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Public Health Law Glossary

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action

n. a lawsuit in which one party (or parties) sues another.

acquit

v. what a jury or judge sitting without a jury does at the end of a criminal trial if the jury or judge finds the accused defendant not guilty.

administrative hearing

n. a hearing before any governmental agency or before an administrative law judge. Such hearings can range from simple arguments to what amounts to a trial. There is no jury, but the agency or the administrative law judge will make a ruling.

administrative orders

n. orders that a health department issues to a third party to remedy a condition that threatens public health.  Can be issued under a health department’s police power without specific legislation, under a specific law granting the power to issue general orders or under specific administrative regulations.

advisory opinion

n. an opinion stated by a judge or a court upon the request of a legislative body or government agency. An advisory opinion has no force of law but is given as a matter of courtesy. A private citizen cannot get an advisory ruling from a court and can only get rulings in an actual lawsuit. State attorneys general also give advisory opinions at the request of government officials. These opinions are often cited as the probable correct law on the subject but are not binding.

amended complaint

n. what results when the party suing (plaintiff or petitioner) changes the complaint he/she has filed. It must be in writing, and can be done before the complaint is served on any defendant, by agreement between the parties (usually their lawyers), or upon order of the court. Complaints are amended to correct facts, add new causes of action (bases for the lawsuit), substitute discovered names for persons sued as "Does," or to properly plead a cause of action (the legal basis for suing) after the court has found the complaint inadequate.

Attorney General

n. in each state and the federal government the highest ranking legal officer of the government. The federal Attorney General is chief of the Department of Justice appointed by the President with confirmation required by the Senate, and a member of the Cabinet. He or she is in charge of federal prosecutions (including overseeing the numerous regional U.S. Attorneys), and numerous cases and matters in which the federal government has a legal interest, particularly when the federal government is a party or federal regulations are at issue. The Attorney General also has oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement operations of the Justice Department. Although elected, state Attorneys General have similar functions within their states, although the supervision of local prosecutions is seldom exercised unless there is some gross mismanagement. Different legislatures have assigned varying functions to the state departments of justice, including consumer protection, environmental law, supervision of trusts and non-profit corporations, and other issues in which the state government may have a particular interest in protecting the citizenry.

authority

n. permission, a right coupled with the power to do an act or order others to act. Often one person gives another authority to act, as an employer to an employee, a principal to an agent, a corporation to its officers, or governmental empowerment to perform certain functions. There are different types of authority, including "apparent authority" when a principal gives an agent various signs of authority to make others believe he or she has authority; "express authority" or "limited authority," which spells out exactly what authority is granted (usually a written set of instructions) "implied authority," which flows from the position one holds and "general authority," which is the broad power to act for another.

authorities

n. 1) previous decisions by courts of appeal which provide legal guidance to a court on questions in a current lawsuit, which are called "precedents." Legal briefs (written arguments) are often called "points and authorities." Thus, a lawyer "cites" the previously decided cases as "authorities" for his/her legal positions. 2) a common term for law enforcement, as in "I'm going to call the authorities" (i.e. police).

beneficial use

n. the right to enjoy the use of something (particularly such pleasant qualities as light, air, view, access, water in a stream) even though the title to the property in which the use exists is held by another.

burden

n. anything that results in a restrictive load upon something. This is not meant in a tangible sense, but includes a "burden" on interstate commerce (which is any matter which limits, restricts or is onerous such as a license or fee for passage), and "burdens" on land such as zoning restrictions or the right of a neighbor to pass over the property to reach his home (easement).

