The last post covered a brief’s Table of Authorities and proper citation form. This one addresses whether one may cite unpublished opinions.
The South Carolina rule prohibits citing unpublished orders except in proceedings in which they are directly involved. Rule 268(d)(2), SCACR. The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals reminds readers of this prohibition by placing a prominent warning on their unpublished opinions against citing the opinion except as provided in the rule.
But the Supreme Court is free to modify its rules. In one case,the Court cited its unpublished opinion in an unrelated case for its persuasiveness. Toth v. Square D Co., 298 S.C. 6, 10, 377 S.E.2d 584, 586-587 (1989).
A different rule may also apply to unpublished trial court orders. The Court of Appeals stated in dicta that a party may present trial-court orders to a trial judge as if they were memoranda of law. The trial judge may not expressly rely on such orders as authority, but may give them whatever persuasive effect that they may have. Higgins v. Medical University of South Carolina, 326 S.C. 592, 600, 486 S.E.2d 269, 273 (Ct.App. 1997).
The Supreme Court has also relied on unpublished state trial court orders from trial courts outside South Carolina. Cole v. Boy Scouts of America, 397 S.C. 247, 253 n. 2, 725 S.E.2d 476, 479 n. 2 (2012).
Federal courts addressed this by adopting Rule 32.1, FRAP. It provides that a court may not prohibit or restrict citing federal judicial opinions or other written dispositions — even if designated as “unpublished” or the like — if the disposition issued on or after January 1, 2007. The proposed rule was controversial, and the January 2007 cut-off date was an apparent compromise. See Anne Coyle, A Modest Reform: The New Rule 32.1 Permitting Citation to Unpublished Opinions in the Federal Courts of Appeals, 72 Fordham L. Rev. 2471 (2004)(describing the competing policy arguments). The various federal circuits treat pre-2007 cases differently, with some continuing their blanket prohibition on citing pre-2007 unpublished opinions (a chart is available here).
Rule 32.1, FRAP, makes sense. A blanket prohibition on citing orders may deprive the Court of information that it could find helpful. And where is the harm? The Court, after all, remains free to give the unpublished opinions whatever weight, if any, that the court believes that the opinion deserves. Why should the South Carolina Supreme Court be able to rely on unpublished state trial court orders from Connecticut and New York, like it did in Cole, yet not allow attorneys to bring its own orders to its attention?
Has anyone else been frustrated by being unable to cite unpublished orders? Please let me hear from you. You may reach me at www.attorneyroberthill.com.