Rule 32.1 Citing Judicial Dispositions

(a) Citation Permitted. A court may not prohibit or restrict the citation of federal judicial opinions, orders, judgments, or other written dispositions that have been:

(i) designated as “unpublished,” “not for publication,” “non-precedential,” “not precedent,” or the like; and

(ii) issued on or after January 1, 2007.

(b) Copies Required. If a party cites a federal judicial opinion, order, judgment, or other written disposition that is not available in a publicly accessible electronic database, the party must file and serve a copy of that opinion, order, judgment, or disposition with the brief or other paper in which it is cited.

 

Notes

(As added Apr. 12, 2006, eff. Dec. 1, 2006.)

Committee Notes on Rules—2006

Rule 32.1 is a new rule addressing the citation of judicial opinions, orders, judgments, or other written dispositions that have been designated by a federal court as “unpublished,” “not for publication,” “non-precedential,” “not precedent,” or the like. This Committee Note will refer to these dispositions collectively as“unpublished” opinions.

Rule 32.1 is extremely limited. It does not require any court to issue an unpublished opinion or forbid any court from doing so. It does not dictate the circumstances under which a court may choose to designate an opinion as “unpublished” or specify the procedure that a court must follow in making that determination. It says nothing about what effect a court must give to one of its unpublished opinions or to the unpublished opinions of another court. Rule 32.1 addresses only the citation of federal judicial dispositions that have been designated as “unpublished” or “non-precedential”—whether or not those dispositions have been published in some way or are precedential in some sense.

Subdivision (a). Every court of appeals has allowed unpublished opinions to be cited in some circumstances, such as to support a contention of issue preclusion or claim preclusion. But the circuits have differed dramatically with respect to the restrictions that they have placed on the citation of unpublished opinions for their persuasive value. Some circuits have freely permitted such citation, others have discouraged it but permitted it in limited circumstances, and still others have forbidden it altogether.

Rule 32.1(a) is intended to replace these inconsistent standards with one uniform rule. Under Rule 32.1(a), a court of appeals may not prohibit a party from citing an unpublished opinion of a federal court for its persuasive value or for any other reason. In addition, under Rule 32.1(a), a court may not place any restriction on the citation of such opinions. For example, a court may not instruct parties that the citation of unpublished opinions is discouraged, nor may a court forbid parties to cite unpublished opinions when a published opinion addresses the same issue.

Rule 32.1(a) applies only to unpublished opinions issued on or after January 1, 2007. The citation of unpublished opinions issued before January 1, 2007, will continue to be governed by the local rules of the circuits.

Subdivision (b). Under Rule 32.1(b), a party who cites an opinion of a federal court must provide a copy of that opinion to the court of appeals and to the other parties, unless that opinion is available in a publicly accessible electronic database—such as a commercial database maintained by a legal research service or a database maintained by a court. A party who is required under Rule32.1(b) to provide a copy of an opinion must file and serve the copy with the brief or other paper in which the opinion is cited. Rule 32.1(b) applies to all unpublished opinions, regardless of when they were issued.

Changes Made After Publication and Comment. (At its June 15–16, 2005, meeting, the Standing Rules Committee with the advisory committee chair's concurrence agreed to delete sections of the Committee Note, which provided background information on the justification of the proposal.) The changes made by the Advisory Committee after publication are described in my May 14, 2004 report to the Standing Committee. At its April 2005 meeting, the Advisory Committee directed that two additional changes be made.

First, the Committee decided to add “federal” before “judicial opinions” in subdivision (a) and before “judicial opinion” in subdivision (b) to make clear that Rule 32.1 applies only to the unpublished opinions of federal courts. Conforming changes were made to the Committee Note. These changes address the concern of some state court judges—conveyed by Chief Justice Wells at the June 2004 Standing Committee meeting—that Rule 32.1 might have an impact on state law.

Second, the Committee decided to insert into the Committee Note references to the studies conducted by the Federal Judicial Center (“FJC”) and the Administrative Office (“AO”). (The studies are described below. [Omitted]) These references make clear that the arguments of Rule 32.1's opponents were taken seriously and studied carefully, but ultimately rejected because they were unsupported by or, in some instances, actually refuted by the best available empirical evidence.