The Legal Intelligencer: Trial Court Reversed After Dismissing PFA Petition Under Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel

April 10, 2024 | By Michael E. Bertin

In an article published in The Legal Intelligencer on April 9, 2024, Partner and Co-Chair of the family law group, Michael Bertin, examines two of the most important and time-honored doctrines in the law: the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. In his article, titled “Trial Court Reversed After Dismissing PFA Petition Under Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel,” Michael examines the case of Moyer v. Shaffer, 305 A.3d 1064 (Pa. Super. 2023), where the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed the issue of the application of res judicata and collateral estoppel in a protection from abuse matter. 

“Under the doctrine of res judicata, a judgment on the merits in a prior suit bars a second suit on the same cause of action.” Collateral estoppel “is a broader concept than res judicata and ‘operates to prevent a question of law or issue of fact which has once been litigated and fully determined in a court of competent jurisdiction.’”

In the Moyer case, Moyer filed two protection from abuse (PFA) petitions against Shaffer. The first petition was dismissed without prejudice due to Moyer’s absence at the hearing. The second petition contained similar allegations and led to a temporary PFA order. However, the trial court dismissed the second petition with prejudice, citing that identical allegations were already dismissed in the first petition. Moyer appealed, arguing that res judicata and collateral estoppel didn’t apply since the first petition wasn’t adjudicated on its merits. The Superior Court agreed, emphasizing that these doctrines require a final judgment on the merits of the initial action.

The Superior Court found that the trial court erred as a matter of law when it dismissed the second PFA with prejudice finding that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel did not apply.

The Moyer case is an important reminder for both the family law practitioner and bench. It stresses the importance of res judicata and collateral estoppel for the smooth running of the courts and instills predictability and reliability in the litigants relying on court decisions.

Read the full article here.


About the Authors

Michael E. Bertin


Main Line Family Law Attorney Michael co-chairs Obermayer’s Family Law Group. He focuses his practice on child custody, child support, and divorce, including the negotiation and litigation of domestic relations cases, divorce,...

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