The Doctrine of Prior Suit Pending is What it Sounds Like

Sometimes, legal concepts have names that make no sense. “Qui Tam” Actions. “Quiet Title” Complaints. “Res Judicata.” “Equitable Subrogation.”

In other cases, the concepts have straight-forward names. Like “prior suit pending,” which is a concept that I’ve never specifically researched, but always felt like I understood–based solely on its name.

Yesterday, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Rafia Khan v. Regions Bank, et. al., No. E2015-01891-COA-R3-CV, May 25, 2016,  that explains the elements of this concept.

And, you’ll be pleased to know, it’s as simple as it sounds: “The doctrine of prior suit pending is well-established in Tennessee law and provides that a lawsuit is subject to dismissal where a prior lawsuit involves the same parties and subject matter.” See West v. Vought Aircraft Indus., Inc., 256 S.W.3d 618, 620 (Tenn. 2008).

There are four elements:

  1. the lawsuits must involve identical subject matter;
  2. the lawsuits must be between the same parties;
  3. the former lawsuit must be pending in a court having subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute; and
  4. the former lawsuit must be pending in a court having personal jurisdiction over the parties.

When considering whether the subject matter is the same, the Court wrote, this analysis “applies not only to issues actually raised in the first suit, but also to issues that could have been raised regarding the same subject matter.”

In short, the defense is as simple as it sounds: Where a prior lawsuit exists on the same factual and legal issues, a litigant may be able to dismiss any subsequent lawsuit on those same issues (or closely related issues that could have been raised).

Keep in mind, however, that lawyers tend to give simple concepts complex names, but this one must have just slipped past.

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