burden of proof

n. the requirement that the plaintiff (the party bringing a civil lawsuit) show by a "preponderance of evidence" or "weight of evidence" that all the facts necessary to win a judgment are presented and are probably true. In a criminal trial the burden of proof required of the prosecutor is to prove the guilt of the accused "beyond a reasonable doubt," a much more difficult task. Unless there is a complete failure to present substantial evidence of a vital fact (usually called an "element of the cause of action"), the ultimate decision as to whether the plaintiff has met his/her burden of proof rests with the jury or the judge if there is no jury. However, the burden of proof is not always on the plaintiff. In some issues it may shift to the defendant if he/she raises a factual issue in defense, such as a claim that he/she was not the registered owner of the car that hit the plaintiff, so the defendant has the burden to prove that defense. If at the close of the plaintiff's presentation he/she has not produced any evidence on a necessary fact (e.g. any evidence of damage) then the case may be dismissed without the defendant having to put on any evidence.

case law

n. court-produced bodies of legal opinions that guide the application of the law.

cause of action

n. the basis of a lawsuit founded on legal grounds and alleged facts which, if proved, would constitute all the "elements" required by statute. Examples: to have a cause of action for breach of contract there must have been an offer of acceptance; for a tort (civil wrong) there must have been negligence or intentional wrongdoing and failure to perform; for libel there must have been an untruth published which is particularly harmful; and in all cases there must be a connection between the acts of the defendant and damages. In many lawsuits there are several causes of action stated separately, such as fraud, breach of contract, and debt, or negligence and intentional destruction of property.

cease and desist order

n. an order of a court or government agency to a person, business or organization to stop doing something upon a strong showing that the activity is harmful and/or contrary to law. The order may be permanent or hold until a final judicial determination of legality occurs. In many instances the activity is believed to cause irreparable damage such as receipt of funds illegally, felling of timber contrary to regulation, selling of shares of stock without a proper permit, or oil drilling which would damage the ecology.

certiorari

n. (sersh-oh-rare-ee) a writ (order) of a higher court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review the lower court's decision. Certiorari is most commonly used by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is selective about which cases it will hear on appeal. To appeal to the Supreme Court one applies to the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which it grants at its discretion and only when at least three members believe that the case involves a sufficiently significant federal question in the public interest. By denying such a writ the Supreme Court says it will let the lower court decision stand, particularly if it conforms to accepted precedents (previously decided cases).

citation

n. 1) a notice to appear in court due to the probable commission of a minor crime such as a traffic violation, drinking liquor in a park where prohibited, letting a dog loose without a leash, and in some states for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Failure to appear can result in a warrant for the citee's arrest. 2) a notice to appear in court in a civil matter in which the presence of a party appears necessary, usually required by statute, such as a person whose relatives wish to place him/her under a conservatorship (take over and manage his/her affairs). 3) the act of referring to (citing) a statute, precedent-setting case or legal textbook, in a brief (written legal court statement) or argument in court, called "citation of authority." 4) the section of the statute or the name of the case as well as the volume number, the report series and the page number of a case referred to in a brief, points and authorities, or other legal argument. Example: United States vs. Wong Kim Ark, (1898) 169 U.S. 649, which is the name of the case, the year when decided, with the decision found at volume 169 of the United States [Supreme Court] Reporter at page 649. A citation also refers to the case itself, as in "counsel's citation of the Wong case is not in point."

civil action

n. any lawsuit relating to civil matters and not criminal prosecution.

civil liability

n. potential responsibility for payment of damages or other court-enforcement in a lawsuit, as distinguished from criminal liability, which means open to punishment for a crime.

civil liberties

n. rights or freedoms given to the people by the First Amendment to the Constitution, by Common Law, or legislation, allowing the individual to be free to speak, think, assemble, organize, worship, or petition without government (or even private) interference or restraints. These liberties are protective in nature, while civil rights form a broader concept and include positive elements such as the right to use facilities, the right to an equal education, or the right to participate in government.

civil penalties

n. fines or surcharges imposed by a governmental agency to enforce regulations such as late payment of taxes, failure to obtain a permit, etc.

