The Appellate Code: The Many Meanings of "Per Curiam"

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We all know that “per curiam” means “by the court.” But, to echo a 1960s hippie-type, what does “per curiam” really mean, man? What message, if any, is an appellate court conveying by issuing an opinion “per curiam”?

Fear not—I’ve got the super-secret decoder ring. Here, in a nutshell, are the various meanings of “per curiam.”

None of the judges wrote the opinion. The Fourth Circuit sends a large proportion of cases — particularly those involving pro se litigants, but also many others — to its Office of Staff Counsel for decision without argument. In such cases, a staff attorney drafts an opinion for review, revision, and adoption by the judges. These opinions are invariably issued “per curiam,” since no single judge has taken responsibility for drafting the opinion.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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