Marcel Fashions Group, Inc. v. Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc., No. 17-0361 (2d Cir. 2018)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Marcel filed suit against Lucky Brand under the Lanham Act for infringing on Marcel's "Get Lucky" trademark through its use of "Lucky" on its merchandise. Marcel also alleged that Lucky Brand did so in violation of an injunction entered in an earlier action between the parties. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Marcel released its claims through a 2003 settlement agreement that resolved an earlier substantially similar litigation between the parties. 

The Second Circuit vacated the judgment, holding that res judicata precluded Lucky Brand from raising its release defense in this case. The court held that under certain conditions parties may be barred by claim preclusion from litigating defenses that they could have asserted in an earlier action, and that the conditions here warranted application of that defense preclusion principle. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings.

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17 0361 Marcel Fashions Grp., Inc. v. Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc., et al. 1 2 In the 3 United States Court of Appeals 4 For the Second Circuit 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 ________ AUGUST TERM, 2017 ARGUED: OCTOBER 12, 2017 DECIDED: AUGUST 2, 2018 No. 17 0361 cv MARCEL FASHIONS GROUP, INC., Plaintiff Appellant, v. LUCKY BRAND DUNGAREES, INC., LUCKY BRAND DUNGAREES STORES, INC., LEONARD GREEN & PARTNERS, L.P., LUCKY BRAND, LLC, LUCKY BRAND DUNGAREES STORES, LLC, KATE SPADE & CO., Defendants Appellees, LIZ CLAIBORNE, INC., LBD ACQUISITION CO., LLC, Defendants. ________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. No. 11 cv 05523 – Laura Taylor Swain, Judge. ________ Before: WINTER, WALKER, AND POOLER, Circuit Judges. ________ 2 No. 17 0361 1 Plaintiff Appellant Marcel Fashions Group, Inc. (“Marcel”) and 2 Defendants Appellees Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc. and affiliates 3 (“Lucky Brand”), competitors in the apparel industry, have been 4 hotly contesting their respective rights as to certain trademarks for 5 nearly two decades. In this latest round, Marcel sues under the 6 Lanham Act, alleging that Lucky Brand is infringing on Marcel’s “Get 7 Lucky” trademark through its use of “Lucky” on its merchandise, and 8 that Lucky Brand does so in violation of an injunction entered in an 9 earlier action between the parties. The district court dismissed the 10 action, concluding that Marcel released its claims through a 2003 11 settlement agreement that resolved an earlier substantially similar 12 litigation between the parties. We conclude that the district court did 13 so in error because res judicata precludes Lucky Brand from raising its 14 release defense in this action. To arrive at that result, we determine 15 that under certain conditions parties may be barred by claim 16 preclusion from litigating defenses that they could have asserted in 17 an earlier action, and that the conditions in this case warrant 18 application of that defense preclusion principle. 19 20 21 22 23 24 Consequently, we VACATE the judgment entered by the district court and REMAND for further proceedings. ________ ROBERT L. GREENER, Law Office of Robert L. Greener, New York, NY, for Plaintiff Appellant. 3 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 No. 17 0361 DALE M. CENDALI, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, New York, NY (Claudia Ray, Mary C. Mazzello, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, New York, NY; P. Daniel Bond, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Chicago, IL, on the brief), for Defendants Appellees. ________ JOHN M. WALKER, JR., Circuit Judge: 9 Plaintiff Appellant Marcel Fashions Group, Inc. (“Marcel”) and 10 Defendants Appellees Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc. and affiliates 11 (“Lucky Brand”), competitors in the apparel industry, have been 12 hotly contesting their respective rights as to certain trademarks for 13 nearly two decades. In this latest round, Marcel sues under the 14 Lanham Act, alleging that Lucky Brand is infringing on Marcel’s “Get 15 Lucky” trademark through its use of “Lucky” on its merchandise, and 16 that Lucky Brand does so in violation of an injunction entered in an 17 earlier action between the parties. The district court dismissed the 18 action, concluding that Marcel released its claims through a 2003 19 settlement agreement that resolved an earlier substantially similar 20 litigation between the parties. We conclude that the district court did 21 so in error because res judicata precludes Lucky Brand from raising its 22 release defense in this action. To arrive at that result, we determine 23 that under certain conditions parties may be barred by claim 24 preclusion from litigating defenses that they could have asserted in 25 an earlier action, and that the conditions