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Legal principles enunciated and embodied in judicial decisions that are derived from the application of particular areas of law to the facts of individual cases.
As opposed to statutes—legislative acts that proscribe certain conduct by demanding or prohibiting something or that declare the legality of particular acts—case law is a dynamic and constantly developing body of law. Each case contains a portion wherein the facts of the controversy are set forth as well as the holding and dicta—an explanation of how the judge arrived at a particular conclusion. In addition, a case might contain concurring and dissenting opinions of other judges.
Since the U.S. legal system has a common-law system, higher court decisions are binding on lower courts in cases with similar facts that raise similar issues. The concept of precedent, or Stare Decisis, means to follow or adhere to previously decided cases in judging the case at bar. It means that appellate case law should be considered as binding upon lower courts.
n. reported decisions of appeals courts and other courts which make new interpretations of the law and, therefore, can be cited as precedents. These interpretations are distinguished from "statutory law" which is the statutes and codes (laws) enacted by legislative bodies, "regulatory law" which is regulations required by agencies based on statutes, and in some states, the Common Law, which is the generally accepted law carried down from England. The rulings in trials and hearings which are not appealed and not reported are not case law and, therefore, not precedent or new interpretations. Law students principally study case law to understand the application of law to facts and learn the courts' subsequent interpretations of statutes. (See: case system, precedent)