I previously blogged about a case in which a father appealed a decision by the trial court for him to contribute towards college expenses for his two children. To review that prior blog, click here. The fifth ( yes, fifth) appeal on the same issues was recently decided. In Tafaro V, the Appellate Division discussed situations in which litigants come back repeatedly to the courts on the same issues.
In the Tafaro matter, the parties’ property settlement agreement had provided that college costs would be determined at the time they were incurred, and also that consent to school should not be unreasonably withheld. Subsequently, the parties were unable to agree as to college and the division of costs, so they sought assistance from the court. Eventually, however, in 2004, Ms. Tafaro was given final authority on the major decisions for the children including their schooling by the court. This was upheld in the first appeal. Subsequently, Ms. Tafaro had to come back to court to obtain contribution towards college expenses and Mr. Tafaro then appeal that order, and lost.
Three more appeals followed, all of which resulted in affirmations of the trial court decisions, and in the last the Appellate Division discussed the concept of “law of the case.” The doctrine of law of the case is a legal concept that is designed to prevent the re-litigation of issues that have already been decided. In situations in which, as in the Tafaro matter, litigants keep asking the courts to review the same issue over and over, it is appropriate to stop the litigation. Thus, once the time for appeal has expired, the courts decision becomes the “law of the case” and the issues of college cannot be re-litigated.
Certainly, the law of the case would not apply in a situation in which facts have changed such that it would be inequitable to bar a party from seeking help from the courts. However, when a party asks for the same relief continually, the doctrine can close the doors.