Commanding precedent

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In law, a commanding precedent is a precedent whose facts are "on all fours" with the case at hand. In other words, it almost exactly tracks it, sharing near-identical facts and issues.[1] A commanding precedent is also referred to as a "Goose" case in Louisiana;[2] "Spotted Horse" or "Spotted Dog" cases in Alabama;[3] "Cow" case in Kansas;[4] and "White Horse" or "White Pony" cases in Texas.[5] A legal rule can be "clearly established" without commanding precedent existing. For example, in the United States, a governmental official is generally protected by qualified immunity if his acts were objectively legally reasonable, but such protection may not apply if, in light of pre-existing law, the unlawfulness of his conduct would have been apparent to a reasonably competent official, even if no commanding precedent applicable to his specific behavior existed.[6]

Such a precedent is called on all fours when all four parts of the instant (or present) case are essentially the same as the mandatory precedent, or are very similar:

  1. The parties are the same, or have such great similarities as to have exactly the same standing.
  2. The circumstances involving the two cases are materially the same, or are so similar as not to matter.
  3. The issue is exactly the same, or if more than one issue exists, they are materially the same types.
  4. The remedy the plaintiff or petitioner seeks is of the same kind as in the past case.

By comparison, a case on point is one in which a case has factual circumstances and issues similar to the case being researched, but which has different parties seeking somewhat different remedies.


  1. ^ Ruggero J. Aldisert (1990), Precedent: What it is and What it Isn't; When Do We Kiss it and When Do We Kill it?, 17 (605), Pepperdine Law Review, SSRN 1410783Freely accessible 
  2. ^ United States v. Gaber, 745 F.2d 952 (5th Cir. 1984).
  3. ^ Hand v. International Chemical Workers Union, 681 F.2d 1308 (11th Cir. 1982).
  4. ^ Somers v. Harris Trust & Savings Bank, 566 P.2d 775 (Kan.Ct.App. 1977).
  5. ^ Wood v. Texas, 632 S.W.2d 734 (Tex.Crim.App. 1982).
  6. ^ Morris v. Dearborne, 181 F3d 657 (5th Cir. July 16, 1999).