Legal Memorandum: Doctrine of "The Law of The Case"

Issue: In California, is an appellate court ruling in an earlier case binding in a subsequent and related action?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: The doctrine of "the law of the case"; Principle or rule of law; Subsequent suit for the same cause of action
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 533 P.2d 211; 838 P.2d 250; 3 Cal. 4th 888; 285 F. Supp. 282; 367 P.2d 865; 28 Cal. Rptr. 865; 120 Cal. Rptr. 83; 59 Cal. 2d 227; 90 P. 1049; 151 Cal. 418
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 12/01/2000

The doctrine of “the law of the case” is set forth in People v. Shuey, 13 Cal. 3d 835, 533 P.2d 211, 120 Cal. Rptr. 83 (1975), as follows:

“[W]here, upon an appeal, the supreme court, in deciding the appeal, states in its opinion a principle or rule of law necessary to the decision, that principle or rule becomes the law of the case and must be adhered to throughout its subsequent progress, both in the lower court and upon subsequent appeal, and, as here assumed, in any subsequent suit for the same cause of action, and this although in its subsequent consideration this court may be clearly of the opinion that the former decision is erroneous in that particular.”

13 Cal. 3d at 841 (quoting Tally v. Ganahl, 151 Cal. 418, 421, 90 P. 1049 (1907)).  The doctrine of the law of the case applies to civil as well as criminal matters, and to decisions of intermediate appellate courts as well as to courts of last resort.  Id. 

Application of the rule is subject to the qualification that “the point of law involved must have been necessary to the prior decision, that the matter must have been actually presented and determined by the court, and that application of the doctrine will not result in an unjust decision.”  Pigeon Point Ranch, Inc. v. Perot, 59 Cal. 2d 227, 231, 379 P.2d 321, 322,