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What is a Companion Case?

Daphne Mallory
Daphne Mallory

A companion case is one in which the point of law to be decided by an appellate court is the same as or similar to another case up for appellate review. Some appeals courts may require all oral arguments for companion cases to be heard together unless attorneys file a timely motion requesting a separate hearing. A companion case is a way for appellate courts to combine cases in order to make the appellate process more efficient and timely, as well as to clarify and provide interpretation of laws. The court may be able to resolve all of the companion cases, or it may have to dispose each of them separately. One option is to remand the case back to the lower courts for a retrial.

One case is often chosen as the main case in the group, and that is referred to as the lead case. Individuals who want to research prior court rulings regarding a particular law can learn a lot from lead and companion cases. The grouping of cases often allows the appellate court to make fine points of distinctions on the points of the law and the related facts of the case. Attorneys often research companion cases to determine the nuisances of the law as interpreted by the appellate court and how the cases they wish to present on appeal are similar to or different from those cases. For example, a companion case may be used by a court of appeals of higher court to highlight an exception to the law, whereas the related cases may be used to clarify the general aspects of the law.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Companion cases are also helpful to the public because each case may address unrelated laws. The appellate court may focus on national laws in one companion case, and in another companion case the focus of the court and the case itself might be on the interpretation of regional laws. The case may also be limited to rulings based on regional laws only, but the case may result in the court ruling on unrelated laws and statues. The public is able to examine all of the companion cases to understand many more laws than if just one case were decided.

Cases that are up for appellate review are not required to be grouped. Many cases are decided separately, with both parties submitting written briefs and in some cases presenting oral arguments. An appellate court, however, may require that oral arguments be heard together if the case is a companion case.

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