class action

n. a lawsuit filed by one or more people on behalf of themselves and a larger group of people "who are similarly situated." Examples might include: all women who have suffered from defective contraceptive devices or breast implants, all those overcharged by a public utility during a particular period, or all those who were underpaid by an employer in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. If a class action is successful, a period of time is given for those who can prove they fit the class to file claims to participate in the judgment amount. Class actions are difficult and expensive to file and follow through, but the results can be helpful to people who could not afford to carry a suit alone. They can force businesses that have caused broad damage or have a "public be damned" attitude to change their practices and/or pay for damages. They often result in high fees for the winning attorneys, although often attorneys do not collect a fee at the beginning of a class action suit but might charge a contingent fee (such as one-third of the final judgment), which, occasionally, can be millions of dollars. Such fees usually require court approval.

closing argument

n. the final argument by an attorney on behalf of his/her client after all evidence has been produced for both sides. The lawyer for the plaintiff or prosecution (in a criminal case) makes the first closing argument, followed by counsel for the defendant, and then the plaintiff's attorney can respond to the defense argument. Unlike the "opening statement," which is limited to what is going to be proved, the "closing argument" may include opinions on the law, comment on the opposing party's evidence, and usually requests a judgment or verdict (jury's decision) favorable to the client.

collateral attack

n. a legal action to challenge a ruling in another case. For example, Joe Parenti has been ordered to pay child support in a divorce case, but he then files another lawsuit trying to prove a claim that he is not the father of the child. A "direct attack" would have been to raise the issue of paternity in the divorce action.

codefendant

n. when more than one person or entity is sued in one lawsuit, each party sued is called a codefendant.

comity

n. when one court defers to the jurisdiction of another in a case in which both would have the right to handle the case. Usually this is applied to a federal court allowing a state court to try a criminal case (either exclusively or first) in which both a state and federal crime has apparently been committed. Murder which also violates civil rights, kidnapping across state borders, murder of a federal official, fraud involving violations of both federal and state laws are examples of cases to which comity may apply.

common area

n. in condominium and some cooperative housing projects, the areas not owned by an individual owner of the condominium or cooperative residence, but shared by all owners, either by percentage inter- est or owned by the management organization. Common areas may include recreation facilities, outdoor space, parking, landscaping, fences, laundry rooms and all other jointly used space. Management is by a homeowners' association or cooperative board, which collects assessments from the owners and pays for upkeep, some insurance, maintenance and reserves for replacement of improvements in the common area. This can also refer to the area in a shopping center or mall outside of the individual stores, for which each business pays a share of maintenance based on percentage of total store space occupied.

common law

n. judge-made law that is modified case by case over generations.

compensatory damages

n. damages recovered in payment for actual injury or economic loss, which does not include punitive damages (as added damages due to malicious or grossly negligent action).

conclusion of fact

n. in a trial, the final result of an analysis of the facts presented in evidence, made by the trier of fact (a jury or by the judge if there is no jury). When a judge is the trier of fact he/she will present orally in open court or in a written judgment his/her findings of fact to support his/her decision. In most cases either party is entitled to written conclusion of facts if requested.

conclusion of law

n. a judge's final decision on a question of law which has been raised in a trial or a court hearing, particularly those issues which are vital to reaching a statement. These may be presented orally by the judge in open court, but are often contained in a written judgment in support of his/her judgment such as an award of damages or denial of a petition. In most cases either party is entitled to written conclusions of law if requested.

condominium

n. title to a unit of real property which, in reality, is the airspace which an apartment, office or store occupies. An increasingly common form of property title in a multi-unit project, condominiums actually date back to ancient Rome, hence the Latin name. The owner of the condominium also owns a common tenancy with owners of other units in the common area, which includes all the driveways, parking, elevators, outside hallways, recreation and landscaped areas, which are managed by a homeowners' or tenant's association. If the condominium unit is destroyed by fire or other disaster, the owner has the right to rebuild in his/her airspace. Most states have adopted statutes to cover special issues involving development, construction, management and taxation of condominium projects.

consent decree

n. an order of a judge based upon an agreement, almost always put in writing, between the parties to a lawsuit instead of continuing the case through trial or hearing. It cannot be appealed unless it was based upon fraud by one of the parties (he lied about the situation), mutual mistake (both parties misunderstood the situation) or if the court does not have jurisdiction over the case or the parties. Obviously, such a decree is almost always final and non-appealable since the parties worked it out. A consent decree is a common practice when the government has sued to make a person or corporation comply with the law (improper securities practices, pollution, restraints of trade, conspiracy) or the defendant agrees to the consent decree (often not to repeat the offense) in return for the government not pursuing criminal penalties. In general a consent decree and a consent judgment are the same.

consortium

n. 1) a group of separate businesses or business people joining together and cooperating to complete a project, work together to perform a contract or conduct an on-going business. For example, six companies, including Bechtel and Kaiser, joined together in a consortium to build Boulder (now Hoover) Dam, with each providing different expertise or components. 2) the marital relationship, particularly sexual intimacies, between husband and wife. Consortium arises in a lawsuit as a claim of "loss of consortium." Often it means that due to one spouse's injuries or emotional distress he/she cannot have sexual relations for a period of time or permanently, which is a loss to the mate for which he/she should be awarded damages. How loss of consortium is valued in money terms is a difficult question.

conspiracy

n. when people work together by agreement to commit an illegal act. A conspiracy may exist when the parties use legal means to accomplish an illegal result, or to use illegal means to achieve something that in itself is lawful. To prove a conspiracy those involved must have agreed to the plan before all the actions have been taken, or it is just a series of independent illegal acts. A conspiracy can be criminal for planning and carrying out illegal activities, or give rise to a civil lawsuit for damages by someone injured by the conspiracy. Thus, a scheme by a group of salesmen to sell used automobiles as new, could be prosecuted as a crime of fraud and conspiracy, and also allow a purchaser of an auto to sue for damages for the fraud and conspiracy.

constitutional rights

n. rights given or reserved to the people by the U.S. Constitution, and in particular, the Bill of Rights (first ten amendments). These rights include: writ of habeas corpus, no bill of attainder, no duties or taxes on transporting goods from one state to another (Article I, Section 9); jury trials (Article III, Section 1); freedom of religion, speech, press (which includes all media), assembly and petition (First Amendment); state militia to bear arms (Second Amendment); no quartering of troops in homes (Third Amendment); no unreasonable search and seizure (Fourth Amendment); major ("capital and infamous") crimes require indictment, no double jeopardy (more than one prosecution) for the same crime, no self-incrimination, right to due process, right to just compensation for property taken by eminent domain (Fifth Amendment); in criminal law, right to a speedy trial, to confront witnesses against one, and to counsel (Sixth Amendment); trial by jury (Seventh Amendment); right to bail, no excessive fines, and no cruel and unusual punishments (Eighth Amendment); unenumerated rights are reserved to the people (Ninth Amendment); equal protection of the laws (14th Amendment); no racial bars to voting (15th Amendment); no sex bar to voting (19th Amendment); and no poll tax (24th Amendment). Constitutional interpretation has expanded and added nuances to these rights.

construe

v. to determine the meaning of the words of a written document, statute or legal decision, based upon rules of legal interpretation as well as normal, widely accepted meanings.

continuance

n. a postponement of a date of a trial, hearing or other court appearance to a later fixed date by order of the court, or upon a stipulation (legal agreement) by the attorneys and approved by the court or (where local rules permit) by the clerk of the court. In general courts frown on too many continuances and will not allow them unless there is a legitimate reason. Some states demand payment of fees for continuances to discourage delays.

contract

n. agreement between two or more parties creating obligations that are enforceable or otherwise recognizable by law.

controversy

n. 1) disagreement, argument or quarrel. 2) a dispute, which must be an actual contested issue between parties in order to be heard by a court. The U.S. Supreme Court particularly requires an "actual controversy" and avoids giving "what if" advisory opinions.

