In an infinite number of parallel universes, parallel versions of a supervillain will commit or attempt the same crime simultaneously only to be foiled by parallel versions of the same superhero. Is there a good argument for trying the villain once and applying the verdict interdimensionally? I think so, and in this post we consider the application of the res judicata doctrines of issue preclusion and claim preclusion to the Multiverse.
Many comic book series do not occur in a single, isolated universe but rather in a host of parallel universes, alternate dimensions, and Bizarro Worlds collectively referred to as the Multiverse. Crossovers aside, both DC and Marvel series occur within their own respective multiverses. For the sake of reference, the various parallel universes in these multiverses are numbered. For example, the ‘normal’ world is Earth-616 in the Marvel Multiverse and Earth-0 or New Earth in the DC Multiverse. There are an infinite number of such parallel worlds, most differing only in comparatively slight respects (e.g. the victory of the Axis powers in Earth-10; all of history up until that point was essentially the same). So that’s the Multiverse. On to the law.
Ordinarily, courts only like to consider a given issue or claim once. This is done out of consideration of judicial efficiency, cost reduction, and finality. The Supreme Court recently summarized issue preclusion thusly: “once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision…preclude[s] relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case.” San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323, 336 n.16 (2005).
The Court summarized the distinction between the two doctrines in another case: “Claim preclusion generally refers to the effect of a prior judgment in foreclosing successive litigation of the very same claim, whether or not relitigation of the claim raises the same issues as the earlier suit. Issue preclusion generally refers to the effect of a prior judgment in foreclosing successive litigation of an issue of fact or law actually litigated and resolved in a valid court determination essential to the prior judgment, whether or not the issue arises on the same or a different claim.” New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 748-49 (2001). The Court has also applied claim preclusion to criminal cases. United States v. Oppenheimer, 242 U.S. 85 (1916).
So what does this have to do with the Multiverse? Consider Lex Luthor, plotting a dastardly scheme to stop Superman’s meddling once and for all. As is so often the case, his plot will be foiled, and he will be brought to justice. But Lex would have attempted the same plot in an infinite number of parallel worlds which differed only in ways that were immaterial to the plot and its prevention. In the interests of cost savings, judicial efficiency, and finality, should the various Lex Luthors not be tried once, simultaneously, for all of them, both for criminal charges and civil claims brought against them?
The intuitive answer would seem to be yes, but there is a complication. Which jurisdiction should be favored? Or perhaps the better question is which jurisdiction should be forced into it, since that jurisdiction alone will bear the cost of the proceedings; it is not in any jurisdiction’s interest to volunteer. But given the potentially infinite number of candidate jurisdictions, a random choice doesn’t make sense either: how can you fairly pick a number between 0 and infinity?
I think the solution is an Interdimensional Court of Justice, which would hear significant cases that would be too onerous for any one world to bear the cost of hosting or in which there would be a large efficiency gain in hearing the case only once. A world that wished to have its version of a supervillain included in a case would chip in to help fund the IdCJ. Since there could theoretically be an infinite number of such worlds, each world would only need to contribute an infinitesimally small amount. Of course, coordination might be a problem. In practice however, there only seem to be a few dozen parallel universes of any significance in the DC and Marvel multiverses, which makes the coordination problem much more manageable.