If you have ever read any of the articles on my website, you can tell that I really like case law. Case law fills in the blanks when the statute favors brevity over detail. Case law explains the theory of the law. Case law even lays out the past decisions that have led to today’s jurisprudence.
Reading case law will truly help you understand the law as a whole. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
However, not all case law is created equal.
Case law is based on the concept of stare decisis.
Stare decisis is “the doctrine of precedent, under which a court must follow earlier judicial decisions when the same points arise againt in litigation.” Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)
If a court made a rule last year in a case. Another court should apply the same rule in a similar case this year.
“The doctrine of stare decisis is the means by which courts ensure that the law will not merely change erratically, but will develop in a principled and intelligible fashion.” Chicago Bar Ass’n v. Illinois State Board of Elections, 161 Ill.2d 502, 510, 204 Ill.Dec. 301, 641 N.E.2d 525 (1994).
The more recent the decision…the more powerful the stare decisis (we cannot be held to decisions based on antiquated notions).
“Appellate court decisions issued prior to 1935 had no binding authority.” Bryson v. News America Publications, Inc., 672 NE 2d 1207 – Ill: Supreme Court 1996
Not all courts require stare decisis from other courts however.
“`[S]tare decisis requires courts to follow the decisions of higher courts, but does not bind courts to follow decisions of equal or inferior courts.’” Gillen v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 215 Ill.2d 381, 392 n. 2, 294 Ill.Dec. 163, 830 N.E.2d 575 (2005), quoting Schiffner v. Motorola, Inc., 297 Ill.App.3d 1099, 1102, 232 Ill.Dec. 126, 697 N.E.2d 868 (1998).
“Thus, the opinion of one district, division, or panel of the appellate court is not binding on other districts, divisions, or panels.” O’CASEK v. CHILDREN’S HOME AND AID SOC., 892 NE 2d 994 – Ill: Supreme Court 2008
An Illinois appellate court decision should be considered binding on trial courts all over Illinois.
“A decision of the appellate court, though not binding on other appellate districts, is binding on the circuit courts throughout the State.” State Farm Fire and Cas. Co. v. Yapejian, 605 NE 2d 539 – Ill: Supreme Court 1992
Only when there is a difference between district stare decisis does it matter which district the trial court is located in.
“A trial court, located in an appellate district where a conclusion on an issue is reached, should adhere to that conclusion and not to one promulgated in another district.” Garcia v. Hynes & Howes Real Estate, Inc., 331 NE 2d 634 – Ill: Appellate Court, 3rd Dist. 1975
“Illinois’ “internal” choice of law rule is that a state trial court is bound by the decisions of all the intermediate Appellate Courts, but is bound by the Appellate Court in its own district when the Appellate Courts differ.” Commercial Discount Corp. v. King, 552 F. Supp. 841 – Dist. Court, ND Illinois 1982
You will notice that I quote Illinois appellate decisions from all over Illinois for this reason (even though I practice primarily in the 1st district).
You will also notice that I almost never quote case law from other states. Case law from other states almost never should be considered in an Illinois court of law.
“Although they are not binding, comparable court decisions of other jurisdictions are persuasive authority and entitled to respect.” Kostal v. Pinkus Dermatopathology Lab., 827 NE 2d 1031 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 5th Div. 2005 (quotation and citation omitted)
While you can bring up a foreign decision to an Illinois trial court, foreign court opinions are not binding on Illinois trial courts.
“[I]t is well settled that decisions by courts from other states are not binding on courts of this state.” VG Marina Management Corp. v. Wiener, 882 NE 2d 196 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 2008
“[T]he use of foreign decisions as persuasive authority is appropriate where Illinois authority on point is lacking or absent.” Carroll v. Curry, 912 NE 2d 272 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 2009
Only when “[w]ithout established authority in Illinois, the court may choose to examine authority from other jurisdictions.” Shultz v. Atlantic Mut. Ins. Co., 853 NE 2d 94 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 1st Div. 2006
The same goes for federal court decisions…even if they’re in Illinois. “It is well settled that federal decisions are not binding on Illinois state courts. Despite the nonbinding nature of federal decisions, they can be considered to be persuasive authority, and they may be followed if the state court believes the federal analysis to be reasonable and logical.” Werderman v. Liberty Ventures, LLC, 857 NE 2d 320 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 2006 (Citations Omitted)
With tens of thousands of decisions issued by Illinois (one of the most populous states) since 1935…there will almost always be relevant, binding authority which will trump any foreign or federal authority.
Lawyers use foreign authority because they hope an identical case…even if from another state will persuade a judge to rule the same way.
Sorry, but that is not how it works. In Illinois, Illinois case law comes first…even if you don’t like it.
A lawyer who knows the law is good. But, a lawyer who knows how the law actually works in conjunction with all the other laws is even better. Contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm today to speak with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney.