Legal Glossary

 A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z


appeal: a proceeding in a higher court which reviews a lower court decision.


burden of proof: the duty of a party to prove, establish or substantiate an allegation or issue to avoid dismissal or to win a case.


class action: a lawsuit by a member of a large group on behalf of the whole group.

concurring: agreeing; a concurring justice agrees with the opinion with which he or she concurs; a separate concurring opinion agrees with part of the majority opinion or with the result, but may disagree with another part of the majority opinion or may disagree with how the result was reached.

condemn: a government taking. A government condemns private property when it takes it for public use or for violation of a code which authorizes condemnation, such as a health or safety code or nonpayment of taxes.

constitutional: does not violate the constitution. A government action or law which violates the constitution is “unconstitutional.”


damages: the compensation an aggrieved party is entitled to receive.

declaratory judgment: a court’s opinion on a matter of law which establishes the rights of the parties, without ordering any specific remedy such as payment of damages or an injunction.

DEQ: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

dicta: statements in judicial opinions which do not have the force of law.

dismissal: cancellation; a lawsuit dismissed without prejudice does not affect the parties’ claims; a dismissal with prejudice ends the parties’ claims.

dissent: an opinion by a minority of justices deciding a case explaining why they disagree with the majority opinion. A dissent does not have the force of law, but may be used persuasively in future cases as to why the law should change.

DNR: Michigan Department of Natural Resources


eminent domain: when a government takes the property of a private person for public use. Under both the Michigan and United States constitutions, governments may do this only if they provide just compensation for the property.






holding: the court’s decision. Holding can be used as a noun or a verb, as in, “The court held that…,” or, “The court’s holding was that…”


intervene: to enter a lawsuit already in progress.






leave to appeal: permission from the court to appeal a decision from a lower court


majority: the majority of a the justices deciding a case. In Michigan, four of the seven justices constitute a majority. The majority opinion of a case has the force of law, while the dissent does not.

MEPA: the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. Enacted in 1970 to comply with the Michigan Constitution’s mandate that the legislature protect the air, water, and other natural resources of the state from pollution, impairment and destruction, this act was a model for subsequent environmental protection acts across the country. (Michigan Constitution Article IV, Sec. 52)

moot: no longer relevant, as in “the case is moot.” Used to denote a situation where the controversy upon which a lawsuit is based is no longer a controversy. Under the U.S. Constitution, a present “case or controversy” must exist for a court to hear a lawsuit. There is no such provision in the Michigan Constitution, and its application has varied among Michigan justices.


negligence: failure to exercise the same duty of care to others that a reasonable person would exercise.

NREPA: Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. This is the comprehensive Michigan law that governs most environmental, outdoor recreation, natural resource and conservation issues in the state. MEPA is a part of NREPA.

nuisance: interfering with another’s interest


overturn: see “reverse.”


preempt: replace and exclude; for instance, when a state law preemts a local law, it means that the state law must be followed and the local law is excluded.

presumption: the state of things until proven otherwise, i.e. a “presumption of innocence,” means a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.




reasonable: in legal writings, the term “reasonable” often refers to what a “reasonable person” might do, or what a “reasonable” course of action might be. It is often used to indicate an objective standard for reviewing a set of facts, i.e. the law is based on what a “reasonble person” might do in a given situation, not what the actual litigant, plaintiff, or defandant did.

reverse: when a higher court overrules and changes the lower court’s decision.

riparian: pertaining to the rights of ownership along the banks of waterways.


standing: the right to challenge another’s actions in a legal proceeding; the right to sue.

statute of limitations: the time limit in which a party must file a lawsuit.