DECIDED SEPTEMBER 26, 1952.
Complaint; from Fulton Superior Court — Judge Moore. May 2, 1952.
McKenzie Kaler, for plaintiff in error.
Barrett Hayes, T. J. Long, contra.
1. A decree in a court of equity is conclusive on all questions raised or which could have been raised, relating to the subject matter affected by such decree, and the same will be a good cause of bar of an action subsequently brought between the same parties upon the same subject matter in a court of competent jurisdiction.
2. Where the pleadings and decree in a suit for injunctive relief, relating to a contract between the plaintiff and one of the defendants, are proved to sustain a plea of res adjudicata interposed by the defendants in a subsequent proceeding at law in the same court based upon the same subject matter and between the same parties — that is, for compensatory and punitive damages sustained by the plaintiff flowing from this contract and which might have been included in the original injunctive proceeding, — the trial court properly directed a verdict in favor of the defendants on said plea of res adjudicata, and did not err in overruling the plaintiff's motion for a new trial, assigning error upon the direction of such verdict.
DECIDED SEPTEMBER 26, 1952.
On December 18, 1950, Mrs. J. M. Crawford brought suit in the Superior Court of Fulton County against J. E. Baker, The American Oil Company, H. C. Posey, and Fred J. J. Baker, as the Stratford Coal Company, a partnership, and Mrs. J. E. (Enola) Baker, in which she sought to recover as compensatory and punitive damages the sum of $25,000. This action was based upon an alleged contract between her and the defendant, J. E. Baker, whereby the plaintiff, who was a tank truck dealer for The Texas Company for a portion of Atlanta and the surrounding territory, engaging in the wholesale distribution of Texaco petroleum products, agreed to furnish and install certain equipment for the operation of a gasoline filling station owned and operated by J. E. Baker located at 2879 Gordon Road, Atlanta, Georgia, and to other dealers to whom he might lease the premises during the term of the contract, which was seven and one-half years. It was set up that the defendants, said Bakers and Posey, were about to breach said contract and that The American Oil Company had advised J. E. Baker, H. C. Posey and Fred J. Baker that the contract was void and not enforceable, thereby attempting to induce such defendants to breach said contract and enter into a contract with the said defendant, The American Oil Company. It was further set out that such statements and inducements were made for the purpose of maliciously inducing said defendants, J. E. Baker, H. C. Posey and Fred J. Baker, to breach said contract with the plaintiff and that such inducements were made without legal justification or excuse, and constituted a malicious interference with her contractual rights. The plaintiff set up that during the sixty-six months the contract had run, she had made a net profit of $80 a month and that she had every reason to believe that she would have made a minimum of $80 monthly during the remaining thirty-six months before the expiration of the contract, and prayed that she be awarded compensatory damages therefor, and also punitive damages by reason of the "tortious conduct of the defendants complained of" which was "of an aggravated character of both the act and the intention" on the part of the individual defendants in breaching said contract with her and as to the said American Oil Company in maliciously causing this contract to be breached. This contract was attached to and made a part of this suit.
To this action all of the defendants interposed a plea of res adjudicata, the basis of the plea being that the plaintiff was concluded by the verdict and decree of the court in an action which she had brought against the same defendants in said court based on said contract, and in which she sought injunctive relief against all of said defendants. In the equitable petition, the plaintiff alleged that the Bakers and Posey were about to breach said contract between the plaintiff and J. E. Baker, and that the defendant oil company "advised the defendant J. E. Baker and the defendants H. C. Posey and Fred J. Baker that the contract attached hereto was void and unenforceable, thereby attempting to induce the defendants, J. E. Baker, H. C. Posey, and Fred J. Baker to breach said contract and enter into a contract with the said defendant, The American Oil Company." The plaintiff further alleged that "such statements and inducements were made for the purpose of maliciously inducing said defendants, J. E. Baker, H. C. Posey, and Fred J. Baker, to breach said contract with the petitioner and that such inducements were made without legal justification or excuse." The plaintiff then alleged that she would suffer irreparable damage unless the defendants were enjoined from breaching said contract made between her and said J. E. Baker and unless the defendant, The American Oil Company, were enjoined from causing said contract to be breached. The plaintiff further set up that she had no complete and adequate remedy at law. The plaintiff prayed that the defendants be temporarily and permanently enjoined from using the plaintiff's equipment on the property on Gordon Road; that The American Oil Company be temporarily restrained from inducing the defendants, H. C. Posey, Fred J. Baker and J. E. Baker to breach said contract with her and that she have other relief, as to the court might seem proper. It appeared that the defendants demurred generally to the plaintiff's petition, and also filed answers thereto. On the hearing, the trial court sustained the general demurrer and dismissed the plaintiff's petition, and the plaintiff sued out her bill of exceptions to the Supreme Court of Georgia, where that judgment was reversed. See Crawford v. Baker, 207 Ga. 56 ( 60 S.E.2d 146), where the facts in the equitable proceeding are fully set forth.
