). See also Taylor v. Beaudry, 82 Mass.App.Ct. 105, 109 (2012) (affirming application of doctrine of collateral estoppel to bar relitigation, in Housing Court, of issues necessarily resolved in prior small claims proceeding between same parties).

         Applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel to Dr. Khoury’s counterclaims in this action is more straight-forward. Like Mr. Darcy, Dr. Khoury was required to bring all of her claims against Plaintiff concerning the Project in a single proceeding. See Heacock v. Heacock, 402 Mass. 21, 24 (1988) (" The doctrine [of collateral estoppel] is a ramification of the policy considerations that underlie the rule against splitting a cause of action, and is based on the idea that the party to be precluded has had the incentive and opportunity to litigate the matter fully in the first lawsuit"). It is undisputed that Dr. Khoury in fact succeeded in obtaining a valid and final Judgment against Mr. Darcy in the Prior Action on account of her claims. By law, that Judgment constitutes Dr. Khoury’s full legal compensation for her claims with respect to the Project, and it precludes her from seeking additional compensation from Plaintiff, based on the same subject matter, in this proceeding. See Boyd v. Jamaica Plain Co-op. Bank, 7 Mass.App.Ct. 153, 163 (1979) (the " principle prohibiting claim splitting" provides that " the entry of a ‘valid and final judgment extinguishes ... all rights of a plaintiff to remedies against the defendant with respect to all or any part of the transaction, or series of connected transactions, out of which the action arose.’ ") (quoting Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 61(1) (Tent. Draft No. 5, 1978)).

         For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff Paul Darcy’s Amended Complaint and Counts II through IV of defendant Kimberly Khoury, M.D.’s counterclaims are dismissed in their entirety. Given the Court’s decision with respect to Counts II through IV of Dr. ...


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