Law of the case

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The law of the case is a legal term of art that is applicable mainly in common law, or Anglo-American, 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 to the trial court and the party appeals again or if the case was appealed in a higher appellate court—for example, from an appellate court to the highest court.

As generally used, "law of the case" states that, if an appellate court has passed on a legal question and remanded the case 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 on the appellate court on a subsequent appeal given the same case and substantially the same facts.[4]

The "law of the case" doctrine, however, is one of policy only and will be disregarded when compelling circumstances call for a redetermination of a point of law on prior appeal. This is particularly true where an intervening or a contemporaneous change in law has occurred where former decisions have been overruled or new precedent has been established 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 result in a manifest injustice.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hughes v. State 490 A.2d 1034, 1048 (Del.,1985) (citing Haveg Corp. v. Guyer, Del.Supr., 211 A.2d 910, 912 (1965))
  2. ^ Id. citing United States v. Estrada-Lucas, 651 F.2d 1261, 1263 (9th Cir.1980); Smith v. United States, D.C.App., 406 A.2d 1262 (1979).
  3. ^ Allen v. Michigan Bell Tel. Co., 232 N.W.2d 302, 303.
  4. ^ Hinds v. McNair, 413 N.E.2d 586, 607.
  5. ^ Ryan v. Mike-Ron Corp., 63 Cal.Rptr. 601.
  6. ^ State v. Jefferson, 31 S.W.3d 558, 561 (Tenn. 2000)