I had always assumed that federal district court opinions (as opposed to Court of Appeals opinions or Supreme Court opinions) don’t serve as binding precedent on district judges even within the same district, and are no more persuasive precedent than any other district court opinions from any other district. But now, I see in Kerr v. Hurd (S.D. Ohio Mar. 15, 2010), the assertion that “In the absence of supervening case authority from the Supreme Court or the court of Appeals, this Court is bound, under the doctrine of Stare decisis, to follow decisions of its own judgments.”
The case cites United States v. Hirschhorn, 21 F.2d 758 (S.D.N.Y. 1927), which speaks of “comity” rather than being “bound” — it says “the general rule that a matter which is decided by any District Judge in this district should be, as a matter of comity, without re-examination by another judge, so decided,” but ultimately declines to follow the rule because it disagrees strongly enough with the earlier decision. But still, there’s a sense here that in-district opinions are entitled to more persuasive force than out-of-district opinions.
Is there a broader trend out there that I’m missing? Or this is opinion limited to a few judges, including the Magistrate Judge in this case (Michael R. Merz), who is the one judge to have cited the Hirschhorn passage in recent decades (in four separate cases)? Note that I agree that a judge will normally be inclined to follow his own past decisions, and might be more inclined to follow decisions of judges with whom he works. I’m speaking here of whether this is accepted as a legal principle (whether strong or weak) to be specifically argued and applied, and not just a predictive judgment based on human psychology.