in this case warrant 4 No. 17 0361 1 application of that defense preclusion1 principle. Consequently, we 2 vacate the judgment entered by the district court and remand for 3 further proceedings. I. 4 5 In a previous opinion vacating the entry of summary judgment 6 dismissing the claims in Marcel’s initial complaint, we discussed in 7 detail the claims at issue in this case, as well as the parties’ relevant 8 history of litigation. Marcel Fashions Grp., Inc. v. Lucky Brand 9 Dungarees, Inc., 779 F.3d 102, 105–07 (2d Cir. 2015) (“Marcel I”). We 10 reiterate that discussion here to the extent necessary to frame the 11 issues relevant to an assessment of Lucky Brand’s release defense.2 12 The 2001 Action. The settlement agreement through which 13 Lucky Brand in this action asserts Marcel released its claims resolved 14 a 2001 suit in which Marcel sued Lucky Brand for its alleged 15 infringement of Marcel’s “Get Lucky” mark (the “2001 Action”). See 16 Marcel I, 779 F.3d at 105. The agreement provided that, inter alia, Throughout this opinion we use the term “defense preclusion” to refer to the preclusion of litigation defenses (such as those enumerated in Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)), a principle we view as consistent with claim preclusion. We do not use the term to refer to the use of preclusion of or by a party defendant, although a counterclaiming defendant may assert defense preclusion (as we use the term here) to preclude a plaintiff’s defense to the counterclaim. 1 These facts derive principally from the second amended complaint and we accept them as true. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007). Certain other facts derive from the records and decisions in the previous litigations between the parties, of which we may take judicial notice. See Staehr v. Hartford Fin. Servs. Grp., Inc., 547 F.3d 406, 424 (2d Cir. 2008) [PWH, DAL, McMahon]. 2 5 No. 17 0361 1 Lucky Brand would “desist henceforth from use of ‘Get Lucky,’” and, 2 pertinent to this appeal, Marcel agreed, through Section 8(e) of the 3 agreement, to release certain claims it might have in the future arising 4 out of its trademarks: 23 Marcel hereby forever and fully remises, releases, acquits, and discharges Defendants [Lucky Brand] . . . from any and all actions, causes of action, suits . . . or relief of any nature whatsoever, whether known or unknown, foreseen or unforeseen . . . that Marcel ever had, now has or hereafter can, shall or may have, by reason of or arising out of any matter, cause or event occurring on or prior to the date hereof, including, but not limited to . . . any and all claims arising out of or in any way relating to Lucky Brand’s rights to use, license and/or register the trademark LUCKY BRAND and/or any other trademarks, trade names, brands, advertising slogans or tag lines owned, registered and/or used by Lucky Brand. . . as of the date of this Agreement. No claims of any kind are reserved. 24 App’x 85–86 (the “Release”). Marcel and Lucky Brand’s views have 25 been consistently at odds on the scope of the Release. Marcel 26 contends that it only released claims as to infringement that occurred 27 prior to the 2003 execution of the agreement. Lucky Brand, for its 28 part, contends that the Release is far broader, releasing any claim 29 Marcel may have in the future in relation to any trademark registered 30 prior to the execution of the agreement. The distinction is vital. 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 6 No. 17 0361 1 Because each of Marcel’s claims in this action ultimately allege a 2 misappropriation of a mark registered before 2003, the latter 3 interpretation would bar Marcel’s claims, but the former would not. 4 The 2005 Action. Due at least in part to the parties’ conflicting 5 views on the breadth of the Release, further litigation followed the 6 parties’ settlement of the 2001 Action. Specifically, in 2005, Lucky 7 Brand sued Marcel over Marcel’s issuance of a license for use of the 8 “Get Lucky” mark and Marcel counterclaimed with infringement 9 claims of its own while also contending that Lucky Brand’s use of 10 “Get Lucky” violated the 2003 settlement agreement (the “2005 11 Action”). See Marcel I, 779 F.3d at 105–06. 12 Early in the 2005 Action, Lucky Brand tested its theory that the 13 Release broadly barred Marcel’s infringement claims. Specifically, 14 Lucky Brand argued that, because the marks at issue were registered 15 prior to the settlement agreement, Marcel released any claim alleging 16 infringement of those marks. Lucky Brand moved to dismiss on this 17 theory, arguing that Marcel’s infringement counterclaims were 18 barred by the terms of the Release. App’x 225–27. Marcel opposed 19 the motion, arguing, as it does here, that the Release does not bar any 20 claims as to infringing uses occurring after execution of the settlement 21 agreement. See No. 05 cv 06757, Dkt. No. 49 at 8–9 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 26, 22 2005). The district court denied the motion in relevant part, 23 effectively concluding that it was premature to determine which 7 No. 17 0361 1 claims in that action, if any, were subject to the Release. See App’x 2 257–58. The district court stated, however, that Lucky Brand was 3 “free to raise the issue . . . again after the record is more fully 4 developed, including further development of the nature and use of 5 the post 2003 marks.” App’x 257–58. Heeding the district court’s 6 instruction, Lucky Brand again raised the Release in its answer, 7 asserting as an affirmative defense that the “Settlement Agreement 8 bars [Marcel’s] Counterclaims.” No. 05 cv 06757, Dkt. No. 67 ¶ 100 9 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 2, 2007). 