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Temple University School of Law
Shellenberger, James A.



Legislature Administrative Agencies Courts
\ (EPA, SEC, etc.) /
\ / \ /
\ / \ /
“legislation” “case law”
Constitutions adjudicatory power à agency decisions
Admin Regulations

o Statute defines the prima facie elements of a crime without reference to cases (prima facie = Sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted)
§ Courts apply statutes
· Court cannot change the statute, but sometimes they actually do influence the statute through interpretation.
· Court is supposed to implement and apply the words of the statute and to effectuate the intent of the legislature.
o Where do we find legislative intent?
§ Text of the bill or amendment
§ Statements about the bill made in the legislature (e.g., reports, floor debate)
§ Changes in the bill during the enactment report
· How should we interpret such material re legislative intent?
o Textualists: should only look in the statute for legislative intent
§ Scalia/Thomas – rarely look beyond the statute, only use cannons of interpretation, if ambiguous the court should kick back to the legislature for new laws (not create them)
o Traditionalists: look to any source that will help illuminate legislative intent
· Court is NOT supposed to decide what it thinks the law should be, but what the law is and what it means.
o What problems arise from statutes?
§ Statutes cannot anticipate every possible scenario (e.g., technology)
§ Words are inherently ambiguous
§ It is hard to constantly update the statute to keep up with changing social values and/or legal ideas
o Statutory Construction?
§ IF statute changes common law THEN strictly constructed to make as little change as possible
§ IF criminal statute THEN narrowly construed to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused
o Case law works by synthesizing holdings of individual cases in order to discover the [prima facie] elements of a crime
o Courts resolve disputes by interpreting the law, executing the law, and imposing punishment
o Courts actually make law too because the resolution of a dispute à precedent à case law (which is a by-product of the court’s dispute resolution)
o Types of Courts
§ Inferior Courts (most states – small claims court, traffic court, etc.)
§ Trial Courts (all states)
§ Appeals Courts (all states)
§ Courts of Last Resort/Supreme Courts (almost all states)
o State v. Federal System
§ Federalism – superior court, appellate division, the Supreme Court
· Limited subject matter jurisdiction (cannot hear every case, most litigation is in state courts)







In most states – small claims court, traffic court, etc.





Place where cases originate, suits are brought, prosecutions are conducted
(organized by subdivision within the state, often by county)
Judge – determines matters of law
Jury – determines matters of fact

Court of Common Pleas (CCP)

Superior Court

District Court
(organized by state, roughly 90-100 in the US)

(Appeals Court)


– Superior
– Common wealth
(go to one of the 2 based on type of case)

Appellate Division

Circuit Court of Appeals


(don’t simply correct errors, actually resolve matters important to the state)
Able to choose their cases



(Chooses cases by granting writ of certiorari)

v Definition = “A court is (1) generally required or bound to follow (2) its own decisions and the decisions of higher courts (3) within the same territory, jurisdiction or system in deciding (4) cases with the same or “sufficiently similar” material facts.”
v Elements of stare decisis:
1) Generally : court not forever bound to follow its own past decisions, may overrule them
2) Hierarchical : court must follow its own decisions and those of higher courts in the same hierarchy (determined by jurisdiction/territory…)
3) Territorial : courts are only bound to follow decisions with the same jurisdiction or state
· Mandatory Authority = primary authority in the same or higher courts in the SAME jurisdiction
· Persuasive Authority = primary authority in a different jurisdiction or lower court in the same jurisdiction; dicta; all secondary authority (e.g., Legal Encyclopedias, Law Journals)
4) Like cases : like cases should be decided alike; must compare, analogize and distinguish cases to determine what facts are material and whether cases are sufficiently similar
v What are the benefits of stare decisis?
o Provides a check on the power of judicial decision-making
o Creates:
§ Stability
§ Efficiency/Expediency (not necessary to make a new decision each time)
§ Predictability
§ Fairness requires that all are treated equally under the law
o Because the courts are not required to follow their own decisions… allows the law to keep up with modern thinking (adapt to changing social values and ideas)
v Potential problems with stare decisis?
o Bad precedent can be set: unfair, poorly reasoned, or bad decision initially can be hard to get rid of
o Also, can be difficult to evolve with changing societal pressures/circumstances
o Examples:
§ Betts Case was decided by the Supreme Court, but it drew criticism and the question arose of whether it was a good case that was decided properly, was consistent with good reasoning, although it was decided that Betts was out of line with precedent, it took the right case to overrule the earlier decision
v “Choice of law” limitation = add to the end of the stare decisis definition “in deciding cases governed by the same law.” Court is only bound to follow a precedent that used the same law as that applicable to the case before it.
o Generally:
§ If state court, then state law governs
§ If federal court, then federal law governs
o Exception:
§ Sometimes state law governs cases in federal court and other times federal law governs cases in state court
v Totality of circumstances = case-by-case ad hoc evaluation; can follow the same rule but get a different result
v Most of the law does not operate at a level of hard and fast rules (i.e., brightline rules, e.g., speed limit), most of the law operates at a standard (flexible, unclear legal precept that requires evaluation without having an always “right” answer, e.g., can’t drive about a reasonable speed)
v Further thoughts re Case Law Precedent
o Holding = statement of law based on the material facts of the case (DECISION)
§ May be interpreted very narrowly or broadly, which can lead to different results
o Dicta = everything else the court says
· Holding = statement of law based on the material facts of the case, everything else is only dicta
o Synthesis = attempt to formulate rules that harmonize a group of cases, usually we must put together a group of cases before we can really understand what any of them mean and what the “law” is. One case alone can be very ambiguous.
o CT v. Stewart
o Connecticut v. McGowan, Supreme Ct, 1850
· Facts: Pl. burned down unoccupied house. Convicted of burning “house”
· Procedure: Appeal on grounds that house unoccupied & jury improperly instructed
· Issue: Can it be considered arson if house unoccupied & not fit for occupancy? (both elements necessary)
· Disposition: Remanded bc jury not properly informed
· Reasoning: informed of discrepancy of term “house”
· Sample holding: a building was not a dwelling house, such that burning it was arson where, though in construction and purpose it was intended to be a dwelling house, the building was unfinished, not yet ready for habitation, and never occupied.
o Connecticut v. Toole, Supreme Ct., 1860
· Facts: indictment for arson, fire se to basement (saloon), building set up as 1 house with multiple occupants
· Procedure: Appeal on grounds of dispute in 1) ownership (by wife not Pl.) 2) occupancy (tenant set fire) 3) must be habitation of another
· Issue: Can it be arson if house has multiple occupants?
· Disposition: court affirmed lower ct.
· Reasoning: house not divided — one house of both occupants
· Sample holding: The separate portion of what was originally one house and which wa

