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Depublication of California Court of Appeal Decisions: Rules for Publishing and Citing to Appellate Cases

This guide provides pertinent information regarding the rules for publication of appellate court opinions as well as information on how to determine whether a particular appellate case can be cited as legal authority.

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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.

The Publication Rules

  1. Generally, "an opinion of a Court of Appeal or a superior court appellate division is published in the Official Reports if a majority of the rendering court certifies the opinion for publication before the decision is final in that court" (CRC Rule 8.1105(b)).                                                                                                                                
  2. If an appellate court renders an opinion in a case and grants a rehearing in that case, the court's original opinion "is no longer considered published" (CRC Rule 8.1105(e)(1)(A)).                                                                                                                                                                           
  3. "The Supreme Court may order that an opinion certified for publication is not to be published" (often referred to as "depublication") (CRC Rule 8.1105(e)(2)). The Court can do so on their own motion or at the request of "any person" (CRC Rule 8.1125(a), (c)). In the latter case, "the rendering court or any person may submit a response supporting or opposing the request (CRC Rule 8.1125(b)).                                                                                                                                                                                         
  4. "Any person" may also request that an appellate court opinion be published (CRC Rule 8.1120(a)(1)). "The request must be made by a letter to the court that rendered the opinion" (CRC Rule 8.1120(a)(2)). If that court "does not or cannot grant the request before the decision is final in that court, . . . [t]he Supreme Court may order the opinion published or deny the request" (CRC Rule 8.1120(b), (c)).                                                                                                                                                                                            
  5. “Partial publication” occurs when the rendering court certifies some, but not all, parts of the appellate opinion for publication. (CRC Rule 8.1110(a)).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
  6. A decision by the Supreme Court to publish or depublish an appellate opinion does not mean the Supreme Court agrees or disagrees with "the correctness of the result of the decision or of any law stated in the opinion" (CRC Rules 8.1120(d), 8.1125(d)).                                                                                                                                                                                                               
  7. Depublished appellate cases will not appear in the bound volumes of the California Appellate Reports.  They will appear in the following sources/databases however: 1) the advance sheets (softbound booklets containing the newest cases) of the California Appellate Reports; 2) both the bound volumes and advance sheets of West’s California Reporter and West's Pacific Reporter; and 3) online databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


Citing Published Cases

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:

  • it is relevant under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, or collateral estoppel; or
  • it is relevant to a criminal or disciplinary action because it states reasons for a decision affecting the same defendant or respondent in another such action (CRC Rule 8.1115(b)).

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).

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