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In law, a per curiam decision (or opinion) is a ruling issued by an appellate court of multiple judges in which the decision rendered is made by the court (or at least, a majority of the court) acting collectively (and typically, though not necessarily, unanimously). In contrast to regular opinions, a per curiam does not list the individual judge responsible for authoring the decision, but minority concurring and dissenting decisions are signed.
It is not the only type of decision that can reflect the opinion of the court. Other types of decisions can also reflect the opinion of the entire court, such as unanimous decisions in which the opinion of the court is expressed, with an author listed. The term per curiam is Latin for "by the court".
The decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are usually not per curiam. Their decisions more commonly take the form of one or more opinions signed by individual justices which are then joined in by other justices. Unanimous and signed opinions are not considered per curiam decisions, as only the court can officially designate opinions as per curiam. Per curiam decisions tend to be short. In modern practice, they are most commonly used in summary decisions that the Court resolves without full argument and briefing. The designation is stated at the beginning of the opinion. Single-line per curiam decisions are also issued without concurrence or dissent by a hung Supreme Court (a 4–4 decision), when the Court has a vacant seat.
The notable exceptions to the usual characteristics for a per curiam decision are the cases of Bush v. Gore and Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo. Although they were per curiam, each had multiple concurrences and dissents.
- Ex parte Quirin, 317 U.S. 1 (1942)
- Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 214 (1952)
- Toolson v. New York Yankees, 346 U.S. 356 (1953)
- One, Inc. v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371 (1958)
- Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960)
- Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)
- Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 19 (1969)
- New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)
- Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
- Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976)
- City of New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297 (1976)
- Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000)
- American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, 567 U.S. 517 (2012)
- Los Angeles County v. Rettele, 550 U.S. 609 (2007)
- Mullenix v. Luna, 577 U.S. 14–1143 (2015)
- Caetano v. Massachusetts, 577 U.S. 14-10078 (2016)
- Washington v. Trump, 9th Cir., 17-35105 (February 9, 2017)
- United States v. Texas, (2016)
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, (2020)
The per curiam practices of the individual United States Courts of Appeal vary by judicial Circuit. The Second Circuit, for instance, issues its nonprecedential decisions as "summary orders" that do not designate an author but are also not labeled as per curiam opinions; occasionally, the court will issue precedential decisions with a per curiam designation. In the Third Circuit, by contrast, the majority of both precedential and nonprecedential decisions indicate the authoring judge, and the per curiam designation is generally, but not exclusively, reserved for dispositions on the court's pro se and summary action calendar.
The Supreme Court of California occasionally releases decisions in the name of "The Court" but they are not necessarily unanimous. Sometimes, they are accompanied by extensive concurring and dissenting opinions.
Many decisions of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, especially in the First and Second Judicial Departments, do not designate an author. Across the Departments, the per curiam designation is used in attorney disciplinary decisions.
The Supreme Court of Canada uses "The Court" instead of per curiam.
The US uses per curiam primarily for uncontroversial cases. Canada, however, has used "The Court" for important and controversial cases to emphasize that the Court is unanimous.
Notes and references
- Bryan A. Garner, ed. (2001). Black's Law Dictionary (2nd Pocket ed.). St. Paul, MN: West Group. pp. 503, 523.
- For examples, see Bobby v. Van Hook and Michigan v. Fisher
- "Per curiam". Wex. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
- "Per curiam". Merriam Webster English Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- See https://www.scotusblog.com/reference/educational-resources/glossary-of-legal-terms/ (observing that summary reversals are usually issued as per curiam opinions)
- See, e.g., Sundance v. Municipal Court, 42 Cal. 3d 1101 (1986).
- See, e.g., Mosley v. State, 209 So. 3d 1248 (Fla. 2016). Hitchcock v. State, 413 So. 2d 741 (Fla. 1982).
- See, e.g., Matter of Stein, http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_01606.htm