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Binding Authority: Overruled Court of Appeals Decision

Adam Martine v. Quentin J. Williams, 2011 WI App 68 (recommended for publication); case activity

¶13      Prior to last year, this court applied a general rule regarding court of appeals’ cases reversed by the supreme court that “holdings not specifically reversed on appeal retain precedential value.”  Blum v. 1st Auto & Cas. Ins. Co., 2010 WI 78, ¶44, 326 Wis. 2d 729, 786 N.W.2d 78 (citation omitted).  When Blum was before us, we extended that general rule to court of appeals’ holdings not specifically overruled by the supreme court.  Blum v. 1st Auto & Cas. Ins. Co., 2009 WI App 19, ¶16, 315 Wis. 2d 822, 762 N.W.2d 819 (Ct. App. 2008).

¶14      In Blum, the supreme court addressed the precedential value of an opinion of the court of appeals when the supreme court overrules part of that opinion in the context of reviewing a different opinion.  The supreme court in Blum held that “[a] court of appeals decision loses all precedential value when it is overruled by this court.”  Blum, 326 Wis. 2d 729, ¶3.  After reviewing the constitutional functions of the supreme court and the court of appeals, the supreme court concluded:

For these reasons, we conclude that a court of appeals decision expressly overruled by this court no longer retains any precedential value, unless this court expressly states that it is leaving portions of the court of appeals decision intact.

Id, ¶56.[4]


[4] Notably, the supreme court’s specific holding in Blum speaks only in terms of overruled cases.  See Blum v. 1st Auto & Cas. Ins. Co., 2010 WI 78, ¶¶42, 45, 326 Wis. 2d 729, 786 N.W.2d 78.  Although it is not immediately apparent why the Blum court’s conclusion should not also apply to reversals, we do not address that topic.

As the footnote above indicates, the holding doesn’t address the line of authority that distinguishes a “reversed” case from “overruled” authority – the latter expressly decides that certain precedent is no longer viable, while the former merely and more narrowly denotes a changed result in a particular case. Thus, “reversal” changes the result in the case at hand, while “overrule” more broadly declares a loss of precedential value to a rule of law. Does the distinction between “reverse” and “overrule” hold? It does, at least arguably, until resolved in a published decision. As for retroactivity: the rules are apparently much simpler on the civil side.

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