10 Despite relying on the release argument as part of its motion to 11 dismiss and in its answer, however, Lucky Brand never again asserted 12 a release defense in the 2005 Action. It was not for want of 13 opportunity. The parties engaged in extensive summary judgment 14 proceedings, substantial pre trial motion practice, and a lengthy jury 15 trial during which the release defense could have been asserted, but 16 was not. And, without any argument to the jury by Lucky Brand that 17 the Release barred Marcel’s counterclaims as to infringement of its 18 “Get Lucky” mark, the jury found in favor of Marcel on its 19 counterclaim that Lucky Brand infringed that mark. See Marcel I, 779 20 F.3d at 106. The district court thereafter entered an injunction 21 prohibiting Lucky Brand’s use of the “Get Lucky” mark, and entered 22 a declaration that the “Lucky Brand Parties infringed Marcel 23 Fashion’s GET LUCKY trademark . . . by using GET LUCKY, the 8 No. 17 0361 1 LUCKY BRAND trademarks, and any other trademarks including the 2 word ‘Lucky’ after May 2003.” Id. 3 The Instant Action. Lucky Brand did not appeal the judgment 4 in the 2005 Action, but the parties’ dispute over use of the relevant 5 marks continued. In 2011, relying on the broad language of the 6 court’s injunction in the 2005 Action, Marcel filed the instant suit, 7 seeking relief for Lucky Brand’s alleged continued use of the “Lucky 8 Brand” mark following that injunction. See id. at 106–07. Consistent 9 with its non assertion of the Release before the jury in the 2005 Action, 10 however, Lucky Brand did not assert a release defense in the early 11 stages of the instant action. Lucky Brand did not plead the Release as 12 an affirmative defense in its answer to the initial complaint. No. 11 13 cv 05523, Dkt. No. 38 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2011). Nor did Lucky Brand 14 raise the Release as a basis for dismissal when it moved for summary 15 judgment. No. 11 cv 05523, Dkt. No. 65 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2012). 16 Rather, Lucky Brand moved for summary judgment on the 17 basis that Marcel’s claims were precluded by res judicata (specifically, 18 claim preclusion) in light of the final disposition in the 2005 Action. 19 The district court agreed, but, in Marcel I, we reversed. Relying on 20 TechnoMarine SA v. Giftports, Inc., 758 F.3d 493 (2d Cir. 2014), we 21 concluded that Marcel’s claims were not barred by res judicata because 22 Marcel alleged infringements that occurred subsequent to the 23 judgment in the 2005 Action, claims which “could not possibly have 9 No. 17 0361 1 been sued upon in the previous case.” Marcel I, 779 F.3d at 108 2 (internal quotation marks omitted). 3 On remand, Marcel filed a second amended complaint. Armed 4 with new counsel, Lucky Brand moved to dismiss, this time raising 5 as its only argument that the Release bars Marcel’s claims. The district 6 court agreed and granted the motion, concluding that Marcel’s claims 7 “are plainly foreclosed by the Settlement Agreement” because each of 8 the claims relates to trademarks that “were registered prior to the 2003 9 Settlement Agreement.” App’x 247. Specifically, the district court 10 concluded that “Section 8(e) . . . rests on the nature, not the timing, of 11 the claim. . . . The release provision on which Lucky Brand’s defense 12 turns thus is not bound by temporal parameters.” App’x 248. 13 Consequently, the district court concluded that, because the 14 settlement agreement released claims “in any way relating” to 15 trademarks registered prior to the agreement, and the “Get Lucky” 16 mark was registered prior to the agreement, Marcel had released its 17 claims as to the “Lucky Brand” mark. App’x 248–49. 18 In arriving at its conclusion, the district court rejected Marcel’s 19 argument that Lucky Brand was precluded by res judicata from 20 invoking the Release as a defense. Acknowledging that res judicata 21 encompasses both issue and claim preclusion, the district court 22 concluded that “[i]ssue preclusion does not apply, because the 23 applicability of the Settlement Agreement’s release provision was not 10 No. 17 0361 1 actually litigated and resolved in the 2005 Action,” and “[c]laim 2 preclusion does not apply because Lucky Brand is not asserting a 3 claim against Marcel.” App’x 249. Marcel appealed. 