Linda R. Acosta, Petitioner, v. Salt Lake Regional Medical Center and/or Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, American Manufacturers Mutual Insurance, Sentry Insurance, Workers Compensation Fund, and Labor Commission Respondents.

Case No. 20030907-CA.Utah Court of Appeals.
Filed November 12, 2004. (Not for Official Publication).

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.]

Original Proceeding in this Court.

Richard R. Burke, Salt Lake City, for Petitioner.

Alan Hennebold, Michael E. Dyer, Kristy L. Bertelsen, Theodore E. Kanell, and D. Scott Berrett, Salt Lake City, for Respondents.

Before Judges Billings, Bench, and Jackson.


Linda Acosta appeals because the Labor Commission (Commission) dismissed her occupational disease claim as precluded by res judicata. We affirm.

The res judicata doctrine has two branches, one of which is claim preclusion. See Macris Assocs. v. Neways, Inc., 2000 UT 93, ¶ 19, 16 P.3d 1214. “Generally, claim preclusion bars a party from prosecuting in a subsequent action a claim that has been fully litigated previously.” Massey v. Board of Trs. of theOgden Area Cmty. Action Comm., Inc., 2004 UT App 27, ¶ 8, 86 P.3d 120 (citing Miller v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., 2002 UT 6, ¶ 58, 44 P.3d 663) (quotations and other citations omitted). Claim preclusion arises when (i) “the same parties” (ii) present a claim that was or that “could and should have been raised” in a previous suit, and (iii) the previous suit “resulted in a final judgment.” Miller, 2002 UT 6 at ¶ 58 (quotations and citations omitted).

The parties do not dispute that this case meets the same parties and the final judgment requirements. Thus, at issue here is whether the occupational disease claim was or could and should have been raised in a previous suit. We review the trial court’s determination that res judicata bars an action for correctness.See Macris, 2000 UT 93 at ¶ 17.

First, Acosta argues that the workers’ compensation claim was a distinct claim from the industrial accident claim because it arose from separate statutes with different requirements and compensation. For res judicata purposes, though, claims are “identical” if the two causes of action rest on the same “state of facts” and the same kind of evidence “`is necessary to sustain the two causes of action.'” Id. at ¶ 28 (quoting Schaer v.State, 657 P.2d 1337, 1340 (Utah 1983)). Acosta’s claims are the same in that they both involve an injury to her lower back, rely on the same medical records, and stem from the same employment. Additionally, both claims allege an injury that initially produced symptoms at the same time. The fact that Acosta now depends upon a different legal theory is unpersuasive. The “state of facts” and evidence underlying the claim, not the legal bases, are relevant to the identity of the claim. Id.

Second, Acosta argues that she could not have filed the claims together because the Commission used different forms for the two actions. However, a claimant may state alternative grounds for a claim. See, e.g., Utah R. Civ. P. 18. Additionally, the administrative law judges of the Commission adjudicate all matters brought under the Utah Labor Code. See Utah Code Ann. § 34A-1-302(1)(a) (2001). Thus, Acosta could have asserted the occupational disease claim as an alternative ground in the workers’ compensation claim, and the claim would have been heard by the same administrative law judge who heard the workers’ compensation claim.

Next, Acosta argues that (i) the Commission did not analyze the “should have” requirement; (ii) the governing acts, the Occupational Disease Act and the Workers’ Compensation Act, do not require a claimant to bring claims simultaneously; and (iii) the Commission’s practice of allowing alternative claims was permissive not mandatory. Thus, Acosta argues, she had no duty to bring the claims together. Contrary to Acosta’s argument, the Commission did analyze the “should have” requirement. Even if the statutes do not require that claims be brought together, res judicata precludes a claimant from pursuing a claim “through piecemeal litigation, offering one legal theory to the court while holding others in reserve for future litigation.” AmericanEstate Mgmt. v. International Inv. Dev. Corp., 1999 UT App 232, ¶ 14, 986 P.2d 765
(quotations and citations omitted). Thus, because the facts and evidence necessary to present and defend these claims substantially overlap, Acosta should have brought the claims together.

Lastly, Acosta argues that public policy requires the Commission to award compensation to her because the policy behind the Workers’ Compensation Act should override a technical hurdle such as claim preclusion. While workers’ compensation indeed serves important public interests, claim preclusion does also.See id. at ¶ 6. The important interests underlying claim preclusion should not be ignored.

In sum, claim preclusion bars Acosta’s occupational disease claim because the same parties present a claim that is identical, in fact and evidence, to a previous claim. Acosta could and should have brought the occupational disease claim together with the workers’ compensation claim, and the previous claim resulted in a final judgment. Thus, the Commission correctly dismissed Acosta’s occupational disease claim as barred by res judicata. Accordingly, we affirm.[1]

WE CONCUR: Judith M. Billings, Presiding Judge and Russell W. Bench, Associate Presiding Judge.

[1] In light of our decision to affirm the dismissal, we need not reach the argument of Respondent American Manufacturers Mutual Insurance that it did not insure Salt Lake Regional Medical Center during the time in which Acosta was injured.