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Precedential Hierarchy: Stare Decisis, Law Of The Case, Etc.
[“What Trumps What?”]
1. Stare Decisis.
1.1 Generally: “Under the doctrine of stare decisis, all tribunals exercising inferior jurisdiction are required to follow decisions of courts exercising superior jurisdiction. Otherwise, the doctrine of stare decisis makes no sense.” (Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County (62) 57 C2d 450, 455.)
1.2 California Supreme Court Trumps All Other State Courts: The decisions of this court are binding upon and must be followed by all the state courts of California. (Ibid.)
1.3 District Courts Of Appeal Trump Superior Courts: Decisions of every division of the District Courts of Appeal are binding upon all the justice and municipal courts and upon all the superior courts of this state, and this is so whether or not the superior court is acting as a trial or appellate court. Courts exercising inferior jurisdiction must accept the law declared by courts of superior jurisdiction. It is not their function to attempt to overrule decisions of a higher court. [Citations.] (Ibid.)
1.4 Superior Court Appellate Divisions Opinions Do Not Bind Other Superior Courts: Because one superior court is not “inferior” to another, opinions from the appellate division of the superior court are not binding on all superior courts, as are the opinions of the District Courts of Appeal. (See People v. Corners (85) 176 CA3d 139, 146; see also People v. Marcroft (92) 6 CA4th Supp. 1, 4; see also Calif. Rules of Court, Rule 8.1002 and 8.1008 authorizing transfer of cases from the superior court appellate division to the District Court of Appeal “to secure uniformity of decision or to settle an important question of law.” (Rule 8.1002.)
The Auto Equity doctrine of stare decisis only applies to those portions of a court’s opinion which were “necessary to its decision.” (U.C. Regents v. Aubry (96) 42 CA4th 579, 58.) Dictum of California Supreme Court, although “highly persuasive” is “not binding upon the lower courts.” (Evans v. City of Bakersfield (94) 22 CA4th 321, 328.) Nevertheless, a reasoned discussion by the California Supreme Court “should not be disregarded by an intermediate appellate court without a compelling reason.” (Lawler v. City of Redding (92) 7 CA4th 778, 784; Estate of Hilton (96) 44 CA4th 890, 919.)
3. Law Of The Case Doctrine:
“The principal reason for the doctrine is judicial economy. ‘Finality is attributed to an initial appellate ruling so as to avoid the further reversal and proceedings on remand that would result if the initial ruling were not adhered to in a later appellate proceeding. [Citation.]’” (People v. Stanley (95) 10 C4th 764, 786; see also People v. Shuey (75) 13 C3d 835, 841-842.) The law of the case doctrine applies in criminal cases (Stanley, supra, at p. 786) and to capital cases before this court even where the prior decision was made by an intermediate appellate court. (Id. at p. 787; People v. Martinez (2003) 31 C4th 673, 683; see also People v. Gray (2005) 37 C4th 168, 196-97.)
See also FORECITE PG V(B)(1.4).
4. Unpublished Opinions:
See FORECITE PG I(I).
5. Impact of Denial of Review by CSC:
In People v. Dee (90) 222 CA3d 760, 763-65 the Court of Appeal observed that a grant of review or depublication by the California Supreme Court may be significant notwithstanding Rules 8.1115(a) (formerly 977(a)) and Rule 8.1125(e) (formerly 979(e)) which state that depublication shall not be deemed an expression of an opinion of the Supreme Court as to the correctness of the result reached by the decision or of any of the law set forth in the opinion. However, in People v. Saunders (93) 5 C4th 580, fn 8 the court quoted Rule 979(e) (now Rule 8.1125(d)) for the proposition that denials of review and depublication orders “shall not be deemed an expression of opinion” by the court. On the other hand, Justice Kennard, in dissent, endorsed the view of depublication taken by the court in Dee. The Supreme Court’s depublication and denials of review “cannot simply be dismissed as meaningless,” she wrote, and she quoted the words of the Dee court about refusing to “perpetuate a myth.” (5 C4th at 607-08.)
6. Situations Where Higher Authority Is Not Controlling.
(a) Cases Not Authority For Propositions Not Considered:
Cases are not authority for propositions not considered therein. (People v. Alvarez (2002) 27 CA4th 1161, 1176; People v. Martinez (2000) 22 CA4th 106, 118; People v. Superior Court (Marks) (1991) 1 CA4th 56, 65-66; People v. Dillon (1983) 34 CA3d 441, 473-74; People v. Belleci (79) 24 CA3d 879, 888; In re Tartar (1959) 52 CA2d 250, 258; Ginns v. Savage (1964) 61 CA2d 520, 524, fn. 2; People v. Donaldson (1995) 36 CA4th 532, 528; NLRB v. Hotel & Restaurant Emples. Union Local 531 (9th Cir. 1980) 623 F2d 61, 68.)
“”A decision is not authority for everything said in the . . . opinion but only for the points actually involved and actually decided. [Citation.] [O]nly the ratio decidendi of an appellate opinion has precedential effect. . . . [Citation.] Thus, we must view with caution seemingly categorical directives not essential to earlier decisions and be guided by this dictum only to the extent it remains analytically persuasive. [Citation.]” (People v. Mendoza (2000) 23 C4th 896, 915 [internal citations and quotation marks omitted].)
(b) Higher Authority May Be Distinguished:
“In a petition for rehearing, the Attorney General scolds this court for questioning the continued vitality of Ford and lectures us that we are bound by Ford because it has not been, in the Attorney General’s words, ‘clearly superseded.’ [Citation].” (People v. Burns (2011) 198 CA4th 726, 733.) This diatribe fails to recognize that we distinguish Ford; we do not refuse to follow it.” (Ibid.)