ted the provision of “overnight accommodations” as a requirement for a building.
· Disposition: Lower court’s decision affirmed.
· Synthesis:
Baker: An automobile is a “building” under the statutory definition, which states that “[b]uilding in addition to its ordinary meaning, includes any … vehicle,” and therefore when defendant set fire to his car the evidence showed that he “intended to destroy or damage a building” as required to be convicted of arson in the second degree.

Statutes for Connecticut
Review them
Understand what they provide (e.g., what are the elements of arson)
Compare them to the law we have derived from the 3 cases already read/discussed
v Precise Issue/Holding – statement of the issue and holding should include
1) The precise words of the statute that are (or must be) interpreted
2) The material facts to which those words are (or must be) applied
3) The ultimate question or the significance of the precise question
v Reasoning – if there are direct on point precedent interpreting these words in this statute, that precedent would control the court’s decision, otherwise if there are no cases on point then…
§ Meaning of the precise words in issue ‘on their face’
§ Meaning from context, different levels of context:
· Rest of the provision that contains the words in issue and the whole statute that contains that provision;
· Related statutes, other statutes that use the same words or cover the same or similar subjects in the same jurisdiction, or even, perhaps, in other jurisdictions
· Historical context – law that existed when the statute was enacted, either common law or earlier statutes; the legislative history, other circumstances at time of enactment, the events that lead to the enactment of the statute, amendment history
· (textual or contextual canons, grammatical canons, substantive canons that call for a strict textual interpretation, and perhaps precedent related to the text would also fit here)
o PURPOSE (aka legislative intent)
§ What is the purpose?
· Specific purpose of particular words, clause, provision in issue
· General purpose of entire statute
§ Sources of purpose?
· Text (textualism – only the text)
· Legislative History (ordered from most weighty, to least)
o Amendment history (after enactment)
o History of the provision & words in issue (before and during enactment)
o Statements about the bill/words in issue (during enactment – Committee reports, individual legislators, anyone else that might be relevant (including historical context, events during enactment process, legislative committee reports, sponsor statements, comments of other legislators, changes in language as it passed through the legislature, rejected proposals, legislative hearings, legislative inaction, etc.)
§ Within this must weigh the content of what was said AND the weight or significance of each statement, its importance or reliability as evidence, and its purpose as based on its role in the legislative process
· Other indicia of purpose (traditional view)
o Rules or Canons of Construction – assumptions about or aids to determining purpose or intended meaning
o Interpretations of the statute by those responsible for enforcing or administering it, e.g., administrative agencies
o Cases directly interpreting the precise words in issue (direct precedent);
o Cases interpreting other or similar provisions of the same or a similar statute, which might be analogous or useful as context for the precise words in issue;
o Cases discussing, explaining, or otherwise shedding light on specific or general purpose;
o The common law that existed before, and may have been changed by the statute (historical context); and
o Cases discussing or adopting rules or principles of statutory interpretation.