S Corporation
A term that describes a profit-making corporation whose shareholders have applied for and received subchapter S corporation status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Electing to do business as an S corporation lets shareholders enjoy limited liability status, as would be true of any corporation, but be taxed as a pass-through tax entity, where income taxes are reported and paid by the owners, like a partnership or sole proprietor. (A regular, or C, corporation is taxed as a separate entity from its owners.) To qualify as an S corporation, a number of IRS rules must be met, such as a limit of 100 shareholders and U.S. citizenship for all shareholders.

Salazar V. Buono (2010)
U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court allowed religious monuments to be maintained on government property under certain circumstances.

The transfer of ownership (title) to property in return for money (or another thing of value) on terms agreed upon between buyer and seller.

Sales Tax
A state or local tax imposed on sales of retail products based on a percentage of the price.

1) To save goods. 2) Payment to a person or group that saves cargo from a shipwreck.

Same-Sex Marriage
Marriage between two people of the same sex, currently available only in a few states. (See also: domestic partners, civil union, reciprocal beneficiaries)

Sample Ballot
A document sent to registered voters to help them prepare for an election. A sample ballot usually provides the voter's polling place and hours, and contains an image of what the actual ballot will look like, including candidates, questions, and instructions for voting.

Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2006. He is considered a conservative Justice.

1) A financial penalty imposed by a judge on a party or attorney -- or the act of imposing such a penalty. 2) In international law, to impose economic constraints on trade against a country that violates international law or commits human rights violations. 3) To allow or approve.

Sandra Day O'connor
U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1981 to 2006. Nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Court.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act
A law enacted in 2002 in response to several corporate and accounting scandals, requiring publicly traded companies to disclose information to shareholders, protecting whistleblowers, and requiring stringent audit practices.

Receiving payment or performance of what is due under a contract.

Satisfaction Of Judgment
A document signed by the party who is owed money under a court judgment (called the judgment creditor) stating that the full amount due on the judgment has been paid. If the judgment creditor has a lien on real property belonging to the judgment debtor, then the judgment debtor may demand that the judgment creditor record the satisfaction of judgment with the County Recorder (or Recorder of Deeds).

Satisfaction Of Mortgage
1) Payment in full on a mortgage. 2) The document a mortgage holder signs to indicate that a mortgage has been fully paid and the mortgage lien has been released.

Save Harmless
See: hold harmless

Savings And Loan
A banking and lending institution chartered either by a state government or the federal government. Savings and loans institutions take savings deposits, upon which they pay interest slightly higher than that paid by most banks, and they make mortgage loans on residential properties from the deposits.

Schecter Poultry Corp. V. United States (1931)
A U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act (a key measure of the New Deal) on the basis that the government had improperly delegated authority to make rules governing industries in interstate commerce. The decision by an aging Court (called "nine old men" by its critics) and other rulings that the New Deal was unconstitutional prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to launch his ill-fated effort to pack the Supreme Court by adding an additional justice for each one who would not retire at 70, Death and resignation soon gave Roosevelt vacancies to fill on the Court.

1) An IRS form on which taxpayers report details about an item or a business and which is attached to the main tax return. 2) A list of assets held in a trust, attached to the trust document.

Schenk V. United States (1919)
U.S. Supreme Court decision sustaining the Espionage Act of 1917. The Court ruled that freedom of speech and freedom of the press could be limited if the words in the circumstances created "a clear and present danger."

School District Of Abington Township, Pennsylvania V. Schempp (1963)
The U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court held that laws requiring religious activity in public schools -- including Bible readings and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer -- violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

(si-en-ter) Latin for "knowingly." In criminal law, it refers to the knowledge by a defendant that makes him or her responsible for the crime. In some, but not all crimes, scienter is a requirement -- that is, the crime must be done knowingly.

A little bit, from the Latin for "spark." The term is commonly used to refer to evidence -- for example in a lawyer's argument that there is not a "scintilla of evidence" (at least a faint spark) to support one of the other side's claims.

Scope Of Employment
The actions or activities an employee might reasonably undertake as part of his or her job. An employer is responsible for actions an employee takes within the scope of employment, which means the employer can be liable to third parties who are injured by the employee's conduct. For example, an employer would be liable for harm to a pedestrian caused by its delivery driver while driving a route; the employer most likely would not be liable for harm the same driver caused if he or she hit a pedestrian while using the delivery van as the getaway car in a bank robbery. (See also: respondeat superior)

A person who writes a document for another, usually for a fee. If a lawyer merely writes out the terms of a lease or contract exactly as requested by the client, without giving legal advice, then the lawyer is just a scrivener and is probably not responsible for legal errors (unless they were so obvious as to warrant comment). A nonlawyer may act as a scrivener without getting in trouble for practicing law without a license.

1) A device that creates an impression upon paper, used by corporations, LLCs, and notaries public to show that the document is executed or acknowledged by the signer. Corporate and LLC seals include the name of the corporation and the date and state of incorporation. Notaries increasingly use a rubber stamp instead of a seal, since their print is easier to microfilm for official recording. 2) To conceal from public record. In some instances, for example, a persons arrest or criminal records may be sealed, meaning without a court order to inspect them they may not be viewed. (See also: expunge)

Sealed Verdict
The decision of a jury when there is a delay in announcing the result, such as when court is not in session. The verdict is kept in a sealed envelope until handed to the judge when court reconvenes.

Sealing Of Records
The requirement that trial records and court decisions must be kept under seal, in contrast to most other court records, which are available for public review. The records most commonly sealed are criminal records of underage offenders; cases might also be sealed if they involve inventions, proprietary business information, or national security.

