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What is Prima Facie?

The Latin phrase At first glance means “at first glance”, “at first sight” or “based on first impression”. In civil law and criminal law, the term is used to indicate that, upon initial consideration, a legal action has sufficient evidence to proceed to trial or judgment.

In most legal proceedings, one party (usually the plaintiff or the attorney) has a burden of proof, which requires them to present prima facie evidence for each element of the charges against the defendant. If they cannot present a prima facie case, or if an opposing party presents conflicting evidence, the initial request may be dismissed without the need for a response from the other parties.

Key points to remember

  • Prima facie refers to a case in which pre-trial evidence has been reviewed by a judge and deemed sufficient to warrant trial.
  • Prima facie is generally used in civil cases, where the burden of proof is on the plaintiff.
  • However, just because a case has been determined prima facie does not mean that the plaintiff will win.
  • If the plaintiff does not have sufficient evidence to support their claim, the court will likely dismiss the case.
  • If the court determines that a prima facie case exists, the defendant must present evidence that overcomes the prima facie case in order to prevail.

Understand prima facie

In civil matters, a applicant brings a lawsuit alleging that a defendant’s actions (or inactions) caused an injury.

For example, a company may file a complaint stating that one of its suppliers is in breach of contract after failing to deliver an order and the failure to deliver resulted in the company losing customers. The complaint filed with the court provides general information about the reason for the lawsuit, the nature of the injury, and how the defendant may have contributed to the occurrence of that injury. Before going to trial, the court must determine if the case has enough merit to be tried in court. During an initial examination of the application during a preliminary hearing, a judge may determine that there is sufficient evidence to establish a rebuttable presumption in favor of the plaintiff. The case is therefore considered prima facie.

Even if a prima facie case is allowed to proceed, the plaintiff is not guaranteed to win the case. Civil suits place the burden of proof on the plaintiff, and only if the plaintiff is able to provide a preponderance of evidence will the court consider the claim valid. If the plaintiff does not have sufficient evidence to support their claim that the defendant caused harm, the court will likely convict the plaintiff and dismiss the case. If the court determines that a prima facie case exists, the defendant must present evidence that overcomes the prima facie case in order to prevail.

Prima Facie in tort law

At first sight in tort law aims to provide redress to plaintiffs (the injured party) for damages caused by others (defendants) who have harmed them with malicious intent, but in a way that is not technically or specifically unlawful. A plaintiff will need to prove that a defendant has met all the elements of a prima facie tort case in order to prove that the defendant committed that tort.

These components are generally obligation, breach, damages and causation:

  1. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the person who injured him had a to have to (civil obligation) not to harm them,
  2. that the applicant violated this duty by harming them with malicious intent and without further justification.
  3. There were real damage.
  4. Defendant’s breach cause these damages.

For example, consider a prima facie tort case where a landlord wants to get rid of a dental practice in his office simply because he doesn’t like dentists, so he takes action to get rid of the dentist for that one raison. The owner’s actions damage the dentist’s reputation and his patients stop coming. The dentist goes bankrupt and leaves the office. In this example, all the elements of a prima facie case can be established (maliciousness and damages seem obvious).

However, if any of these things cannot be proven by the plaintiff, the court will likely say that the tort did not occur. Consider a different scenario where an employee hurts her foot but her job requires her to be on her feet all day. She complains to her boss and asks for a chair, but the boss refuses to accommodate her because there are no chairs in the workplace. Here, the boss does not want to hurt the employee. Therefore, if the employee were to sue his boss for a prima facie tort, he would not be able to establish malice and his case would likely be dismissed.

Prima facie in criminal law

Prima facie works the same way in criminal law: the prosecution must present a prima facie case that the accused is guilty of the crime charged. If the prosecution cannot present evidence to support each element of the crime, the accused must be acquitted of the charges.

For example, in a burglary case, the Crown must present evidence that the defendant entered the premises without permission and with the intent to commit burglary, and that the defendant stole items from the premises.

In a prima facie case, the defendant has the opportunity to offer evidence disputing each element of the crime that the prosecution has established. On the other hand, the prosecution must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant’s main objective will usually be simply to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case, and if he succeeds in doing so, he must be acquitted.

Prima facie and discrimination in employment

Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.

To establish a prima facie case of discrimination in employment, a claimant must prove the following: 1) he belonged to a protected class; 2) They suffered harm
action for employment; 3) They met their employer’s legitimate expectations at the time of the adverse employment action, and 4) They were treated differently than similarly situated employees outside their protected class.

In some cases, the evidence presented in a claim is sufficient to permit summary judgment. In a prima facie case, the established facts are sufficient to prove that the defendant’s actions support the plaintiff’s claims of harm. In employment discrimination suits, for example, courts have established tests and guidelines that judges use to determine whether summary judgment can be granted. If the plaintiff is able to establish a prima facie case, then the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that an employee was terminated for reasons other than discrimination.

Concrete example

The issue of prima facie has been addressed by the United States Supreme Court, for example, in the 1992 case St. Mary’s v. Hicks Center of Honor. In this case, a transition house employee alleged that he had been fired because of his race, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During his trial in district court, the employee established a prima facie case of discrimination, but was found to have failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that the employer used race as a factor when he decided to dismiss the plaintiff. The case went to the United States Court of Appeal, and then to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found that even if the employee had established a prima facie case, it did not entitle him to a mandatory victory.

What are the 4 elements of a prima facie case of negligence?

The four elements required to establish a prima facie case of negligence are:

  1. The existence of a legal obligation that the defendant owed to the plaintiff
  2. The defendant’s breach of this duty
  3. The damage suffered by the plaintiff
  4. Proof that the defendant’s breach caused the damage

What is prima facie eligibility?

A trial or judgment is deemed admissible on its face when the pre-trial evidence has been presented by the plaintiff, reviewed by a judge and deemed sufficient to justify the trial.

What are the prima facie obligations?

According to Scottish moral philosopher WD Ross in his book The good and the good, a prima facie obligation is “an obligation which is binding or obligatory, all other things being equal”. Common examples include the duty to tell the truth, obey the law, protect people from harm, and keep promises.

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