In California, the rules regarding publication of appellate court opinions are quite complex. This guide is intended to provide the researcher with a general understanding of the applicable rules as well as information on how to determine whether a particular appellate case can be cited as legal authority.
In general, an opinion of a California Court of Appeal or the appellate division of the Superior Court can be cited as authority only if it has been certified for publication or ordered officially published (Rule 8.1115, California Rules of Court).† There are two exceptions to this rule. An unpublished (or “depublished”) decision can be cited or relied upon only if:
Since published parts of a partially published opinion are treated like a published opinion and unpublished parts are treated like an unpublished opinion (CRC Rule 8.1110), only the published parts of the opinion can be cited.
The California Supreme Court may, upon petition for review or on its own motion, order review of a Court of Appeal decision, either in whole or as to specific issues. (CRC Rules 8.512, 8.516) Prior to July 1, 2016, if the California Supreme Court granted review of a Court of Appeal decision, the Court of Appeal opinion was considered superseded/depublished by the grant or review and therefore no longer citable. In 2016, the California Supreme Court amended their rules (effective July 1, 2016) to allow Court of Appeal opinions to remain published after a grant of review by the California Supreme Court (CRC Rule 8.1115(e)). Therefore, with respect to cases in which a grant of review has occurred on or after July 1, 2016, one can still cite to the Court of Appeal opinions in these cases.
†All opinions of the California Supreme Court are officially published (CRC Rule 8.1105). However, only about 15 percent of decisions issued by the California Courts of Appeal are published. Daniel W. Martin, Henke’s California Law Guide 182 (8th ed. 2006).