Law of the Case Doctrine Prevents Review of Prior Ruling

The application of the law of the case doctrine is on display in Stockton v. CKPD Development, No. 1060182 (Ala. July 13, 2007).  In Stockton, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the law of the case doctrine prevented the Court from revisiting a prior ruling from the Court of Civil Appeals which had not been challenged by writ of certiorari.

In Stockton, the trial court granted summary judgment to CKPD on claims arising out of a ground lease.  The Stocktons appealed, and, after deflection to the Court of Civil Appeals, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed, finding that a dispute of material fact prevented summary judgment.

On remand, CKPD presented additional evidence, and the trial court again granted summary judgment to CKPD.  The Stocktons appealed to the Supreme Court, and the summary judgment again was reversed.

Central to its ruling was the law of the case doctrine.  The Court noted that "whether the Court of Civil Appeals’ holding was correct is not properly before this Court because of the law-of-the-case doctrine."  p. 10.  That ruling was the law of the case regardless of whether it was correct:  "’Under the doctrine of the ‘law of the case,’ whatever is once established between the same parties in the same case continues to be the law of that case, whether or not correct on general principles, so long as the facts on which the decision was predicated contine to be the facts of the case.’"  p. 10-11, quoting Blumberg v. Touche Ross & Co., 514 So. 2d 922, 924 (Ala. 1987). 

The Supreme Court went on to note that "CKPD did not seek certorari review from [the Supreme] Court of the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals, and CKPD does not now challenge the application of the law-of-the-case doctrine.  Therefore, unless the facts upon which the holding of the Court of Civil Appeals was predicated have changed, the holding of the Court of Civil Appeals is the law of the case."  p. 11.

Thus, the review of the Supreme Court was limited to the new facts raised after the Court of Civil Appeals had ruled.  The Supreme Court found that the new evidence also was disputed, and that there were still questions of material fact.  Therefore, summary judgment was improper, and the summary judgment was reversed.