4 II. 5 “We review de novo a grant of a motion to dismiss pursuant to 6 Rule 12(b)(6), accepting the complaint’s factual allegations as true and 7 drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.” Brown 8 Media Corp. v. K&L Gates, LLP, 854 F.3d 150, 156–57 (2d Cir. 2017) 9 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 10 662, 678 (2009); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. 11 Marcel argues that the district court erred in concluding that 12 the Release bars its claims, raising three principal contentions: 13 (i) Lucky Brand is precluded by res judicata from asserting its release 14 defense; (ii) Lucky Brand waived its release defense; and (iii) Marcel’s 15 claims are not barred by the terms of the Release. We agree with 16 Marcel that, on this record, res judicata bars Lucky Brand’s release 17 defense, and we need not and do not address Marcel’s other 18 contentions. Specifically, we conclude that the doctrine of claim 19 preclusion (or, more precisely, defense preclusion) may be applied in 20 contexts such as this to bar the litigation of a party’s defense and that 21 the district court erred in holding to the contrary. We then conclude 22 that this defense preclusion doctrine bars Lucky Brand from invoking 11 No. 17 0361 1 its release defense in this action and thus vacate the dismissal of 2 Marcel’s claims and remand for further proceedings. A. 3 4 In Marcel I, we identified the contours of res judicata (albeit in 5 the context of the assertion of claims and not defenses), and discussed 6 in detail the two doctrines that it encompasses: claim preclusion and 7 issue preclusion. 779 F.3d at 107–08. At issue here is claim 8 preclusion,3 a doctrine which, in the usual situation, bars a plaintiff 9 from relitigating claims against a defendant that it lost in a previous 10 action against the same defendant and claims that the plaintiff could 11 have brought in that earlier action but did not. See id. Claim 12 preclusion, applied in this manner, “serves the interest of society and 13 litigants in assuring the finality of judgments, [and] also fosters 14 judicial economy and protects the parties from vexatious and 15 expensive litigation.” Curtis v. Citibank, N.A., 226 F.3d 133, 138 (2d 16 Cir. 2000). The doctrine ensures these efficiency aims by “achieving 17 finality and preventing piecemeal and wasteful litigation.” N. 18 Assurance Co. of Am. v. Square D Co., 201 F.3d 84, 89 (2d Cir. 2000). 19 Stated more broadly, claim preclusion ensures that “[w]hen a party is 20 victorious, it [does] not have to defend that victory again.” Id. Lucky Brand can make no credible issue preclusion argument. Whether the Release bars Marcel’s claims as to post settlement agreement infringement was in no way “actually litigated and determined,” B & B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Indus., Inc., 135 S. Ct. 1293, 1303 (2015), in the 2005 Action. 3 12 No. 17 0361 1 A party seeking to invoke claim preclusion must generally 2 make three showings: (i) an earlier action resulted in an adjudication 3 on the merits; (ii) that earlier action involved the same counterparty 4 or those in privity with them; and (iii) the claim sought to be 5 precluded was raised, or could have been raised, in that earlier action. 6 See Monahan v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Corr., 214 F.3d 275, 285 (2d Cir. 2000). 7 Relying on these elements and the policies supporting claim 8 preclusion, Marcel argued to the district court that the principle of 9 claim preclusion bars Lucky Brand from asserting its release defense 10 in the instant action. The district court gave the argument short shrift. 11 Rather than addressing the elements of claim preclusion, the district 12 court dismissed Marcel’s argument for a threshold reason: the 13 doctrine is simply not available here where Marcel seeks to preclude 14 a defense, and not a “claim.” App’x 249. Although an 15 understandable conclusion, given the predominant use of res judicata 16 to preclude claims, we disagree with it, and conclude that the district 17 court overlooked the principle that defenses are also subject to 18 preclusion under res judicata. B. 19 20 For the past quarter of a century, we have assumed that claim 21 preclusion may bar a litigation defense but we have not had a case in 22 which we have found a defense to be so precluded. Our most 23 expansive decision on the issue is Clarke v. Frank, 960 F.2d 1146 (2d 13 No. 17 0361 1 Cir. 1992), which addressed an action to enforce a judgment entered 2 against the U.S. Postal Service in a proceeding at the Equal 3 Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The issue there was 4 whether claim preclusion barred the Postal Service from raising a 5 damages mitigation defense that it did not raise at the EEOC. We 6 identified the governing principle as follows: “[c]laim preclusion 7 prevents a party from litigating any issue or defense that could have 8 been raised or decided in a previous suit, even if the issue or defense 9 was not actually raised or decided.” Clarke, 960 F.2d at 1150 10 (emphases added); see also Woods v. Dunlop Tire Corp., 972 F.2d 36, 38 11 (2d Cir. 1992). Although we ultimately concluded that the Post Office 12 was not precluded from raising the mitigation defense, it was not 13 because claim preclusion was not generally available to defenses, but 14 because one of the elements of the doctrine went unsatisfied: the 15 Postal Service could not have raised the mitigation defense during the 16 EEOC proceedings. See Clarke, 960 F.2d at 1151. 