Saturday, November 3, 2007
Collateral Damage: Shane Ragland's Guilty Plea Means Motion for Summary Judgment Should Be Granted in DiGiuro Wrongful Death Suit
In 2002, Shane Ragland was convicted of murder based upon allegedly killing University of Kentucky football player Trent DiGiuro after DiGiuro kept him out of a fraternity. That conviction was later reversed after a judge determined that the prosecutor made an inappropriate comment during trial and used inadmissible evidence concerning a bullet. Before a new trial was held, however, Ragland pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
DiGiuro's family has now brought a civil wrongful death suit against Ragland and moved for summary judgment on the ground that Ragland's guilty plea automatically establishes his liability. Ragland's attorney has countered that there is no Kentucky case law that automatically establishes liability after a guilty plea.
A quick Westlaw search, however, finds that Kentucky, like most states, follows the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which prevents a party from re-litigating a question that was actually litigated and determined by judgment in a prior action. Thus, for instance, in the recent case, C.L.N. v. T.R.R., 2007 WL 2285804 (Ky.App. 2007), the Kentucky Court of Appeals dismissed a defendant's appeal from a trial court order granting the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on her civil lawsuit seeking to recover damages resulting from the defendant sexually abusing her. The trial court had granted the motion on the ground of collateral estoppel because the defendant had pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in the 3rd degree in the criminal trial covering the same incident. The same analysis should apply in the Ragland case.