Test case (law)

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This article is about legal terminology. For other uses, see Test case (disambiguation).

In case law, a test case is a legal action whose purpose is to set a precedent. An example of a test case might be a legal entity who files a lawsuit in order to see if the court considers a certain law or a certain legal precedent applicable in specific circumstances. This is useful, for example, in order to later file similar lawsuits in similar circumstances.

Government agencies sometimes bring test cases in order to confirm or expand their powers.[1]


Examples of influential test cases include:

  1. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
  2. Scopes v. Tennessee (1925)
  3. United States v. One Book Called Ulysses (1933)
  4. Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
  5. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
  6. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. State v. Oneida County (1974)
  7. Adams v Cape Industries plc (1990)
  8. Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992)
  9. National Westminster Bank plc v Spectrum Plus Limited (2005)
  10. District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)


  1. ^ In FTC v. Dean Foods Co., the FTC sought to establish its power to obtain preliminary injunctions in anti-merger cases. In FTC v. Sperry & Hutchinson Co., the FTC sought to establish its power to invoke section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. sec. 45, against business practices that were "unfair" without being similar to antitrust violations. In United States v. Glaxo Group Ltd., the Justice Department sought to establish its power to invalidate patents even though they were not procured by fraud. Unsuccessful such test cases sometimes provide a basis for convincing Congress of the need for corrective legislation.

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