prima facie

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Prima Facie

[Latin, On the first appearance.] A fact presumed to be true unless it is disproved.

In common parlance the term prima facie is used to describe the apparent nature of something upon initial observation. In legal practice the term generally is used to describe two things: the presentation of sufficient evidence by a civil claimant to support the legal claim (a prima facie case), or a piece of evidence itself (prima facie evidence).

For most civil claims, a plaintiff must present a prima facie case to avoid dismissal of the case or an unfavorable directed verdict. The plaintiff must produce enough evidence on all elements of the claim to support the claim and shift the burden of evidence production to the respondent. If the plaintiff fails to make a prima facie case, the respondent may move for dismissal or a favorable directed verdict without presenting any evidence to rebut whatever evidence the plaintiff has presented. This is because the burden of persuading a judge or jury always rests with the plaintiff.

Assume that a plaintiff claims that an employer failed to promote her based on her sex. The plaintiff must produce affirmative evidence showing that the employer used illegitimate, discriminatory criteria in making employment decisions that concerned the plaintiff. The employer, as respondent, does not have a burden to produce evidence until the plaintiff has made a prima facie case of Sex Discrimination (Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207 [1981]). The precise amount of evidence that constitutes a prima facie case varies from claim to claim. If the plaintiff does not present a prima facie case with sufficient evidence, the judge may dismiss the case. Or, if the case is being heard by a jury, the judge may direct the jury to return a verdict for the respondent.

Prima facie also refers to specific evidence that, if believed, supports a case or an element that needs to be proved in the case. The term prima facie evidence is used in both civil and Criminal Law. For example, if the prosecution in a murder case presents a videotape showing the defendant screaming death threats at the victim, such evidence may be prima facie evidence of intent to kill, an element that must be proved by the prosecution before the defendant may be convicted of murder. On its face, the evidence indicates that the defendant intended to kill the victim.

Statutes may specify that certain evidence is prima facie evidence of a certain fact. For example, a duly authenticated copy of a defendant's criminal record may be considered prima facie evidence of the defendant's prior convictions and may be used against the defendant in court (Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-3-412 [West 1996]). A Civil Law example is a statute that makes a duly certified copy or duplicate of a certificate of authority for a fraternal benefit society to transact business prima facie evidence that the society is legal and legitimate (Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 10-14-603 [West 1996]).

Further readings

Herlitz, Georg Nils. 1994. "The Meaning of the Term 'Prima Facie.'" Louisiana Law Review 55.


Burden of Persuasion.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

prima facie

(pry-mah fay-shah) adj. Latin for "at first look," or "on its face," referring to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial. A prima facie case presented to a grand jury by the prosecution will result in an indictment. Example: in a charge of bad check writing, evidence of a half dozen checks written on a non-existent bank account, makes it a prima facie case. However, proof that the bank had misprinted the account number on the checks might disprove the prosecution's apparent "open and shut" case. (See: prima facie case)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

prima facie

‘on the face of it’.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

PRIMA FACIE. The first blush; the first view or appearance of the business; as, the holder of a bill of exchange, indorsed in blank, is prima facie its owner.
     2. Prima facie evidence of a fact, is in law sufficient to establish the fact, unless rebutted. 6 Pet. R. 622, 632; 14 Pet. R. 334. See, generally, 7 J. J. Marsh, 425; 3 N. H. Rep. 484; 3 Stew. & Port. 267; 5 Rand. 701; 1 Pick. 332; 1 South. 77; 1 Yeates, 347; Gilp. 147; 2 N. & McCord, 320; 1 Miss. 334; 11 Conn. 95; 2 Root, 286; 16 John. 66, 136; 1 Bailey, 174: 2 A. K. Marsh. 244. For example, when buildings are fired by sparks emitted from a locomotive engine passing along the road, it is prima facie evidence of negligence on the part of those who have the charge of it. 3 Man. Gr. & Sc. 229.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
Ross's theory of prima facie duties at least brings a modicum of order into an otherwise chaotic picture, and offers a way of straddling the gulf between the strict pacifism of the early sources and the frequent use of violence in historical contexts.
We developed a system (Anderson, Anderson, and Armen 2006a) that uses machine-learning techniques to abstract relationships between the prima facie duties from particular ethical dilemmas where there is an agreed-upon correct action.
The potentially nonclassical relationships that might exist between prima facie duties are more likely to be expressible in the rich representation language provided by ILP than in less expressive representations.
We offer it as evidence that making the ethics more precise will permit machine-learning techniques to discover philosophically novel and interesting principles in ethics because the learning system is general enough that it can be used to learn relationships between any set of prima facie duties where there is a consensus among ethicists as to the correct answer in particular cases.
Ross wants to say that we often know for certain what our prima facie duties are, but we can never know what our duty proper is.
(36) For Ross's division of the prima facie duties, for which he does not claim completeness or finality, see The Right and the Good, pp.
He seems, therefore, to think that prima facie duties express general verdictive considerations and that they are prima facie, or pro tanto in the sense that any one can be overridden by any one of the others.
(1) what reason is there to deliberate and act in accordance with one of Ross's prima facie duties?
He tries to work from our prior commitment to the list of prima facie duties listed by Ross to a supporting consequentialist principle; and once Ross's notion of a prima facie duty is properly understood it can be seen that this project cannot succeed.
Since many non-humans are agents in the relevant sense, it becomes clear, to me at least, that even if we cannot know intuitively that animals have a right to life (the contrary of a proposition that Kaspar says we cannot know intuitively [pp.16-18]), we can understand that we have some general prima facie duties to (some) animals that flow from the principle that "Harming others is wrong." This is controversial, though.
Ross holds that his claims about prima facie rightness are "self-evident; without any need of proof, or of evidence beyond itself." (27) And Robert Audi claims that his list of prima facie duties is self-evident where "a self-evident proposition is knowable without our relying on any inferential ground for it." (28) If the argument just presented is correct, however, one cannot be justified in believing a moral proposition unless one has a further belief that serves as a reason to believe the proposition.
Stratton-Lake's main point is that I start from prima facie duties and argue to rule-consequentialism.