cooperative housing

n. an arrangement in which an association or corporation owns a group of housing units and the common areas for the use of all the residents. The individual participants own a share in the cooperative which entitles them to occupy an apartment (or town house) as if they were owners, to have equal access to the common areas and to vote for members of the board of directors which manages the cooperative. A cooperative differs from a condominium project in that the owners of the condominium units actually own their airspace and a percentage interest in the common area. In a cooperative there are often restrictions on transfer of shares such as giving priority to other members, limits on income or maximum sales price.

corroborate

v. to confirm and sometimes add substantiating (reinforcing) testimony to the testimony of another witness or a party in a trial.

court of appeals

n. any court (state or federal) which hears appeals from judgments and rulings of trial courts or lower appeals courts.

court trial

("non-jury trial"): a trial with a judge but no jury.

damages

n. the amount of money which a plaintiff (the person suing) may be awarded in a lawsuit. There are many types of damages. Special damages are those which actually were caused by the injury and include medical and hospital bills, ambulance charges, loss of wages, property repair or replacement costs or loss of money due on a contract. The second basic area of damages are general damages, which are presumed to be a result of the other party's actions, but are subjective both in nature and determination of value of damages. These include pain and suffering, future problems and crippling effect of an injury, loss of ability to perform various acts, shortening of life span, mental anguish, loss of companionship, loss of reputation (in a libel suit, for example), humiliation from scars, loss of anticipated business and other harm. The third major form of damage is exemplary (or punitive) damages, which combines punishment and the setting of public example. Exemplary damages may be awarded when the defendant acted in a malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless way in causing the special and general damages to the plaintiff. On occasion punitive damages can be greater than the actual damages, as, for example, in a sexual harassment case or fraudulent schemes. Although often asked for, they are seldom awarded. Nominal damages are those given when the actual harm is minor and an award is warranted under the circumstances. The most famous case was when Winston Churchill was awarded a shilling (about 25 cents) against author Louis Adamic, who had written that the British Prime Minister had been drunk at a dinner at the White House. Liquidated damages are those pre-set by the parties in a contract to be awarded in case one party defaults as in breach of contract.

de minimis

adj. (dee-minnie-miss) Latin for "of minimum importance" or "trifling." Essentially it refers to something or a difference that is so little, small, minuscule or tiny that the law does not refer to it and will not consider it. In a million dollar deal, a $10 mistake is de minimis.

declarant

n. the person making a statement, usually written and signed by that person, under "penalty of perjury" pursuant to the laws of the state in which the statement, called a declaration, is made. The declaration is more commonly used than the affidavit, which is similar to a declaration but requires taking an oath to swear to the truth attested to (certified in writing) by a notary public. In theory, a declarant who knowingly does not tell the truth would be subject to the criminal charge of perjury. Such violations are seldom pursued.

decree

n. in general, synonymous with judgment. However, in some areas of the law, the term decree is either more common or preferred as in probates of estates, domestic relations (divorce), admiralty law and in equity (court rulings ordering or prohibiting certain acts). Thus, there may be references to a final or interlocutory decree of divorce, final decree of distribution of a dead person's estate, etc.

default judgment

n. if a defendant in a lawsuit fails to respond to a complaint in the time set by law (commonly 20 or 30 days), then the plaintiff (suer) can request that the default (failure) be entered into the court record by the clerk, which gives the plaintiff the right to get a default judgment. If the complaint was for a specific amount of money owed on a note, other money due, or a specific contract price (or if the amount due is easy to calculate) then the clerk of the court can enter a default judgment. If proof of damages or other relief is necessary, a hearing will be held in which the judge determines terms of the default judgment. In either case the defendant cannot speak for himself/herself. A defendant who fails to file an answer or other legal response when it is due can request that the default be set aside, but must show a legitimate excuse and a good defense to the lawsuit.

defendant

n. 1) the party sued in a civil lawsuit or the party charged with a crime in a criminal prosecution. In some types of cases (such as divorce) a defendant may be called a respondent.

defense

n. 1) a general term for the effort of an attorney representing a defendant during trial and in pre-trial maneuvers to defeat the party suing or the prosecution in a criminal case. 2) a response to a complaint, called an affirmative defense, to counter, defeat or remove all or a part of the contentions of the plaintiff.

demurrer

n. (dee-muhr-ur) a written response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit which, in effect, pleads for dismissal on the point that even if the facts alleged in the complaint were true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit. A hearing before a judge (on the law and motion calendar) will then be held to determine the validity of the demurrer. Some causes of action may be defeated by a demurrer while others may survive. Some demurrers contend that the complaint is unclear or omits an essential element of fact. If the judge finds these errors, he/she will usually sustain the demurrer (state it is valid), but "with leave to amend" in order to allow changes to make the original complaint good. An amendment to the complaint cannot always overcome a demurrer, as in a case filed after the time allowed by law to bring a suit. If after amendment the complaint is still not legally good, a demurrer will be granted sustained. In rare occasions, a demurrer can be used to attack an answer to a complaint. Some states have substituted a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action for the demurrer.

deponent

n. a person testifying (stating answers in response to questions) at a deposition.

dicta

n. discussion in a court decision that addresses an issue outside the direct facts presented by the case and thus outside the court’s holding; of not precedential value in directing future court decisions.

discrimination

n. unequal treatment of persons, for a reason which has nothing to do with legal rights or ability. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in employment, availability of housing, rates of pay, right to promotion, educational opportunity, civil rights, and use of facilities based on race, nationality, creed, color, age, sex or sexual orientation. The rights to protest discrimination or enforce one's rights to equal treatment are provided in various federal and state laws, which allow for private lawsuits with the right to damages. There are also federal and state commissions to investigate and enforce equal rights.

dismiss

v. the ruling by a judge that all or a portion (one or more of the causes of action) of the plaintiff's lawsuit is terminated (thrown out) at that point without further evidence or testimony. This judgment may be made before, during or at the end of a trial, when the judge becomes convinced that the plaintiff has not and cannot prove his/her/its case. This can be based on the complaint failing to allege a cause of action, on a motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's opening statement of what will be proved, or on some development in the evidence by either side which bars judgment for the plaintiff. The judge may dismiss on his own or upon motion by the defendant. The plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss a cause of action before or during trial if the case is settled, if it is not provable or trial strategy dictates getting rid of a weak claim. A defendant may be "dismissed" from a lawsuit, meaning the suit is dropped against that party.

dismissal

n. 1) the act of voluntarily terminating a criminal prosecution or a lawsuit or one of its causes of action by one of the parties. 2) a judge's ruling that a lawsuit or criminal charge is terminated. 3) an appeals court's act of dismissing an appeal, letting the lower court decision stand. 4) the act of a plaintiff dismissing a lawsuit upon settling the case. Such a dismissal may be dismissal with prejudice, meaning it can never be filed again, or dismissal without prejudice, leaving open the possibility of bringing the suit again if the defendant does not follow through on the terms of the settlement.

distinguish

v. to argue that the rule in one appeals court decision does not apply to a particular case although there is an apparent similarity (i.e. it is "distinguished").

