Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Appellate Jurisdiction in California: State versus Federal

The appellate system in California is different from the Federal system in a very important and surprising way. There are quite a few similarities, of course. In California, the decisions of the Supreme Court of California are binding on all lower state courts just as the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States are binding on all lower federal courts. Below the Supreme Court level, California has six geographic districts, in a manner analogous to 12 geographic circuits. But there is a really important difference! In California, unless there is a conflict, a California Court of Appeal decision is binding on all Superior Courts in the state, regardless of whether they are in the same district or not! See Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court, 57 Cal. 2d 450 (1962). This is very different than the Federal system, where U.S. Court of Appeals decisions are only binding on U.S. District Courts in the same circuit.

This is definitely an important basic fact that any lawyer or citizen doing legal research on California should know and keep in mind.

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