In Smith v. Exxon Mobil Oil Corp., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Aug. 3, 2007), the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division Two) reviewed de novo the trial court's determination that the collateral estoppel doctrine applied to establish the defendant's liability:
Respondents take the position that de novo review is appropriate with respect to the presence of the three elements essential to collateral estoppel (i.e., whether the necessary parties are the same or in privity, there was previously a final judgment on the merits, and the issues are identical) and to whether the prior proceeding was of a type that should be given preclusive effect (see, e.g., Vandenberg v. Superior Court [(1999)] 21 Cal.4th [815,] 831-834 [private arbitration not given preclusive effect]). They claim de novo review does not, however, apply to a trial court’s determination of the “fairness” of applying collateral estoppel, as to which respondents say the more deferential abuse of discretion standard should apply. Respondents cite no authority for this proposition, and in the circumstances of this case we decline to accept it. While reasonable minds may differ as to the appropriateness of de novo review of a trial court determination of the applicability of an equitable doctrine that is made upon the basis of a factual inquiry and credibility assessment, the facts bearing upon the propriety of applying estoppel in this case, none of which involve questions of credibility, did not arise out of an independent evidentiary inquiry and are entirely uncontested. The trial court had no more information than is now before us and was in no better position than we are to evaluate that information.
Slip op. at 7.