District Attorney (D.A.)

n. an elected official of a county or a designated district with the responsibility for prosecuting crimes. The duties include managing the prosecutor's office, investigating alleged crimes in cooperation with law enforcement, and filing criminal charges or bringing evidence before the Grand Jury that may lead to an indictment for a crime. In some states a District Attorney is officially entitled County Attorney or State's Attorney. U.S. Attorneys are also called Federal District Attorneys and are prosecutors for districts (there are several in larger states) within the Department of Justice, are appointed by the President and serve at his/her pleasure.

district court

n. 1) in the federal court system, a trial court for federal cases in a court district, which is all or a portion of a state. 2) a local court in some states.

docket

1) n. the cases on a court calendar. 2) n. brief notes, usually written by the court clerk, stating what action was taken that day in court. 3) v. to write down the name of a case to be put on calendar or make notes on action in court.

due process of law

n. a fundamental principle of fairness in all legal matters, both civil and criminal, especially in the courts. All legal procedures set by statute and court practice, including notice of rights, must be followed for each individual so that no prejudicial or unequal treatment will result. While somewhat indefinite, the term can be gauged by its aim to safeguard both private and public rights against unfairness. The universal guarantee of due process is in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides "No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," and is applied to all states by the 14th Amendment. From this basic principle flows many legal decisions determining both procedural and substantive rights.

due process, procedural

n.  fundamental protection provided by the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, or comparable clause in a state constitution, that requires government officials and their agents to follow fair and even-handed procedures when enforcing laws.  Basic elements are determined by the nature of the rights and can include notice to the person involved, opportunity for a hearing or similar proceeding, and the right to representation by counsel.

due process, substantive

n. fundamental protection provided by the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution that ensures that a law’s overall effect on an individual’s fundamental rights, such as the right to procreate and the right to marry, is justified or justifiable.

duty

n. 1) a legal obligation, the breach of which can result in liability. In a lawsuit a plaintiff must claim and prove that there was a duty by defendant to plaintiff. This can be a duty of care in a negligence case or a duty to perform in a contract case. 2) a tax on imports.

duty of care

n. a requirement that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use. If a person's actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent, and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit for negligence.

easement

n. the right to use the real property of another for a specific purpose. The easement is itself a real property interest, but legal title to the underlying land is retained by the original owner for all other purposes. Typical easements are for access to another property (often redundantly stated "access and egress," since entry and exit are over the same path), for utility or sewer lines both under and above ground, use of spring water, entry to make repairs on a fence or slide area, drive cattle across and other uses. Easements can be created by a deed to be recorded just like any real property interest, by continuous and open use by the non-owner against the rights of the property owner for a statutory number of years, typically five ("prescriptive easement"), or to do equity (fairness), including giving access to a "land-locked" piece of property (sometimes called an "easement of necessity").  Easements may be specifically described by boundaries ("24 feet wide along the northern line for a distance of 180 feet"), somewhat indefinite ("along the trail to the northern boundary") or just for a purpose ("to provide access to the Jones property" or "access to the spring") sometimes called a "floating easement." There is also a "negative easement" such as a prohibition against building a structure which blocks a view. Title reports and title abstracts will usually describe all existing easements upon a parcel of real property. Issues of maintenance, joint use, locking gates, damage to easement and other conflicts clog the judicial system, mostly due to misunderstandings at the time of creation.

EIR

n. popular acronym for environmental impact report, required by many states as part of the application to a county or city for approval of a land development or project.

employee

n. a person who is hired for a wage, salary, fee or payment to perform work for an employer. In agency law the employee is called an agent and the employer is called the principal. This is important to determine if one is acting as employee when injured (for worker's compensation) or when he/she causes damage to another, thereby making the employer liable for damages to the injured party.

employer

n. a person or entity which hires the services of another called a principal in the law of agency.

enjoin

v. for a court to order that someone either do a specific act, cease a course of conduct or be prohibited from committing a certain act. To obtain such an order, called an injunction, a private party or public agency has to file a petition for a writ of injunction, serve it on the party he/she/it hopes to be enjoined, allowing time for a written response. Then a court hearing is held in which the judge will consider evidence, both written and oral, listen to the arguments and then either grant the writ or deny it. If granted the court will issue a final or permanent injunction. A preliminary injunction or temporary injunction is an order made by the court while the matter is being processed and considered, based on the petition and any accompanying declarations, either of which is intended to keep matters in status quo (as they are) or prevent possible irreparable harm (like cutting trees, poisoning a stream or moving out of the country with a child or money) until a final decision is made.

