Case Law - Common Law




Case Law, often used interchangeably with the term Common Law, refers to the precedents and authority set by previous court rulings, judicial decisions and administrative legal findings or rulings. This is one of the main categories of law, with constitutional law, statutory law and regulatory law.

Although statutory laws, created by legislative bodies in concurrence with constitutional law, strive to provide overall direction, guidance and rules for society at large, it is impossible to deal with all situations, legal issues and questions by this manner alone. Our judicial bodies are tasked with interpreting law and in doing so, often set precedent where statutory, regulatory and even constitutional law is vague, unclear or silent. All of these precedents make up case law.

Stare decisis is the doctrine of precedent. It is the abbreviation of the full Latin phrase stare decisis et non quieta mvere”, of which the literal translation is “to stand by decided matters and not to disturb settled matters”. This means that a court will rule according to a previously established decision or finding. Although this does not always hold true, it is very difficult to obtain a ruling against precedent, and generally involves appellate courts. Additionally, legislatively created statutes may be enacted which overrule precedent. The decision cited for precedent must be from a court higher than the one hearing the current case. And in fact, case law is most often established by appellate courts.

Case law is generally very jurisdiction-specific. For example, a case in California would typically not be overseen and decided using precedent set in Maine. Instead, previous California rulings on the issue would be reviewed to determine interpretation of the law or issue, allowing a party to cite “binding precedent”. If no such previous rulings exist, one may offer precedent from a different jurisdiction, but rather than binding, this would merely be “persuasive authority”. There are also other factors in play which affect the binding authority of a specific case in common law, such as how old the decision is and how closely the material facts match in both cases.

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Case Law - US

  • Court Opinion

    Court opinions are the pronouncements of judges on the legal controversies that come before them. In a common-law system, court opinions constitute the law by which all controversies are settled. Attorneys analyze prior opinions on similar legal issues, attempting to draw parallels between their case and favorable court opinions and to distinguish unfavorable opinions. Judges study relevant opinions in rendering their decisions.

  • Judicial Precedent

    A judgment of a court of law cited as an authority for deciding a similar set of facts; a case which serves as authority for the legal principle embodied in its decision. The common law has developed by broadening down from precedent to precedent. A judicial precedent is a decision of the court used as a source for future decision making. This is known as stare decisis (to stand upon decisions) and by which precedents are authoritative and binding and must be followed. In giving judgment in a case, the judge will set out the facts of the case, state the law applicable to the facts and then provide his or her decision. It is only the ratio decidendi (the legal reasoning or ground for the judicial decision) which is binding on later courts under the system of judicial precedent.

  • Legal Research - Finding Federal Case Law

    The federal legal system has its own system of courts that is completely separate from the state court systems. * Not surprisingly, the highest court in the federal system is called the United States Supreme Court. * The intermediate appellate courts are called the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals, T * The trial courts are called the United States District Courts. Several states are contained within the jurisdiction of each U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Each state has at least one U.S. District Court, and larger states may have two or more.

  • Public Library of Law - Case Law

    The Public Library of Law is the world’s largest online database of free law. Our library brings free materials from across the Web together in one place, and adds hundreds of volumes of law that has previously only been available with a subscription.

  • Ratio Decidendi - Definition

    A ruling on a point of law that a judge provides because he conceives it to be necessary to the justification of his particular decision. Such a ruling is the ratio of the case. It can be the rule of law laid down in a precedent or the rule of law that others regard as having binding authority It can also be a material evidential fact.

Organizations Related to Case Law

  • Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF)

    The federal judiciary's Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) project revolutionized the way in which the federal courts manage their cases and documents. This easy-to-use system allows attorneys to file documents directly with the court over the Internet and allows courts to file, store, and manage their case files in an easy-to-access, transparent way.

  • Fastcase

    Fastcase’s libraries include primary law from all 50 states, as well as deep federal coverage going back to 1 U.S. 1, 1 F.2d 1, 1 F.Supp. 1, and 1 B.R. 1. The Fastcase collection includes cases, statutes, regulations, court rules, and constitutions. Fastcase also provides access to a newspaper archive, legal forms, and a one-stop PACER search of federal filings through our content partners.

  • United States Courts

    The three branches of the federal government — legislative, executive, and judicial — operate within a constitutional system known as "checks and balances." This means that although each branch is formally separate from the other two, the Constitution often requires cooperation among the branches. Federal laws, for example, are passed by Congress and signed by the President. The judicial branch, in turn, has the authority to decide the constitutionality of federal laws and resolve other disputes over them, but judges depend upon the executive branch to enforce court decisions.

  • United States Department of Justice

    Our mission - To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.

  • United States Supreme Court Cases and Opinions

    The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. §1). Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate. Article III, §1, of the Constitution further provides that "[t]he Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."

Articles on HG.org Related to Case Law

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    Say that you need a permit to pursue your chosen occupation, but you believe that the costly administrative procedure to acquire said permit is unconstitutional. You have been ticketed for operating without a permit, and have every reason to believe that you will be ticketed again, but you have yet to be arrested and thrown in jail. Can you bring a suit alleging the law to be unconstitutional, or do you first have to be arrested or submit to the costly permit procedure before you can sue?
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    As part of its personnel management directed by Congress, the Navy is using civilian misconduct as a indicator for discharging persons.
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    Most township officials are aware of the importance of complying with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Like a number of other areas of law, compliance with such a statute has become increasingly complex as a result of shifting interpretations by the courts. Learn more about the cases that have had an effect on the interpretation of the act in recent years.
  • Ten New Laws to Know for 2012
    It is January 1, 2012 and a host of new laws become effective today. While some of these laws may not affect you, others may, so it good to be aware of how the laws have changed. There are dozens of new laws, but our focus in this article in limited to ten that involve possible criminal cases.
  • Challenges for Cause: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
    Even attorneys experienced in voir dire have difficulty understanding how trial judges apply the law concerning challenges for cause. This article will cover both the statutory and case law on the subject as well as suggesting how to convince a prospective juror to admit bias. Perhaps, more importantly, it will also suggest ways to convince the trial judge to sustain the challenge.
  • Republican 2008 Presidential Election Tactics, Robo Calls and Negative Attack Ads
    A discussion of some of the tactics being employed in the 2008 Presidential Election to sow seeds of distrust and fear. The author asks whether the backlash against these tactics that are generating anger and fear among voters at political rallies will yet cause John McCain, a decent man with an honorable past, to repudiate the results of his own negative campaign ads and strategies.
  • The Risks of Serving Alcohol to a Minor in Hotels, Restaurants, Nightclubs and Bars in California
    The author looks at the what can happen to a restaurant, hotel, nightclub or bar that serves alcohol to a minor. Using the example of two restaurants in the Coachella Valley caught after the fact having serving liquor to minors, the author discusses the facts of two cases to show the deadly results that can follow from such actions.
  • Drug Charges and Their Defense
    Drug offenses come in many varieties with one common factor, the penalties for a conviction are severe and may result in lengthy prison sentences and fines. An aggressive defense is necessary. Review this article related to drug charges and their defense.
  • Realtime Court Reporting Yields Advantage
    Time was when court transcripts took weeks to deliver and those involved in legal proceedings had to rely on note taking to capture day-to-day courtroom action. Now judges, attorneys, jurors and litigants are driving demand for reliable court testimony and deposition records -- right at their finger tips, right before their eyes and right away.
  • All Government Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Government including: administrative law, case law, election and political law, federal law, government contracts, local, municipal and state law, military law, public law, regulatory law, US federal courts.


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