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Law of the Case, Relitigation

Factual and legal findings of a trial court are hard to overturn. At the trial level re-litigation of pre-determined factual and legal issues is generally impermissible. See Shahan v. Shahan, 988 S.W.2d 529, 533 (Mo. 1999) (the “law of the case” doctrine governs successive adjudications involving the same issues and facts); Oldaker v. Peters, 869 S.W.2d 94, 97 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993) (the decision of a court is the law of the case for all points presented and decided, as well as for matters that arose prior to the first adjudication and might have been raised but were not); In re Marriage of Quintard, 735 S.W. 388, 390 (Mo. Ct. App. 1997) (the Court’s decision remains the law of the case throughout all subsequent proceedings). In certain circumstances, however, a litigant can file a motion to reconsider on the basis of new law, allege trial error, or argue that a trial ruling was against the weight of the evidence.

The more common approach is instead to attack a finding through the typical appeal process. As an appellant (i.e., the one doing the appealing), appeals are difficult to win. Appellate judges will defer almost entirely to a trial court’s factual determinations and assessments as to witness credibility. And while legal challenges (typically reviewed de novo) have a better chance of success on appeal, it is still a tough hill to climb.

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