What is a Point of Law?

M. Lupica

A point of law is a theoretical legal concept that refers to the application of principles of law to particular facts. Settling such points is half of the equation in conducting litigation — the other half being settling questions of fact, which is typically the duty of a jury. Generally, any major point of law decided in a case is referred to as a “holding” and may be applied to subsequent cases in the future. Additionally, when a case is appealed, it is these points that are in question rather than questions of fact.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

When a case is tried in a court of law, the judge and jury have to consider a variety of questions. Any time one of these questions is in regard to the interpretation or application of a law, it is said that a point of law has been settled once a ruling is made. This issue could be minor or major, but the method of the application of the law to the particular facts in the case is the point being settled.

Major points of law that are found in any case are referred to as holdings. A holding may be open-ended or worded to apply to a very specific set of facts. If the articulation of the holding is relatively open-ended, it is likely that it will be applied to future cases, though it is not a requirement that the holding be applicable in more than the case at hand.

This is distinguished from a question of fact in that it involves the interpretation of legal principles rather than a determination of what actually happened in a particular situation. For example, a question of fact would be whether or not a person acted in a certain way. The point of law to be established in the event the jury finds a person acted a certain way would be the legal significance of that act, e.g., whether or not the act amounts to fraud. Juries decide questions of fact while it is up to the judge to settle any point of law.

The concept is particularly important when appealing a case. Though methods vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, courts of appeal do not typically settle questions of fact, as there are generally no juries in such courts. Therefore, a litigant who files an appeal must be contesting a point of law rather than any question of fact.

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