It appeared that thereafter Mrs. J. E. (Enola) Baker was made a party defendant, and the case proceeded with such defendant as a party. The case was then tried in Fulton Superior Court before a jury and on December 15, 1950, a verdict was rendered for the plaintiff as follows: "We, the jury, find in favor of the plaintiff and direct that an injunction be directed against the following defendants: J. E. Baker, H. C. Posey, Fred J. Baker, Mrs. J. E. (Enola) Baker, The American Oil Company." The court thereupon rendered the following judgment and decree: "This case coming on for a hearing before a jury and the jury having found for plaintiff against all the defendants, it is hereby ordered and decreed that the defendants, J. E. Baker, H. C. Posey, Fred J. Baker, Mrs. Enola Baker and The American Oil Company be permanently enjoined as prayed."
The trial court overruled a general demurrer interposed by the plaintiff to the plea of res adjudicata of said defendants, and to this judgment the plaintiff filed her exceptions pendente lite.
The issues formed by said plea of res adjudicata were tried before the court and a jury and the entire record, including the verdict and decree of the court, in said equitable proceedings, was introduced in evidence. Thereupon the defendants moved that a verdict be directed by the court in favor of the defendants on said plea of res adjudicata, and the trial court accordingly directed a verdict in favor of all the defendants. The plaintiff thereupon moved for a new trial, which the court overruled, and she excepts to this court.
"A judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction shall be conclusive between the same parties and their privies as to all matters put in issue or which under the rules of law might have been put in issue in the cause wherein the judgment was rendered, until such judgment shall be reversed or set aside." Code, § 110-501. There is no dispute relative to the facts that the two actions involved were between the same parties and also that the decree in the equitable action was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction. So the matter resolves itself into a determination whether the same subject matter was involved in the two proceedings and whether in the equitable proceeding the plaintiff put in issue, or, under the rules of law, could have put in issue all matters now involved. Each action was predicated entirely upon and grew out of the contract between the plaintiff and J. E. Baker. In the first proceeding, which was an action in equity for injunctive relief, the plaintiff sought to prevent certain of the defendants from breaching the contract, which had already run sixty-six months and which had thirty-six months to run, and to prevent the defendant, The American Oil Company, from interfering with her contractual rights under this agreement by inducing and persuading the other defendants to breach the same by telling them that the agreement was invalid and was not enforceable, in order that the oil company might enter into a contract with these defendants. The plaintiff set up that if the defendants breached said contract she would suffer irreparable injury and damage. The proceeding resulted in a verdict and judgment in her favor. Immediately following the rendition of such verdict and judgment on December 15, 1950, the plaintiff did on December 18, 1950, file suit in the same court against the same parties on the same contract in which she sought compensatory and punitive damages, alleging that during the sixty-six months the contract had been in operation she had netted approximately $80 monthly and that during the ensuing thirty-six months the contract, had it been performed by the defendants, would have brought to her a profit of around $80 a month; that she was further entitled to punitive damages because of the malicious and aggravated circumstances involved.
The contract sued on had been held to be a valid and enforceable one, and if breached the plaintiff might well have proceeded in one action for injunctive relief and for damages. Under the law, the plaintiff was bound to do this. The law does not permit a splitting of the action seeking the enforcement of separate and distinct remedies. In Conwell v. Neal, 118 Ga. 624 ( 45 S.E. 910), it was held: "`It is undoubtedly a settled principle that a party seeking to enforce a claim, legal or equitable, must present to the court, either by the pleadings or proofs, or both, all the grounds upon which he expects a judgment in his favor. He is not at liberty to split up his demand and prosecute it by piecemeal, or present only a portion of the grounds upon which special relief is sought, and leave the rest to be presented in a second suit, if the first fail. There would be no end of litigation if such a practice were permissible.' Stark v. Starr, 94 U.S. 485. . . In Wilson v. Williams, 115 Ga. 474, it was held that a judgment between the same parties is conclusive on all matters that were actually adjudicated in the case, or which could have been therein properly adjudicated." A decree in a court of equity is conclusive on all questions raised or which could have been raised, relating to the subject matter affected by the decree. Claflin Co. v. DeVaughn, 106 Ga. 282 ( 32 S.E. 108). But it is urged that the plaintiff could not have recovered compensatory and punitive damages in the proceeding for injunctive relief. In the case of Swanson v. Kirby, 98 Ga. 586, 593 ( 26 S.E. 71), the Supreme Court held: "We do not see why a prayer for the recovery of damages should affect the question of granting an injunction in a given case. Indeed, under the system of pleading which prevails in this State, no good reason occurs to us why a plaintiff may not recover damages which at the time of the bringing of his action had already accrued to him from a breach of the defendant's contract, and at the same time restrain the defendant from a further violation of the contract, if the facts are such as to entitle the plaintiff to relief of this nature." The reason for the rule announced above and appearing in our Code (§ 110-501) is clear. A litigant is not permitted to divide his case up into pieces and proceed in separate actions for separate relief growing out of the same transaction. In Gunn v. James, 120 Ga. 482 ( 48 S.E. 148), the Supreme Court said: "Where an equitable petition was filed, praying for an injunction and the appointment of a receiver, and at the trial term a general demurrer was sustained and the petition dismissed, and thereafter the plaintiff filed another equitable petition, setting up the same cause of action but elaborating the details, and praying, besides the relief sought in the first, other and additional relief, a plea of res judicata, filed in bar of the second petition, should have been sustained." See also McDonald Mortgage Realty Co. v. Feingold, 168 Ga. 763 ( 149 S.E. 132), in which it appeared that two actions were filed, one praying for an injunction and for rescission of a contract and the other for injunction, general relief and for damages. The Supreme Court in that case held: "The facts alleged in the first and second petitions are the same; the parties are the same. The first petition was dismissed on general demurrer, and to that judgment the plaintiff sued out a bill of exceptions and brought the case here for review; and after a hearing the judgment of the court below was affirmed. . . The court should have refused the injunction for the reason that the matter was res adjudicata. While there was no specific prayer for damages in the first petition, the plaintiff relies upon the same facts as are set out in the present petition for relief. This additional prayer for damages might have been appropriately included in the other case. But the parties are the same, and the cause of action is the same. `The dismissal on demurrer of a petition bars another action based on the same facts, if in sustaining the demurrer the court necessarily decided upon the merits of the cause; nor is a second suit in such case maintainable merely because the plaintiff prays therein not only for the relief originally sought but for other and further relief, the right to which, however, depends upon the identical allegations set forth in the first petition.'"
