Using Precedent


Published on

Part of a series of lectures given to students at the University of Münster. Parts inspired by "Legal Method and Writing" by Prof. Charles Calleros.

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Using Precedent

  1. 1. Common Law Legal System Using Precedent & Case Law Reasoning
  2. 2. ReviewRead the famous Carbolic Smoke Ball Case a copy can be found on the class websiteBriefly summarize the most important facts ofthe case.Summarize the companys defense.Find the ratio decidendi or holding of the case remember, we are looking for the rule of law upon which the decision is based.Give an example of obiter dicta form the case a rule of law unimportant to the decision of the case.
  3. 3. The Development of Case Law
  4. 4. PrecedentThe legal principle or rule created by a courtwhich guides judges in subsequent cases withsimilar issues or facts.Sometimes called AuthorityTo serve as precedent for a pending case, a priordecision must have a similar question of law andfactual situation.
  5. 5. Distinguishingidentifying aspects of a previous decision thatwould make inappropriate the use of its ratio inthe present case Facts are too different Rationale is not the sameSometimes this means narrowing the ratio/holdingof a case to its fact-based result, referred to as‘limiting a case to its facts’.
  6. 6. Non-Legal Example: The GrocerGrocer places apples in store front window hopingto attract customers.Grocer places potato in the back of the storebecause he thinks they wont draw customers intothe store and thus limited window space should notbe wasted on them.Grocer leaves. Employee realizes he forgot to askGrocer where lemon should go.How should we go about trying to answer thisquestions?
  7. 7. Things to ConsiderIs there really a “correct” answer here?What is the “issue”?Is there a general standard (“policy”) that the grocerhas applied to what should appear in the window?What does the employee have at his disposal to helphim decide where to put the tomato?Is this really enough to make a good decision? Isthere something missing?
  8. 8. Using Fruits and Vegetables as Review Appellate Review Majority Opinions Concurring Opinions Dissenting Opinions
  9. 9. Case Law ReasoningPrior cases (precedent) are used to predict, explainor justify the outcome of an undecided case.NOTE – some argue that this can also be referredto as analogical reasoning and is a form ofdeductive reasoning.EXAMPLE – man sues ferry company for losinghis luggage on an overnight trip. No case law or statutes concerning lost luggage on ferries, but . . . . .
  10. 10. Similar CasesThe Hotel Case The Train Case Hotel proprietor was Train found not liable found liable for for passengers lost guests stolen luggage. luggage. Despite fact that Contract of passenger “rented” hospitality involved space to sleep, court keeping guests found contract was luggage safe. primarily for travel, not lodging.
  11. 11. Analogy: Using Precedentthe judge chooses some non-identical features ofthe precedent as being sufficiently similar to thecurrent case to warrant the same outcome. NOTE: we are not so much talking about stare decisis. The question here isnt really whats binding, but what past cases can help the judge decide the current case.
  12. 12. Characteristics of Analogical ReasoningFacts play an important role. They are used to both draw analogies to past cases and distinguish past cases from the current one.It said that decisions using this reasoning arenarrow: “the law develops case by case, the Court in each case deciding so much as is necessary to dispose of the case before it.” Whereas cases using inductive reasoning are said to create broader propositions of law.
  13. 13. Revising/NarrowingCarroll v. U.S. (1925) Agnello v. U.S. (1925) Car: House: ● mobile ● not mobile ● low privacy expectation ● high privacy expectation ● no warrant required ● warrant required California v. Carney (1985) Motor Home (RV): ● Fully mobile ● higher expectation of privacy than car ● RULING: Warrant NOT required
  14. 14. To ReviewCase comparison is based on the premise that likecases should be decided in like manner.We attempt to make predictions about the outcomeof our problem by drawing analogies from similarcases: Similar issues, possibly fact patterns Applicable reasoning/rationale & policy statementsBUT, this is rarely done by only comparing onecase at a time to the legal problem to be decided!
  15. 15. Applying Multiple Cases: SynthesisPurpose – to find collective meaning of multiplecases that have precedential value.Rules of law are clarified through the holdings ofmultiple cases Involves more than listing casesGOAL - make a reliable prediction (memo) orconvincing arguments (brief) about how the lawapplies to a new set of facts.
  16. 16. When Do We SynthesizeNo express definition of an element or termRule in precedent not expressly statedDefinition of term or element is vagueCases analogized don’t address all the determinativefactsSeveral cases are all relevant in some way
  17. 17. Why Do We SynthesizeRemember, precedent operates in a fact sensitivemanner: as facts change slightly, so do the rules created by case law. if you look at only one case, you wont fully appreciate or understand the area of law being addressed by the precedent.After reviewing several cases, we need tocommunicate the standards the court will apply in aclear, concise manner.
  18. 18. Case Synthesis: The GrocerGreen Apple – placed in front because of its vibrantcolor.Banana – despite vibrant color, placed in back ofstore because of grocer custom that anything placedin window must last for at least a week and abanana will rot within the week due to sun light.Orange – Goes in back because only something thatcan be eaten immediately without any preparationgoes in the front.Eggplant – Goes in the back because it is not a fruit.
  19. 19. Synthesis ExampleClient: owner of Spot the dog that bit a child.Facts: Your client informs you that his dog Spot bitTimmy Jones after Timmy tripped over a rug andfell toward Spot, scaring the dog and causing him tobite Timmy. Your client wants to know if he has topay Timmy’s doctor bills.Statute: If a dog injures a person withoutprovocation, then the dog’s owner must pay themedical expenses of the injured person.
  20. 20. Synthesis ExampleCan we answer ourclients question simplyby reading the statute,or do we need more?If we need more, whatexactly to we need tofigure out?
  21. 21. After Research, We Find . . .Smith v. Albano: A delivery boy threw a newspaper over thickbushes and hit a sleeping dog on the other side. The dog ranafter the boy and bit his leg. The judge held that the dog wasnot provoked and, therefore, the owner must pay the medicalexpenses.Barnett v. Rosen: A dog was barking in front of the plaintiff’shome, so he went over and hit the dog with a stick to get him tostop. The dog then bit the plaintiff’s arm. The court held thatthe plaintiff provoked the dog and, therefore, the owner is notrequired to pay the plaintiff’s doctor bills.Matthews v. Donaldson: A girl threw a stone at her neighbor’sdog, but missed and did not hit the dog. The dog chased the girland bit her arm. The judge held that the girl provoked the dogand, therefore, the owner is not required to pay the girl’smedical expenses.
  22. 22. Create a Decision ChartCase Key facts Holding – Provocation?Smith Yes or NoBarnett Yes or NoMatthews Yes or No