17 Other courts in our circuit have relied on Clarke to subject 18 litigation defenses to claim preclusion, see, e.g., Beckford v. Citibank, 19 N.A., 2000 WL 1585684, at *3–4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2000); see also Atateks 20 Foreign Trade Ltd. v. Dente, 2017 WL 4221085, at *3–4 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 21 22, 2017), but we have yet to further discuss the defense preclusion 14 No. 17 0361 1 doctrine or frame its parameters. At the same time, we have never 2 cast doubt on it.4 3 We are therefore called on for the first time to address whether 4 a party can be barred by claim preclusion doctrine from prosecuting 5 a litigation defense in a situation in which it is outcome 6 determinative. Although we are largely unbound by precedential 7 authority, we are not without assistance. Specifically, we have 8 guidance on this question from claim preclusion’s sister res judicata 9 component, issue preclusion.5 10 Issue preclusion was historically an exceedingly narrow 11 doctrine, with two major limits to its reach: (i) it could only be applied 12 by a defendant against a plaintiff to bar relitigation of an issue that 13 had been actually litigated and lost by the plaintiff; and (ii) it could We are aware of no authority unequivocally prohibiting defenses from being subject to the principle of claim preclusion. Lucky Brand, in essence acknowledging this dearth of authority, depends almost entirely on language from a leading treatise, Br. of Appellees at 38, which indicates that “[i]t is generally assumed that the defendant may raise defenses in the second action that were not raised in the first, even though they were equally available and relevant in both actions.” Wright & Miller, 18 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Juris. § 4414 (3d ed. 2018) [hereinafter, “Wright & Miller”]. But, Wright & Miller speaks only of a “general rule” that departs from the standard we identified in Clarke. Id. Moreover, Wright & Miller acknowledges that, in certain circumstances, “[d]efendant preclusion should be seriously considered,” and that perhaps the “best rule” would at times allow for the preclusion of defenses that could have been previously asserted. Id. 4 See Currier v. Virginia, 138 S. Ct. 2144, 2156 (2018) (“Historically, both claim and issue preclusion have sought to promot[e] judicial economy by preventing needless litigation.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); see also Transaero, Inc. v. La Fuerza Aerea Boliviana, 162 F.3d 724, 731 (2d Cir. 1998). 5 15 No. 17 0361 1 only be applied where the parties in the two actions were the same. 2 See Triplett v. Lowell, 297 U.S. 638, 642–44 (1936); Bigelow v. Old 3 Dominion Copper Min. & Smelting Co., 225 U.S. 111, 127–28 (1912). The 4 Supreme Court abandoned the latter limitation, known as the 5 “mutuality” principle, in Blonder Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University 6 of Illinois Foundation, 402 U.S. 313, 328–30 (1971), but Blonder Tongue 7 expressly left open whether a plaintiff may invoke issue preclusion, 8 id. at 329–30. 9 In Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322 (1979), the Court 10 resolved that open question when it rejected any per se prohibition on 11 a plaintiff’s use of issue preclusion. There, a class of shareholders of 12 the Parklane Hosiery Company alleged that the company issued a 13 materially misleading proxy statement. Trial on the shareholders’ 14 claims followed a suit brought by the Securities and Exchange 15 Commission against Parklane Hosiery, which had resulted in a ruling 16 following a bench trial that the relevant proxy statement was in fact 17 false and misleading. The shareholders thereafter sought a ruling that 18 Parklane Hosiery was collaterally estopped by issue preclusion from 19 arguing that the relevant proxy statement was not false or misleading. 