Of course, "Where the remedy at law is not as full, complete and adequate as it is in equity, this will not deprive equity of jurisdiction, although there may exist a common-law remedy." Markham v. Huff, 72 Ga. 882; Hollingshead v. McKenzie, 8 Ga. 457. However, no such situation is involved in the case sub judice. The first action was in equity and as we have seen, the plaintiff could have recovered the damages incurred in the equitable action. It is true that the plaintiff could not have obtained equitable relief in the nature of injunction in the second and present proceeding. We have carefully reviewed such decisions as Georgia R. Bkg. Co. v. Wright, 124 Ga. 596 ( 53 S.E. 251), Gillens v. Gillens, 148 Ga. 631 ( 97 S.E. 669), and Fortson v. Fortson, 200 Ga. 116 ( 35 S.E.2d 896), cited by the plaintiff's able counsel, but do not find them controlling here.
In Prisant v. Feingold, 169 Ga. 864, 867 ( 151 S.E. 799), it will be noted that the case turned on the principle that res adjudicata should be raised by a special plea, which was not done in that case, but was done in the instant case. That case does not sustain the contentions of the plaintiff.
The case of Linder v. Roland, 122 Ga. 425 ( 50 S.E. 124), relied on by the plaintiff, is not applicable to the case under consideration. In that case the Supreme Court held that a judgment in an action in assumpsit was not a bar to a subsequent ex delicto action between the same parties although some of the facts used in the former action were relied upon as a basis for the latter action. Here, the entire cause of action was based on the contract between the plaintiff and the defendant J. E. Baker, and upon its breach by the defendants, J. E. Baker, H. C. Posey and Fred J. Baker, and the conduct of The American Oil Company in seeking to have the contract breached and in maliciously stating that such contract was void and unenforceable. The first action, the equitable proceeding, sought injunctive relief against all the defendants. The second action, the action in tort, sought compensatory and punitive damages from all the defendants, such damages flowing from the contract as a result of the conduct of the defendants relative to the contract and its breach. The subject matter of the two actions was the contract and its performance. Therefore, the decree in the equitable action was clearly conclusive upon the parties to the case on all questions raised, or which could have been raised, relating to the subject matter to be affected by the decree, to wit the contract and its performance.
The plaintiff further insists that "The two suits are based on separate causes of action because the second suit seeks to recover for damages which had not accrued at the time the first suit was filed and could not have been included as damages in the first suit, even if damages had been prayed for." The plaintiff cites Mulligan v. City Council of Augusta, 115 Ga. 337 ( 41 S.E. 604), in support of the above. In that case the Supreme Court properly held that a former recovery against a city in a suit for damages sustained by the maintenance of a nuisance was no bar to a second action for damages subsequently arising from this same cause unless the damages in the first suit were prospective as well as damages already suffered. There is nothing contrary to our holding here in Jones v. Lavender, 55 Ga. 228, Blun v. Holitzer, 53 Ga. 82 and Isaacs v. Davies, 68 Ga. 169. It does not appear that the plaintiff is seeking to recover for damages arising from conduct transpiring subsequently to the first proceeding.
Neither the decision in Woodland Hills Co. v. Coleman, 73 Ga. App. 409 ( 36 S.E.2d 826) nor that in Luke v. Dupree, 158 Ga. 590 ( 124 S.E. 13) sustains the contention that the two proceedings here are not based upon the same subject matter, to wit the contract and its performance. The defendants, by the introduction of the entire record in the proceedings in equity, including the verdict and decree, carried the burden and sustained their plea by showing that the equitable proceeding constituted an absolute bar to the present action at law for damages.
It follows that the trial court did not err in directing a verdict in favor of the defendants on their plea of res adjudicata, and that the trial judge properly overruled the plaintiff's motion for a new trial, assigning error thereon.
Judgment affirmed. Townsend and Carlisle, JJ., concur.