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Davis v. Davis

August 7, 1995

LILTON I. DAVIS, APPELLANT,
v.
MARY O. SHORT DAVIS, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (Hon. Eric H. Holder, Jr., Trial Judge).

Before Ferren, Farrell, and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell

Farrell, Associate Judge : On this appeal from a denial of declaratory relief, the issue is whether the trial court correctly applied the doctrine of collateral estoppel to block appellant from relitigating the issue of whether his estranged wife and her two minor children could be made to undergo blood testing in connection with the issue of paternity. We affirm.

I. The Facts

Appellee Mary O. Short Davis was married to Julius R. Short until she filed for divorce in late 1978. Also in 1978, Mrs. Davis gave birth to Kelli Davis, and in 1980 she gave birth to Lilton Davis, Jr. In June 1984 Mrs. Davis married appellant Lilton Davis. On May 25, 1989, Mr. Davis filed a complaint for divorce to which, on July 2, 1989, Mrs. Davis filed an answer and counterclaim. Mr. Davis moved to compel Mrs. Davis, Kelli, and Lilton Jr. to undergo HLA/DNA blood tests to determine whether Mr. Davis is the biological father of the children. Following four days of evidentiary hearings on the motion, Judge George W. Mitchell denied it on February 2, 1990, nunc pro tunc to December 8, 1989, the final hearing date. He concluded that Mr. Davis had "only shown a 'mere suspicion' of non-paternity. He has not overcome the statutory presumption of paternity, see [D.C. Code §§ 16-909(a), -909(a)(3) (1989)]." Judge Mitchell scheduled a date for trial of the divorce action, but on April 24, 1990, Mr. Davis voluntarily dismissed his complaint for divorce. Mrs. Davis' counterclaim remained outstanding.

On August 8, 1990, Mr. Davis, alleging that he had discovered that Mrs. Davis had been married to another man at the time of Kelli's birth, moved pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 60(b) to vacate the denial of the motion for an HLA blood test. On October 4, 1990, Judge Mitchell held a hearing on the asserted newly discovered evidence, and on January 10, 1991, he denied the renewed request for a blood test. *fn1

Also in January 1991, Mrs. Davis was granted leave to amend her counterclaim to include a prayer for absolute divorce. The amended claim stated that the parties had separated on February 16, 1989. In May 1991 Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin granted Mr. Davis' motion to dismiss the counterclaim on the ground that it failed to allege the jurisdictional requirement that the parties had been separated for six months "next preceding the commencement of the action." D.C. Code § 16-904(a)(2) (1989). It appears that no subsequent action for divorce has been filed.

On May 23, 1991, Mr. Davis filed in Superior Court the present complaint for a declaratory judgment that he was entitled to have Mrs. Davis and the two minor children undergo blood testing. Then-Judge Eric H. Holder, Jr. heard argument on the complaint and, in a written memorandum order and opinion, denied declaratory relief on the ground that collateral estoppel barred appellant from relitigating the issue already twice decided in the divorce action. Following the denial of his motion to reconsider, Mr. Davis brought this appeal.

II. Analysis

Our task is to determine whether Judge Holder correctly applied collateral estoppel to the facts of this case. *fn2 That is a legal issue which we decide de novo. See Smith v. Jenkins, 562 A.2d 610, 613 (D.C. 1989).

Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion,

renders conclusive in the same or a subsequent action determination of an issue of fact or law when (1) the issue is actually litigated and (2) determined by a valid, final judgment on the merits; (3) after a full and fair opportunity for litigation by the parties or their privies; (4) under circumstances where the determination was essential to the judgment, and not merely dictum.

Washington Medical Center v. Holle, 573 A.2d 1269, 1283 (D.C. 1990); see Smith v. Jenkins, 562 A.2d 610, 617 (D.C. 1989); Ali Baba Co. v. Wilco, Inc., 482 A.2d 418, 421 (D.C. 1984). *fn3 Of the four requirements, only the second -- determination by a valid, final judgment on the merits -- presents analytical ...


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