A case of first impression is a case that presents a legal issue that has never been decided by the governing jurisdiction. An example is the 1978 Supreme Court case Monell v. Department of Soc. Svcs. which decided whether local governments were considered “persons” under the Civil Rights Act of 1871.
A case of first impression lacks controlling precedent. In other words, a court deciding a case of first impression cannot rely on prior decisions nor is the court bound by stare decisis. To adopt the most persuasive rule of law, courts will look to various sources for guidance. These sources include
- legislative history and intent,
- the Restatement view, and
- the law in other jurisdictions.
[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]