20 The district court rejected the argument, purportedly on the basis that 21 allowing for issue preclusion in this instance—where the earlier 22 action was a bench trial—would violate the company’s Seventh 23 Amendment right to a jury trial. We reversed, 565 F.2d 815 (2d Cir. 16 No. 17 0361 1 1977), and the Supreme Court affirmed. The Court split its analysis 2 in two parts, first addressing whether issue preclusion can be used 3 offensively, and second, whether issue preclusion’s offensive use by 4 the shareholders would run afoul of Parklane Hosiery’s Seventh 5 Amendment rights. Its conclusion on whether issue preclusion can 6 be used offensively is instructive here. 7 The Court noted at the outset that there generally “is no 8 intrinsic difference between ‘offensive’ as distinct from ‘defensive’ 9 issue preclusion” that would allow for preclusion in the latter but 10 entirely forbid it in the former. Parklane, 439 U.S. at 331 n.16. It 11 concluded that, at least under certain conditions, the doctrine of issue 12 preclusion may be invoked by a plaintiff to estop a defendant from 13 raising issues it lost in a previous proceeding. See id. at 329–33. 14 Although issue preclusion is different from claim preclusion in 15 several important respects, we believe that an analysis similar to that 16 of the Supreme Court’s in Parklane informs the assessment of defense 17 preclusion. We do not think the principles animating the claim 18 preclusion doctrine disappear when that which is sought to be 19 precluded is a defense. Rather, we view the efficiency concerns as 20 equally pressing when the matter subject to preclusion is a defense 21 rather than a claim. The following efficiencies are readily apparent. 22 First, defense preclusion incentivizes defendants to litigate all their 23 relevant defenses in an initial action, thereby promoting judicial 17 No. 17 0361 1 efficiency at least to the same extent as does precluding claims. 2 Second, absent defense preclusion, plaintiffs might be hesitant to rely 3 on judicial victories for fear that a hidden defense will later emerge to 4 alter their judicially established rights. Third, and relatedly, defense 5 preclusion prevents wasteful follow on actions that would not have 6 been filed had the defense been asserted (and maintained) at the first 7 opportunity. As with the preclusion of claims, therefore, defense 8 preclusion ensures that “[w]hen a party is victorious, it [does] not 9 have to defend that victory again.” N. Assurance, 201 F.3d at 89. 10 The instant case is an apt example of the inefficiencies in 11 prohibiting defense preclusion. It is Lucky Brand’s contention that 12 the Release bars any claim that Lucky Brand infringed on Marcel’s 13 “Get Lucky” mark, including those infringements that occurred after 14 the parties executed their settlement agreement. Consequently, 15 under Lucky Brand’s theory, the Release bars all of Marcel’s claims in 16 the instant action. It follows, then, that had Lucky Brand litigated and 17 prevailed on its release defense in the 2005 Action, in which Marcel 18 sought relief for Lucky Brand’s post settlement agreement 19 infringement of the “Get Lucky” mark, the instant action would have 20 been avoided. This case therefore plainly demonstrates the 21 inefficiencies that would have to be tolerated were we to prohibit 22 defense preclusion. Assuming arguendo that Lucky Brand is correct 23 in its interpretation of the Release (a question we do not reach), the 18 No. 17 0361 1 court system will have been unnecessarily burdened with seven plus 2 years of litigation, involving 179 district court docket entries and two 3 appeals to this Court. The entire endeavor would have been avoided, 4 however, had Lucky Brand successfully litigated and not cast aside 5 its release defense in the 2005 Action. 6 7 between preclusion as a shield by defendants and as a sword against 8 defendants. Referencing issue preclusion, the Supreme Court 9 acknowledged as much in Parklane, leading it to conclude that 10 “the[se] two situations should be treated differently.” 439 U.S. at 329. 11 The Court identified two reasons that offensive use of issue 12 preclusion should be more circumscribed than its defensive 13 counterpart. See id. at 329–31. First, offensive issue preclusion does 14 not promote judicial efficiency to the same extent as does defensive 15 issue preclusion.6 See id. at 329–30. Second, in certain circumstances, 16 the application of offensive preclusion might be unfair to defendants. 17 See id. at 330–31 & n.14–15 (providing examples). Acknowledging 18 these concerns, the Parklane Court resolved as follows: We acknowledge, however, that there exist distinctions We have concluded that the preferable approach for dealing with these problems in the federal courts is not to preclude the use 19 20 21 The Court opined, for example, that offensive issue preclusion might cause more litigation because potential plaintiffs will have every incentive to “wait and see” how other plaintiffs fare against a defendant that that potential plaintiff wants to sue. Parklane, 439 U.S. at 330. 6 19 No. 17 0361 of offensive collateral estoppel, but to grant trial courts broad discretion to determine when it should be applied. The general rule should be that in cases where a plaintiff could easily have joined in the earlier action or where, either for the reasons discussed above or for other reasons, the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to a defendant, a trial judge should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Id. at 331 (footnote omitted). 