Kaufman v. Eli Lilly & Co.

Issue Discussed: Res Judicata / Collateral Estoppel

Submitted by Aluyah I. Imoisili, Jamie E. Sutton*

Date Promulgated: July 9, 1985


Kaufman v. Eli Lilly & Co., 482 N.E.2d 63 (N.Y. 1985)

Court: Court of Appeals of New York

Issues Decided: Whether collateral estoppel applies to all issues raised at trial.

Key Holding

In the first of fifteen pending similar actions seeking to recover from defendant pharmaceutical companies for injuries allegedly sustained by plaintiff daughters as a result of their mothers’ ingestion of diethylstilbestrol while pregnant, a jury issued a verdict against the drug manufacturer.  The trial court, and the Appellate Division, held that collateral estoppel prevented the drug manufacturer from relitigating in the remaining actions the first jury’s finding that it acted in concert with other drug manufacturers in testing and marketing the drug.

The Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that the drug manufacturer could not be collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of concerted action liability because it was based on an unresolved question of law.  The court explained that because Lilly did not challenge the appropriateness of the concerted action theory in the first action at trial, it was not actually litigated and there was no identity of issues between the prior and present actions regarding that issue.  However, the Court of Appeals held that collateral estoppel precluded the drug manufacturer from litigating other factual issues that the first jury resolved conclusively through special interrogatories.

Key Takeaways

Collateral estoppel may not apply to issues that involve unresolved questions of law.


* Aluyah I. Imoisili is a Partner and Jamie E. Sutton is an Associate at Greenberg Gross LLP, where they specialize in commercial litigation and arbitration.