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What is Case Law?

Let's consider a scenario of case law. Stacy, a tenant in a duplex owned by Martin, filed a civil lawsuit against her landlord, claiming he had not given her enough notice before raising her rent, citing a new state law that requires a minimum of 90 days’ notice. Martin argues that the new law applies only to landlords of large multi-tenant properties. When the state court hearing the case reviews the law, he finds that, while it mentions large multi-tenant properties in some context, it is actually quite vague about whether the 90-day provision applies to all landlords. The judge, based on the specific circumstances of Stacy’s case, decides that all landlords are held to the 90-day notice requirement, and rules in Stacy’s favor.

A year later, Frank and Adel have a similar problem. When they sue their landlord, the court must use the previous court’s decision in applying the law. This example of case law refers to two cases heard in the state court, at the same level. The ruling of the first court created case law that must be followed by other courts until or unless either new law is created, or a higher court rules differently.

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