Melissa Eckstrom has filed a personal injury claim against
her father, petitioner Sigurd Hansen, alleging that he
sexually molested her when she was two years old. At the time
of the alleged abuse, Eckstrom's parents had just been
through an acrimonious marriage and divorce. Eckstrom's
mother accused Hansen of molesting the child, and the court
was called on to decide whether Hansen should be allowed to
continue having residential time with her. After a full trial
in March 1992, the court found that Hansen had not abused
Eckstrom. Hansen asserts that the 1992 finding of no abuse
estops Eckstrom from litigating the present claim. Because
Eckstrom was not a party to the 1992 proceedings, the trial
court properly denied Hansen's motion to dismiss.
parents married in 1987 and separated about a month later.
Eckstrom was born in 1988. The marriage was dissolved by
decree in 1989. Under the parenting plan, Eckstrom resided
primarily with her mother. Hansen, a commercial fisherman who
spent several months per year in Alaska, exercised his right
to residential time when he was in town. Then, in 1990, the
mother began to accuse Hansen of molesting the child.
Although Hansen denied wrongdoing, his residential contact
with his daughter was suspended by temporary order.
was assessed by a number of professionals during the ensuing
investigation. Sometimes she made statements that indicated
Hansen had molested her. In other interviews, she denied that
he had touched her inappropriately. A court-appointed
psychiatrist concluded there was no convincing evidence to
support the allegations of sexual abuse. A guardian ad litem
appointed for Eckstrom filed a report stating his opinion
that Hansen had not abused Eckstrom and recommending that his
visitation with her be reinstated.
occurred in 1992 on Hansen's motion to resume residential
contact with Eckstrom. The court made a finding that Hansen
had not abused his daughter. The court provided for gradual
reinstatement of his residential time with her, under
therapeutic supervision intended to overcome the estrangement
that had developed and to promote a close parent-child
to reunite father and daughter were unsuccessful. In 1993,
Hansen relinquished his parental rights. Eckstrom's
mother assumed sole custody and control of the child.
grew up having no contact with Hansen. In 2010, she reached
out to Hansen and told him that she was planning to go to law
school. She asked Hansen to give her money for tuition and
other expenses, which she estimated as more than $250, 000.
Hansen told her that he would first want to get to know her
better. They attended a joint counseling session. They had no
further contact thereafter. Eckstrom went to law school and
is now a practicing attorney.
suit began in May 2016, when Eckstrom filed a complaint
against Hansen seeking damages for child rape and
molestation. Eckstrom claimed to have memories of
Hansen's abuse and said that she was prepared to testify
about her experience. Hansen denied liability and asserted
the defenses of res judicata and collateral estoppel. He
moved for dismissal in July 2016 on the ground that the 1992
finding of no abuse precluded Eckstrom's suit. The trial
court denied the motion but granted Hansen's request for
a certification under RAP 2.3(b)(4). This court granted
judicata and collateral estoppel are kindred doctrines
designed to prevent repetitive litigation. Bordeaux v.
Ingersoll Rand Co.., 71 Wn.2d 392, 395, 429 P.2d 207
(1967). Whether an action is precluded by res judicata or
collateral estoppel is reviewed de novo. Enslev v.
Pitcher, 152 Wn.App. 891, 899, 222 P.3d 99 (2009).
review denied. 168 Wn.2d 1028 (2010);
Christensen v. Grant County Hosp. Dist. No. 1. 152
Wn.2d 299, 305, 96 P.3d 957 (2004).
little difficulty concluding that res judicata does not apply
here. One of the requirements of res judicata is that the two
suits involve the same cause of action. Williams v. Leone
& Keeble. Inc., 171 Wn.2d 726, 730, 254 P.3d 818
(2011). These two suits do not. The suit between the parents
addressed Hansen's right to have residential time with
his daughter, whereas Eckstrom now raises a claim for
personal injury damages.
closer question is the application of collateral estoppel,
also known as issue preclusion. Pederson v. Potter,
103 Wn.App. 62, 69, 11 P.3d 833 (2000), review
denied. 143 Wn.2d 1006 (2001). Collateral estoppel
prevents relitigation of a particular issue in a later
proceeding involving the same parties, even if the later
proceeding involves a different claim or cause of action.
Pederson, 103 Wn.App. at 69. The requirements of
collateral estoppel are: (1) the identical issue was decided
in the prior action; (2) the prior action resulted in a final
judgment on the merits; (3) the party to be estopped was a
party or in privity with a party in the earlier proceeding;
and (4) precluding relitigation of the issue will not work an
injustice. Williams, 171 Wn.2d at 731. When the
elements of collateral estoppel are met, the doctrine serves
to prevent inconvenience or harassment of parties and
provides for finality in adjudications. Christensen,
152 Wn.2d at 306-07.
factual issue to be decided in Eckstrom's personal injury
claim is whether Hansen sexually abused Eckstrom during the
same time period as alleged in the 1992 proceeding. In the
parenting plan trial in 1992, the trial court was presented
with the identical issue and decided Hansen did not sexually
abuse Eckstrom. The result was final judgment on the merits
permitting Hansen to resume residential contact with his
young daughter. Because the first two elements of collateral
estoppel are ...