Sunday, November 24, 2013

Watkins v. Resorts International Hotel and Casino, Inc. case brief

Watkins v. Resorts International Hotel and Casino, Inc. case brief summary
591 A.2d 592 (1991)

Plaintiff business owners sought review of a decision by the Superior Court, Appellate Division (New Jersey), which affirmed a trial court decision dismissing plaintiffs' case against defendant casinos on the grounds that plaintiffs' claims were barred because they had already been litigated in federal court.

Plaintiff business owners brought suit against defendant casinos, alleging discrimination under42 U.S.C.S §§1981, 1983, 1985(3), and 1988. Plaintiffs' suit in federal court was dismissed for insufficient service of process and lack of standing. Plaintiffs then brought suit in state court, alleging similar claims under N.J. Constitutional art. I, para. 1 and the Casino Control Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. 5:12-1 et seq. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the case on grounds of res judicata, collateral estoppel, and the entire controversy doctrine, and plaintiffs appealed.


  • The court reversed the dismissal, finding that the earlier dismissal did not constitute a judgment on the merits and as such, plaintiffs could bring suit in state court. 
  • The court found that the rule requiring state courts to accord preclusive effect to prior federal judgments did not apply, as a judgment had not been made. 
  • The court found that Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(j) specifically provided that a dismissal for insufficient service was without prejudice and that standing to sue was a threshold issue that required determination before hearing the merits of the case.

The court reversed the decisions of the lower courts, holding that dismissals for insufficient service of process or lack of standing in federal court did not preclude relitigation in state court. The court found that such dismissals were not considered dismissals on the merits, and therefore, plaintiff business owners had not had their day in court.

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