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Stephenson v. Conner

filed*fn*: October 9, 1991.

MARGUERITE STEPHENSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
EARLINE CONNER, AN INDIVIDUAL, AND EARLINE C. CONNER AS SUBSTITUTE EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES THOMAS CONNER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Alaska; D.C. No. CV-89-002-HRH; H. Russel Holland, Chief District Judge, Presiding

Hug, Norris, and Brunetti, Circuit Judges.

MEMORANDUM

Marguerite Stephenson appeals the district court's order dismissing her action against Earline Conner to quiet title to real property in Alaska. The district court found that the action was barred by res judicata. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.*fn1 We review de novo, Kruso v. International Tel. & Tel. Corp., 872 F.2d 1416, 1421 (9th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 110 S. Ct. 3217 (1990), and affirm.

Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits bars further claims by parties based on the same cause of action. . . . Under collateral estoppel, once an issue is actually and necessarily determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, that determination is conclusive in subsequent suits based on a different cause of action involving a party to the prior litigation.

Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979) (citations omitted). Federal courts are required to give "full faith and credit" to state judicial proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 1738; Gilbert v. Ben-Asher, 900 F.2d 1407, 1410 (9th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 111 S. Ct. 177 (1990). Thus, we look to Alaska law of res judicata and give the state court judgment the same preclusive effect as would a state court. Gilbert, 900 F.2d at 1410; Matter of Lockard, 884 F.2d 1171, 1174 (9th Cir. 1989).

The Alaska Supreme Court has held that under the doctrine of res judicata, a judgment on the merits bars subsequent actions between the same parties upon the same claim. Ferguson v. Alaska Dep't of Corrections, P.2d , No. S-3733, 3728, 1991 WL 143913, at *2 (Alaska Aug. 2, 1991). Res judicata precludes relitigation not only of claims raised in the first proceeding, but also of those relevant claims that could have been raised. Id. Before res judicata can be applied, there must have been a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue. Id. at *3

In her complaint, Stephenson, who served as executrix of James Thomas Conner's will, seeks to contest title to real property which was devised to Conner under the will. Stephenson first raised her claims regarding title to the property in the probate proceedings. In re Estate of James Thomas Conner, No. 4FA-83-151-P (Alaska Super. Ct. Oct. 1, 1986). There, the Alaska Superior Court awarded title to Conner. Id. Stephenson appealed that judgment to the Alaska Supreme Court, and her appeal was dismissed. Stephenson v. Estate of James Thomas Conner, No. S-1872 (Alaska Oct. 13, 1987).

Stephenson now seeks to relitigate the same claims regarding title to the property. These claims have already been litigated and decided on the merits by the Alaska courts. Thus, the district court correctly dismissed Stephenson's action as barred by res judicata. See Montana, 440 U.S. at 153; Ferguson, 1991 WL 143913 at *2.

Conner requests sanctions against Stephenson for bringing this appeal. This court has discretion to impose damages against litigants as a sanction for bringing a frivolous appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 38; 28 U.S.C. § 1912. An appeal is frivolous if the results are obvious or the arguments of error are wholly without merit. Wilcox v. Commissioner, 848 F.2d 1007, 1009 (9th Cir. 1988). Stephenson's claims are wholly without merit. We therefore award attorney's fees and double costs to Conner.*fn2

AFFIRME ...


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