enter a judgment

v. to officially record a judgment on the "judgment roll," which entry is normally performed by the court clerk once the exact wording of the judgment has been prepared or approved and signed by the trial judge. All times for appeal and other post-judgment actions are based on the date of the entry of judgment and not the date when the judgment is announced.

environmental impact report

n. a study of all the factors which a land development or construction project would have on the environment in the area, including population, traffic, schools, fire protection, endangered species, archeological artifacts and community beauty. Many states require such reports be submitted to local governments before the development or project can be approved, unless the governmental body finds there is no possible impact, which finding is called a "negative declaration."

equal opportunity

1) n. a right supposedly guaranteed by both federal and many state laws against any discrimination in employment, education, housing or credit rights due to a person's race, color, sex (or sometimes sexual orientation), religion, national origin, age or handicap. A person who believes he/she has not been granted equal opportunity or has been outright sexually harassed or discriminated against may bring a lawsuit under federal and most state laws, or file a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission or a state equal opportunity agency. 2) adj. a term applied to employers, lenders and landlords, who advertise that they are "equal opportunity employers," subtly suggesting all others are not, even though they are required by law to be so.

equal protection of the law

n. the right of all persons to have the same access to the law and courts and to be treated equally by the law and courts, both in procedures and in the substance of the law. It is akin to the right to due process of law, but in particular applies to equal treatment as an element of fundamental fairness. The most famous case on the subject is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) in which Chief Justice Earl Warren, for a unanimous Supreme Court, ruled that "separate but equal" educational facilities for blacks were inherently unequal and unconstitutional since the segregated school system did not give all students equal rights under the law. It will also apply to other inequalities such as differentials in pay for the same work or unequal taxation. The principle is stated in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution: "No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

equity

n. 1) a venerable group of rights and procedures to provide fairness, unhampered by the narrow strictures of the old common law or other technical requirements of the law. In essence courts do the fair thing by court orders such as correction of property lines, taking possession of assets, imposing a lien, dividing assets, or injunctive relief (ordering a person to do something) to prevent irreparable damage. The rules of equity arose in England where the strict limitations of common law would not solve all problems, so the King set up courts of chancery (equity) to provide remedies through the royal power. Most eastern states had courts of equity or chancery separate from courts of law, and others had parallel systems of law and equity with different procedural rules. Now most states combine law and equity and treat both under "one cause of action." 2) the net value of real property, determined by subtracting the amount of unpaid debts secured by (against) the property from the appraised value of the property.

estoppels

n. a bar or impediment (obstruction) which precludes a person from asserting a fact or a right or prevents one from denying a fact. Such a hindrance is due to a person's actions, conduct, statements, admissions, failure to act or judgment against the person in an identical legal case. Estoppel includes being barred by false representation or concealment (equitable estoppel), failure to take legal action until the other party is prejudiced by the delay (estoppel by laches), and a court ruling against the party on the same matter in a different case (collateral estoppel).

evidence

n. every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) which is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case. It can include oral testimony of witnesses, including experts on technical matters, documents, public records, objects, photographs and depositions (testimony under oath taken before trial). It also includes so-called "circumstantial evidence" which is intended to create belief by showing surrounding circumstances which logically lead to a conclusion of fact. Comments and arguments by the attorneys, statements by the judge and answers to questions which the judge has ruled objectionable are not evidence. Charts, maps and models which are used to demonstrate or explain matters are not evidence themselves, but testimony based upon such items and marks on such material may be evidence. Evidence must survive objections of opposing attorneys that it is irrelevant, immaterial or violates rules against "hearsay" (statements by a party not in court), and/or other technicalities.

ex parte communication

n. discussion of the merits of a case between the judge and a party to the ase outside the presence of other parties