12 13 helpful framework for resolving whether, and how, we should permit 14 the use of claim preclusion principles to bar the litigation of defenses. 15 We acknowledge that, as with offensive issue preclusion, certain 16 applications of defense preclusion could be unfair to defendants. The 17 Court’s observations on this point in Parklane are enlightening: 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 Parklane’s assessment of offensive issue preclusion provides a If, for example, the defendant in the first action was forced to defend in an inconvenient forum and therefore was unable to engage in full scale discovery or call witnesses, application of offensive collateral estoppel may be unwarranted. Indeed, differences in available procedures may sometimes justify not allowing a prior judgment to have estoppel effect in a subsequent action even between the same parties, or where defensive estoppel is asserted against a plaintiff who has litigated and lost. The problem of unfairness is particularly acute in cases of offensive estoppel, however, because the defendant 20 1 2 3 4 No. 17 0361 against whom estoppel is asserted typically will not have chosen the forum in the first action. 439 U.S. at 331 n.15. 5 Defense preclusion raises a number of similar concerns. It 6 might be unfair to bar a defendant from raising a defense that it 7 elected not to bring in an earlier action because that action was of a 8 significantly smaller scope, or the defense was somehow tangential to 9 the matter. Put differently, it would be unfair to preclude a defense 10 that the defendant had little to no incentive to raise in the earlier 11 action. Relatedly, because it is generally not a defendant’s 12 prerogative to be hauled into court, they should be given some room 13 to make tactical choices to attempt to end the suit against them with 14 as little cost as possible without facing the unforeseen consequences 15 of forever abandoning a defense. We also acknowledge that what 16 constitutes a “defense” may not always be as clear as what constitutes 17 a “claim,” and that a broad understanding of “defense” in this context 18 risks eliding the distinction between claim and issue preclusion. 19 Finally, the fairness of defense preclusion may depend on the nature 20 of the action. For example, there will hardly ever be unfairness in 21 applying defense preclusion to bar a defendant from invoking 22 defenses that could have been asserted in a previous action in a 23 subsequent action to enforce a judgment previously entered against 24 it. See Wright & Miller, supra note 4, § 4414; see also Clarke, 960 F.2d at 21 No. 17 0361 1 1150–51. This is especially true here, where sophisticated parties, 2 armed with able counsel, litigate claims and counterclaims for nearly 3 two decades. In contrast, pro se civil defendants might not initially 4 mount their best defense and we should be wary of compounding 5 that misfortune in subsequent litigation on nearly identical issues as 6 to which they manage to muster a superior defense.7 7 The above examples, which are illustrative, and not exhaustive, 8 demonstrate the wide array of fairness considerations potentially 9 implicated by defense preclusion. Consistent with Parklane, however, 10 we “conclud[e] that the preferable approach for dealing with these 11 problems in the federal courts is not to preclude the use of [defense 12 preclusion], but to grant trial courts broad discretion to determine 13 when it should be applied.” 439 U.S. at 331. District court discretion 14 should be bound by the twin concerns discussed above: judicial 15 efficiency and fairness. Although these concerns are significant, as in Parklane, they are insufficient to prohibit defense preclusion. For one, we already have rules, such as our compulsory counterclaim rules, that require defendants no matter how sophisticated to bring (or lose) certain affirmative claims irrespective of their strategic inclinations. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 13(a); Critical Vac Filtration Corp. v. Minuteman Int’l., Inc., 233 F.3d 697, 699 (2d Cir. 2000). Further, in part because claim preclusion (unlike issue preclusion) only applies where the previous action involved the same parties or those in privity with them, see Marcel I, 779 F.3d at 108, a defense preclusion issue will arise in a limited selection of cases. Specifically, where (i) the plaintiff is for some reason, as here, itself not precluded from bringing the second action against the same party (or those in privity with it) even though the action surrounds related transactions or occurrences; and (ii) the defendant could have litigated that defense in the earlier action. 