(c) Lower Courts Not “Gagged” By Higher Authority:
See People v. Burns (2011) 198 CA4th 726, 733 [“Furthermore, we may be bound, but we are not gagged. (People v. Hart (1999) 74 CA4th 479, 487.)”]
7. Non-California Authority.
(a) The Federal Constitution: Federal constitutional provisions take precedent over state law if those provision have been made applicable to the states. (See Duncan v. Louisiana (1968) 391 US 145 [20 LEd2d 491; 88 SCt 1444]; see also Tennessee v. Lane (2004) 541 US 509, 562 [158 LEd2d 820; 124 SCt 1978].)
(b) United States Supreme Court: See Hart v. Massanari (9th Cir. 2001) 266 F3d 1155, 1170 [binding authority must be followed unless and until overruled by a body competent to do so; see also Okpalobi v. Foster (5th Cir. 2001) 244 F3d 405, 410.)
(c) Other States: “[W]here California law parallels sister state legislation on the same subject … the judicial interpretation by the sister state courts of their legislation may be relevant in construing the California legislation. Correspondingly, an examination of the policies promoted by sister state legislation may be relevant in determining the policies and purpose of the parallel California legislation.” (Webster v. State Board of Control (87) 197 CA3d 29, 37, fn. 3.)
(d) Federal Authority: “[W]hile lower [federal circuit court of appeal] cases are not binding precedent on [the California courts], they are persuasive authority reflecting federal law.” (People v. Koury (89) 214 CA3d 676, 686 [262 CR 870].)
“Furthermore, it is a basic premise of statutory construction that when a state law is patterned after a federal law, the two are construed together…. In these situations, the federal cases interpreting the federal law offer persuasive rather than controlling authority in construing the state law.” (Moreland v. Department of Corporations (87) 194 CA3d 506, 512.)
“. . .[D]ecisions of lower federal courts are . . . entitled to great weight.” (In re Tyrell J. (94) 8 C4th 68, 79; People v. Bradley (69) 1 C3d 80, 86.) Thus, when it is useful to a California court’s analysis, the court “generally will consider the result under federal law.” (In re De Leon (2004) 117 CA4th 1116, 1121.)
(e) Scholarly Criticism: See In re Jaime P. (2006) 40 C4th 128, 130 [prior precedent overruled in light of new developments including “scholarly comment critical” of the precedent]; see also People v. Sanders (2003) 31 C4th 318, 328-29 [Supreme Court notes criticism of its decision by commentators]; People v. Carter (2003) 30 C4th 1166, 1224-1225 [declining to reconsider prior decision in the absence of “casting doubt”].
8. Rules of Court.
(a) Judicial Council Rules: The California Judicial Council has a narrowly limited scope of authority. It is “simply empowered to ‘adopt rules for court administration, practice and procedure, not inconsistent with statute . . . ’ [Citation to Cal. Const., art. VI, § 6].” (Hess v. Ford Motor Co. (2002) 27 C4th 516, 532; see also People v. Hall (1994) 8 C4th 950, 960; In re Robin M. (1978) 21 C3d 337, 346; Iverson v. Superior Court (1985) 167 CA3d 544, 547-548.)
Thus, Judicial Council rules which are “inconsistent with the law” do not have “the force of law.” (Iverson v. Superior Court, 167 CA3d at 547-548; see also People v. Stone (2004) 123 CA4th 153 [Judicial Council forms may not supercede the law].)
(b) Local Rules: Local rules of court have the force of law only when there is no legislative direction to the contrary (Mann v. Cracchiolo (1985) 38 C3d 18, 29; Iverson v. Superior Court, 167 CA3d at 547-548.)
9. Jury Instructions Drafted By Committees Or Administrative Agency Are Not Binding Authority:
Forms and instructions promulgated by administrative bodies do not have the force of law. (See People v. Stone (2004) 123 CA4th 153 [Judicial Council forms may not supersede the law]; People v. Mojica (2006) 139 CA4th 1197, 1204 [CALCRIM and CALJIC are “not the law and are not binding”]; see also FORECITE PG I (B)(2) [Duty of Court To Go Beyond CALJIC: Pattern Instructions Are Not Sacrosanct].)
Three-judge federal panels are bound by the holdings of earlier three-judge panels. (See United States v. Camper (9th Cir. 1995) 66 F3d 229, 232; Indus. Turnaround Corp. v. NLRB (4th Cir. 1997) 115 F3d 248, 254 [“A decision of a panel of this court becomes the law of the circuit and is binding on other panels unless it is overruled by a subsequent en banc opinion of this court or a superseding contrary decision of the Supreme Court.”]) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Brand X Internet Servs. v. FCC (9th Cir. 2003) 345 F3d 1120, 1130.)
Precedential decisions of the United States Supreme Court bind all lower courts. (See Hart v. Massanari (9th Cir. 2001) 266 F3d 1155, 1170 [binding authority must be followed unless and until overruled by a body competent to do so; see also Okpalobi v. Foster (5th Cir. 2001) 244 F3d 405, 410.) Decisions of other circuits may be persuasive authority, but bind no other courts outside of that circuit. Unpublished decisions may not be cited. (See Hart v. Massanari (9th Cir. 2001) 266 F3d 1155 [Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3 forbidding citation to unpublished decisions of that court does not violate Article III of the Constitution, notwithstanding Anastasoff v. U.S. (8th Cir. 2000) 223 F3d 898 (vacated as moot on reh’g, 235 F3d 1054)].)