Case Law-The Status of the Court

The importance of case law from various courts, to some extent, has to be evaluated based upon the status of the court that rendered the decision. This refers to the precedent value the case holds over other courts.

For instance, a decision rendered by a trial judge in the Hanover County Superior Court in North Carolina may be of great interest nationwide, but it is not binding on anyone other than the parties in that particular case. If that case, however, is appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals and a written decision is rendered, then that case law becomes binding to every person in North Carolina as the law of the state. If that case is then appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court, then the decision rendered by the North Carolina Supreme Court becomes the law of North Carolina and is binding upon all litigants in the North Carolina State Court System.

If that case involved a constitutional or federal issue, it may be further appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision by the Supreme Court is binding upon the entire nation.

In the federal system, a decision rendered by a United States District Court judge is typically only binding upon the litigants in that case. However, if that case is appealed from the United States District Court to the United States Court of Appeals for that circuit, then the decision rendered by that United States Court of Appeals becomes binding upon all of the persons within that federal circuit. For instance, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals includes the states of Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Any decision rendered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is binding upon all persons within that five state area.

It is quite possible that the United States Circuit Court for the Eleventh Circuit could decide a case with similar issues and come up with an opposite conclusion. Typically, when a conflict exists between circuits, the issue will be presented to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide how to resolve the conflict between the circuits.

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