7 22 No. 17 0361 1 In sum, we conclude that defense preclusion bars a party from 2 raising a defense where: (i) a previous action involved an 3 adjudication on the merits; (ii) the previous action involved the same 4 parties or those in privity with them; (iii) the defense was either 5 asserted or could have been asserted, in the prior action; and (iv) the 6 district court, in its discretion, concludes that preclusion of the 7 defense is appropriate because efficiency concerns outweigh any 8 unfairness to the party whose defense would be precluded.8 Cf. Ward 9 v. Harte, 794 F. Supp. 109, 118 (S.D.N.Y. 1992) (concluding “that the 10 use of offensive collateral estoppel would not be unfair” where “the 11 Court ha[d] before it the same parties who appeared” in a prior action, 12 and the defendant “was represented at all times by counsel, which 13 significantly mitigates, in the Court’s view, any possible unfairness 14 towards him” and observing that, under these circumstances, 15 Parklane’s fairness “concerns are somewhat lessened”). C. 16 17 The above stated factors are easily met here. Lucky Brand does 18 not (and cannot) dispute the first three, and it would have been an 19 abuse of discretion for the district to have concluded anything other 20 than that any unfairness to Lucky Brand is substantially outweighed Although we generally consider an application of claim preclusion to be a legal question that we review de novo, see Technomarine, 758 F.3d at 498, this balancing element of the defense preclusion doctrine is best left to the discretion of the district court. 8 23 No. 17 0361 1 by the efficiency concerns identified above. Our review of the record 2 evinces no conceivable justification for Lucky Brand, a sophisticated 3 party engaged in litigation pertaining to its ability to use some of its 4 core trademarks, not to have fully litigated the release defense in the 5 2005 Action and Lucky Brand has not suggested one.9 It should be 6 the rare case that application of defense preclusion will be unfair 7 where not even a theoretical explanation for the omission of the 8 defense in the earlier action is apparent. Lucky Brand cannot 9 seriously contend that it viewed the release defense as a minor or 10 tangential issue. To the contrary, despite its failure to reintroduce the 11 Release as a defense in the 2005 Action, it initially viewed the Release 12 as a complete defense when it moved to dismiss the counterclaims in 13 that action, see No. 05 cv 06757, Dkt. No. 44 at 13–15 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 6, 14 2005), before it decided to forego the defense at summary judgment. 15 This is the same position it takes as to the scope of the Release in this 16 action. Relatedly, a release defense is a specifically identified 17 affirmative defense in the federal rules, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)(1), 18 obviating any concern that application of claim preclusion here elides 19 the line between claim and issue preclusion. Finally, the nature of the 20 instant suit makes this case particularly suitable for defense 21 preclusion. Marcel styled its complaint as one that effectively sought Rather, it seems to us that the only explanation is Lucky Brand’s retention of new counsel. 9 24 No. 17 0361 1 to enforce the judgment entered in the 2005 Action. And, the 2 judgment enforcement context is especially deserving of a defense 3 preclusion rule.10 Wright & Miller, supra note 3, § 4414 (the “simplest 4 rule of all is that direct enforcement of a judgment cannot be resisted 5 merely by raising defenses that might have been raised before the 6 judgment was entered”). To conclude otherwise would allow 7 judgment debtors wide leeway to forgo payment while they assert 8 previously unasserted defenses to successive judgment enforcement 9 actions that they force their creditors to bring. 10 Though it will be the infrequent case that a defense will be 11 precluded by the rule we describe, it is the proper resolution of the 12 case before us. On remand, Lucky Brand is barred from asserting the 13 Release as a defense to Marcel’s infringement claims as set forth in the 14 operative complaint. Lucky Brand contends it would be “grossly unfair” to bar its release defense pursuant to res judicata in light of our conclusion in Marcel I that Marcel’s claims are not barred by res judicata. Br. of Appellees 39–40. We disagree. Precluding Lucky Brand’s release defense leads to no disparity of treatment that is not accountable to application of the traditional elements of the preclusion doctrine. Marcel’s claims were not precluded in light of our conclusion that those claims “could not possibly have been sued upon in the previous case.” Marcel I, 779 F.3d at 108 (internal quotation marks omitted). In contrast, and as discussed, Lucky Brand could have fully litigated its release defense in the 2005 Action. Consequently, though our rulings, when read together, mean that Marcel’s claims are not barred by res judicata but that one of Lucky Brand’s defenses to those claims is so precluded, there is no unfairness in that. Both are traditional applications of claim preclusion principles. 10 25 No. 17 0361 III. 1 2 For the reasons stated above, we VACATE the judgment of the 3 district court and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this 4 opinion.