Published and Unpublished Opinons

The Michigan Court of Appeals issues both published and unpublished opinions.  Under the court rules (specifically MCR 7.215(C)(1)), “an unpublished opinion is not precedentially binding under the rule of stare decisis.”

"Under the doctrine of stare decisis, principles of law deliberately examined and decided by a court of competent jurisdiction should not be lightly departed. In order to avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts, it is indispensable that [courts] should be bound down by strict rules and precedents which serve to define and point out their duty in every particular case that comes before them.... As the United States Supreme Court has stated, the doctrine 'promotes the evenhanded, predictable, and consistent development of legal principles, fosters reliance on judicial decisions, and contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process.'

"Despite its importance, stare decisis is neither an inexorable command, nor a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision. Ultimately, it is an attempt to balance two competing considerations: the need of the community for stability in legal rules and decisions and the need of courts to correct past errors. As a reflection of this balance, there is a presumption in favor of upholding precedent, but this presumption may be rebutted if there is a special or compelling justification to overturn precedent. In determining whether a special or compelling justification exists, a number of evaluative criteria may be relevant, but overturning precedent requires more than a mere belief that a case was wrongly decided.

 McCormick v Carrier, 487 Mich 180, 795 NW2d 517 (2010) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

If the opinion is unpublished, no other court is bound to follow the decision contained in the opinion.  However, unpublished opinions can be persuasive, because they show how at least one panel of the Court of Appeals has grappled with and decided an issue.  “Although unpublished opinions of this Court are not binding precedent, they may, however, be considered instructive or persuasive.” Paris Meadows, LLC v City of Kentwood, 287 Mich App 136, 145; 783 NW2d 133 (2010) (internal citations omitted).

On the other hand, published opinions are binding on lower courts, which have to follow the published decision.

© Steve Sowell 2017