Law of the Case Doctrine Not Obligatory

In deciding whether to apply the law of the case doctrine in a case that has been appealed multiple times, the appellate court should consider the purpose of the rule and the circumstances surrounding the initial appellate decision in the case. Swafford v. Norton, No. 2060722 (Ala. Civ. App. April 18, 2008).


‘[T]he law of the case doctrine provides that when a court decides upon a rule of law, that rule should continue to govern the same issues in subsequent stages of the same case. The purpose of the doctrine is to bring an end to litigation by foreclosing the possibility of repeatedly litigating an issue already decided.’ Ex parte Discount Foods, Inc., 789 So. 2d 842, 846 n. 4 (Ala. 2001). The rule is one of court policy, not law. Therefore, a court may depart from an earlier ruling in a case if the court determines that the prior ruling was clearly erroneous or if the law controlling the issue has changed. If a new judge takes over a case, he may modify or vacate a ruling from the prior judge in the case on a question of law. Moreover, the court or the parties may raise jurisdictional issues at any time in a case.