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Law of the case

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Definition Edit

The law of the case is a legal term of art that is applicable mainly in common law jurisdictions that recognize the related doctrine of stare decisis. The phrase refers to instances where "rulings made by a trial court and not challenged on appeal become the law of the case."[1] "Unless the trial court's rulings were clearly in error or there has been an important change in circumstances, the Court's prior rulings must stand."[2] Usually the situation occurs when either a case is on appeal for the second time — e.g., if the reviewing court remanded the matter back to the trial court and the party appeals again, or the case was appealed to a higher appellate court &mdasjh; for example, from an appellate court to the highest court.

As generally used, the term "law of the case" designates the principle that if an appellate court has passed on a legal question and remanded the cause to the court below for further proceedings, the legal question thus determined by the appellate court will not be differently determined on a subsequent appeal in the same case where the facts remain the same.[3]

The doctrine provides that an appellate court’s determination on a legal issue is binding on both the trial court on remand and an appellate court on a subsequent appeal given the same case and substantially the same facts.[4]

Law of the case, however, is one of policy only and will be disregarded when compelling circumstances call for a redetermination of the determination of a point of law on prior appeal, and this is particularly true where an intervening or a contemporaneous change in law has occurred by overruling former decisions or the establishment of new precedent by controlling authority.[5]

The law of the case doctrine precludes reconsideration of a previously decided issue unless one of three "exceptional circumstances" exists: (1) when substantially different evidence is raised at a subsequent trial; (2) when a subsequent contrary view of the law is decided by the controlling authority; or (3) when a decision is clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice.[6]

References Edit

  1. Hughes v. State, 490 A.2d 1034, 1048 (Del. 1985) (full-text) (citing Haveg Corp. v. Guyer, 58 Del. 535, 211 A.2d 910, 912 (Del. 1965) (full-text)).
  2. Id., citing United States v. Estrada-Lucas, 651 F.2d 1261, 1263 (9th Cir. 1980) (full-text); Smith v. United States, 406 A.2d 1262 (D.C. App. 1979) (full-text).
  3. Allen v. Michigan Bell Tel. Co., 61 Mich. App. 62, 232 N.W.2d 302, 303 (1975) (full-text).
  4. Hinds v. McNair, 413 N.E.2d 586, 607 (Ind. App. 1980) (full-text).
  5. Ryan v. Mike-Ron Corp., 259 Cal.App.2d 91, 66 Cal. Rptr. 224 (1964) (full-text).
  6. Hanover Ins. Co. v. American Eng'g Co., 105 F.3d 306, 312 (6th Cir. 1997) (full-text).


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