Jon David Norberg, M.D. & Jon Norberg, M.D., P.C., Plaintiffs and Appellants
Alonna Knorr Norberg, Defendant and Appellee
from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial
District, the Honorable Frank L. Racek, Judge.
A. Schoenwald (argued) and Randolph E. Stefanson (on brief),
for plaintiffs and appellants.
Charles A. Stock, for defendant and appellee.
SANDSTROM, SURROGATE JUDGE.
1] Jon Norberg appeals the district court order denying his
motion for judgment as a matter of law or new trial. He
argues collateral estoppel established as a matter of law
Alonna Knorr Norberg's ("Knorr's")
liability for his abuse of process, malicious prosecution,
and defamation claims, and it should not have been redecided
by the jury. He further argues Knorr's dismissal of her
lawsuit prevented her from raising affirmative defenses to
his claims. Concluding collateral estoppel precluded
relitigation of matters previous determined, we reverse and
remand for a new trial.
2] This case is the result of a long history between Jon
Norberg and Alonna Knorr. Once married, they divorced after
Knorr alleged Norberg sexually abused her after drugging her
with Propofol. Knorr's allegations resulted in criminal
charges against Norberg, and a jury acquitted him of all
charges in 2012.
3] In the subsequent divorce case, the parties relitigated
much of the same evidence included in Norberg's criminal
trial. The divorce court found Knorr's allegations to be
"untrue" and "nothing more than her attempt to
get primary residential responsibility of the parties'
children." The court awarded the father primary
residential responsibility of the children. In distributing
marital assets, the court further found the husband's
financial ruin was a result of Knorr's false allegations.
Knorr appealed, and we affirmed in Norberg v.
Norberg, 14 ND 90');">2014 ND 90, 845 N.W.2d 348.
4] Shortly before the divorce trial concluded, Knorr sued
Norberg and other parties for medical malpractice, among
other claims. Norberg counterclaimed for abuse of process,
malicious prosecution, and defamation. Knorr eventually
dismissed her claims against the other parties, and she later
also dismissed her claims against Norberg. Norberg, however,
continued pursuing his counterclaims against his former wife.
Before trial, Norberg moved the court to prohibit Knorr from
presenting evidence contrary to facts found in the divorce
case and to order a directed verdict on Norberg's
counterclaims establishing Knorr's liability as a matter
of law. He argued his former wife was attempting to
relitigate facts that had already been decided in the earlier
criminal and divorce cases. The court denied Norberg's
motion, and the case went to trial. On all claims, a jury
found Knorr not liable.
5] After trial, Norberg moved for judgment as a matter of law
or new trial. He reasserted his earlier arguments, and the
district court again denied his motion. Norberg appeals,
arguing the district court should have granted his motion for
judgment as a matter of law because collateral estoppel
established Knorr's liability on his abuse of process,
malicious prosecution, and defamation claims. He also argues
Knorr's dismissal of her claims effectively prevented her
from asserting affirmative defenses against his claims.
6] The district court had jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art.
VI, § 8, and N.D.C.C. § 27-05-06. Norberg's
appeal is timely under N.D.R.App.P. 4(a). This Court has
jurisdiction under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 6, and
N.D.C.C. § 28-27-01.
7] A denial of a motion for new trial is reviewed under the
abuse-of-discretion standard. Grager v. Schudar,
2009 ND 140, ¶ 3, 770 N.W.2d 692. "A court abuses
its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or
unconscionable manner, or when it misinterprets or misapplies
the law." Id.
8] Norberg argues two issues in which he contends the
district court erred in denying his motion for new trial.
First, he contends the district court erred by misapplying
the doctrine of collateral estoppel. He contends the district
court allowed the jury to find facts that were already found
by the divorce court in the Norberg-Knorr divorce. Second, he
argues Knorr's dismissal of her claims precluded her from
asserting affirmative defenses against his claims. Norberg
first raised these issues before the district court in a
pre-trial motion to prohibit Knorr from presenting evidence
contrary to facts found in the divorce case and to direct a
verdict on the issue of liability. He raised these issues
again in his post-trial motion for directed verdict or new
trial, and he adequately briefed these issues on appeal.
Finally, Norberg conceded during oral argument he must
succeed on both of these arguments for us to conclude the
doctrine of collateral estoppel establishes Knorr's
liability on his claims of abuse of process, malicious
prosecution, and defamation.
9] The first issue is whether the district court erred by
misapplying the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Whether the
district court misapplied the doctrine of collateral estoppel
is a "question of law, fully reviewable on appeal."
Hanneman v. Nygaard, 2010 ND 113, ¶ 12, 784
N.W.2d 117. Norberg argues the jury was allowed to find facts
that were already litigated and found in the earlier criminal
and divorce cases.
10] "Courts bar relitigation of claims and issues to
promote the finality of judgments, which increases certainty,
discourages multiple litigation, wards off wasteful delay and
expense, and conserves judicial resources." Riemers
v. Peters-Riemers, 2004 ND 153, ¶ 9, 684 N.W.2d
619. "[C]ollateral estoppel, or issue preclusion,
generally forecloses the relitigation, in a second action
based on a different claim, of particular issues of either
fact or law which were, or by logical and necessary
implication must have been, litigated and determined in the
prior suit." Id. (quotation marks omitted).
11] Collateral estoppel may apply to bar the relitigation of
factual and legal issues that were already established in an
earlier divorce proceeding. E.g., Hofsommer v.
Hofsommer Excavating, Inc., 488 N.W.2d 380, 386 (N.D.
1992); Riemers, 2004 ND 153, ¶ 10, 684 N.W.2d
619. For example, in Riemers, a husband and wife
litigated during divorce proceedings whether domestic
violence had occurred during the marriage. Id. The
divorce court found the husband had committed a pattern of
domestic violence against the wife. Id. The divorce
court also found the wife had not committed domestic violence
against the husband. Id. After the divorce, the
husband sued his former wife, claiming she committed torts
against him during the marriage and the divorce proceedings.
Id. at ¶ 3. The former wife moved for summary
judgment, and the district court granted her motion.
Id. at ¶ 4. The court concluded collateral
estoppel applied to bar the husband from relitigating whether
his former wife had committed physical and emotional abuse
against him during the marriage and divorce, because the
divorce court had earlier found she had not committed such
abuse against him. Id. On appeal, we held collateral
estoppel applied to bar the husband's tort claims and
affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment.
Id. at ¶¶ 17, 40.
12] For collateral estoppel to bar relitigation of an issue
in a new ...