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Where the outcome of one case may determine how the next one is adjudicated

The Supreme Court recently examined the question of courts being bound by final judgments issued in other cases. This issue relates to the binding nature of a judgment from a substantive point of view, i.e. that the same claim cannot be heard again once adjudicated upon. This is an issue of considerable practical relevance because it determines how the outcome of one case can affect how comparable cases are adjudicated. It also defines the boundaries with respect to a court’s freedom to ascertain facts and make legal evaluations by itself.

Supreme Court resolution of 12 July 2018, III CZP 3/18

Upon referral of a query by a common court, the Supreme Court examined the effect of a binding judgment granting periodical payments (for example rent) on a new case between the same two parties in which the payments are sought for future periods. The Supreme Court found in favour of the party that was successful in the original case. It stated that the legal events affecting the principle of liability of the defendant could not be examined and assessed by the court for a second time. Once the question of liability is determined it does not have to be demonstrated again, and a finding of no liability cannot be undone without a material change in the facts.

The facts that led to a final judgment in the first case are thus binding upon a court in a new case provided that it is between the same parties for periodical payments for subsequent periods within the same legal relationship. If for example a court finds in one case that an increase in rent is effective, in a new case concerning payment of rent for subsequent months the court cannot find that lower rates apply. The adjudication given in the first case will not be binding if new material facts appear. If there is no change of this kind, as a rule the party that was successful the first time can rest assured of the outcome of further cases and pursue comparable lawsuits with greater certainty.

The Supreme Court ruling confirmed the trends prevailing in case law to date. This is intended to preserve consistency of court judgments, and this will help stabilise legal relationships and increase confidence in the justice system. It is generally desirable that courts should not issue different rulings in cases of the same status in fact and in law simply concerning a subsequent period for which payment is being sought.

This practice makes outcomes of future cases predictable and therefore is a factor when considering whether to instigate proceedings. A plaintiff who has been unsuccessful the first time will not pursue comparable cases. This will reduce courts’ caseloads. Given the considerable burden on courts, this is a positive development.

The Supreme Court’s ruling might also be helpful to a plaintiff who is unsure whether their arguments are correct and who does not want to risk incurring court costs for the entire claim. Filing a lawsuit for a single payment reference period may provide information, at low trial-related risk, about whether there are grounds for a suit for further payments. This will certainly help when deciding whether to continue litigation.

Agata Jóźwiak, legal adviser, Dispute Resolution and Arbitration Practice, Wardyński & Partners