Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Eleventh Circuit on the Law of the Case Doctrine

In Thomas v. United States (06-15651), the Eleventh Circuit reversed the District Court's application of the law of the case doctrine. The opinion is based upon the criminal defendants attempt to collaterally attack his conviction and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, however, the relevant portion here discusses the law of the case doctrine.

“Under the law of the case doctrine, both district courts and appellate courts are generally bound by a prior appellate decision in the same case.” Alphamed, 367 F.3d at 1285-86 (citation omitted). “The doctrine operates to preclude courts from revisiting issues that were decided explicitly or by necessary implication in a prior appeal.” Schiavo ex rel. Schindler v. Schiavo, 403 F.3d 1289, 1291 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (citation omitted). “The doctrine is based on the premise that an appellate decision is binding in all subsequent proceedings in the same case unless the presentation of new evidence or an intervening change in the controlling law dictates a different result, or the appellate decision is clearly erroneous and, if implemented, would work a manifest injustice.” Litman v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 825 F.2d 1506, 1510 (11th Cir. 1987). The law of the case doctrine, however, “does not bar consideration of matters that could have been, but were not, resolved in earlier proceedings.” Luckey v. Miller, 929 F.2d 618, 621 (11th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted); see also Lehrman v. Gulf Oil Corp., 500 F.2d 659, 663 (5th Cir. 1974) (providing that the law of the case doctrine “does not include 3 all questions which were present in a case and which might have been decided but were not”). Although courts generally refuse to reconsider issues decided previously on appeal, it is within a court’s discretion to do so. See Lehrman, 500 F.2d at 662-63 (distinguishing the law of the case doctrine from res judicata and noting that the former “does not preclude a second review if considerations of substantial justice warrant it”); Westbrook v. Zant, 743 F.2d 764, 768 (11th Cir. 1984) (noting that the law of the case doctrine “is not an inexorable command”) (citation and quotation marks omitted).


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