1) In criminal law, to examine another's premises (including a vehicle) or person to look for evidence of criminal activity. It is unconstitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for law enforcement officers to conduct a search without a "search warrant" issued by a judge, or without facts that give the officer "probable cause" to believe evidence of a specific crime is present and there is not enough time to obtain a search warrant. 2) In civil law, to trace the records of ownership of real property in what is commonly called a "title search."

Search And Seizure
In criminal law, the phrase that describes law enforcement's gathering of evidence of a crime. Under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, any search of a person or his premises (including a vehicle), and any seizure of tangible evidence, must be reasonable. Normally, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from a judge, specifying where and whom they may search, and what they may seize, though in emergency circumstances, they may dispense with the warrant requirement.

Search Warrant
An order signed by a judge that directs owners of private property to allow the police to enter and search for items named in the warrant. Judges won't issue a warrant unless they have been convinced by the police that there is probable cause for the search -- that reliable evidence shows that it's more likely than not that a crime has occurred and that the items sought by the police are connected with it and will be found at the location named in the warrant. In limited situations, the police may search without a warrant, but they cannot use what they find at trial if the defense can show that they had no probable cause for the search.

See: Securities and Exchange Commission

Second Amendment
Part of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, the Second Amendment has been interpreted (by the U.S. Supreme Court) as guaranteeing the right to gun ownership for most individuals, although the issue is not without controversy. The full text of the Second Amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Second Degree Murder
An unpremeditated killing, resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility. Second degree murder is different from first degree murder, which is a premeditated, intentional killing; or results from a vicious crime such as arson, rape, or armed robbery. Exact distinctions on degree vary by state.

Secondary Boycott
An attempt to stop others from purchasing products from, performing services for, or otherwise doing business with a company that does business with another company that is in the midst of a labor dispute. For example, if a grocery chain's clerks are on strike, and their union discourages a delivery drivers' union from moving the products of the chain's largest food supply companies, that would be a secondary boycott. The purpose of the secondary boycott is typically to exert indirect pressure on the employer to resolve the labor dispute by causing its business connections to suffer as a result of the dispute. Secondary boycotts are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act.

Secondary Meaning
When a trademark that is not distinctive acquires a meaning within the marketplace such that consumers associate it with the product or service. For example, though first names are not generally considered distinctive, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream has become so well known that it has acquired secondary meaning and is entitled to trademark protection. Proving secondary meaning requires evidence of public recognition through use and exposure in the marketplace.

Secret Rebate
A kickback of money by a business to a "preferred" customer, not offered to the public, or by a subcontractor to a contractor, but not shown on a job estimate. Both practices are illegal in most states as unfair business practices and may result in criminal penalties or refusal of a court to enforce a contract (written or oral) in which there is such a secret rebate.

Secret Warranty Program
A program under which a car manufacturer will make repairs for free on vehicles with persistent problems, even after the warranty has expired, in order to avoid a recall and the accompanying bad press. Secret warranties are rarely advertised by the manufacturer, so consumers must pursue the manufacturer to discover and take advantage of them. A few states require manufacturers to notify car buyers when they adopt secret warranty programs.

Section 1981
A shorthand reference to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which declares African Americans to be citizens entitled to a series of rights previously reserved to white men. Among the rights conferred by Section 1981 are the right to sue or be sued in court, to give evidence in a lawsuit, to purchase property, and to make and enforce contracts, which courts have interpreted to prohibit racial discrimination in employment.

Section 504
A section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities who are involved in programs or activities that receive federal money. Settings in which Section 504 protections apply include education and employment.

Section 8
The name of a federally financed housing assistance program, in which the government helps low-income tenants with rent payments. Typically, the government pays about one-third of the rent, and the tenant pays the balance. Landlords who choose to participate in the Section 8 program must have their properties inspected, and must agree to use the lease addendum issued by HUD, which obligates the landlord to a rental term of no less than one year, and specifies allowable reasons for termination.

Section1244 Stock
Stock issued by eligible small corporations under Section 1244 of the Internal Revenue Code which allows the shareholders to treat up to $50,000 of losses ($100,000 if married and filing jointly) from the sale of the stock as ordinary losses instead of capital losses.

Secured Debt
A debt that gives the creditor the right to take property pledged as security for the debt (collateral) if the debtor does not pay. For example, a creditor can repossess a car if the debtor defaults on the car loan. Compare: unsecured debt

Secured Transaction
An arrangement in which a lender or buyer pledges property as collateral for a loan or sale. (See also: secured debt)

A generic term for shares of stock, bonds, and debentures issued by corporations and governments to evidence ownership and terms of payment of dividends or final payoff. They are called securities because the assets or profits of the corporation or the credit of the government stand as security for payment. However, unlike secured transactions in which specific property is pledged, securities are only as good as the future profitability of the corporation or the management of the governmental agency. Most securities are traded on various stock or bond markets.

Securities And Exchange Commission (SEC)
The federal agency that oversees the nation's securities markets and interprets federal securities law. The SEC also oversees ratings agencies and private regulatory organizations.

Security Deposit
A payment required by a landlord to ensure that a tenant pays rent on time and keeps the rental unit in good condition. If the tenant damages the property or leaves owing rent, the landlord can use the security deposit to cover what the tenant owes. The laws of most states limit the size of a deposit, dictate its use, and set specific rules for when and how landlords must return the deposit.

Security Interest
A claim against property that secures a debt.

The federal crime of advocating insurrection against the government through speeches and publications. Sedition charges are rare because freedom of speech, press, and assembly are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and because treason or espionage charges can be made for overt acts against the nation's security.

The use of charm, promises, and flattery to induce another person to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage, without any use of force or intimidation. At one time, seduction was a crime in many states, but seduction is no longer criminal (unless the seduced person is underage or otherwise unable to consent). However, seduction does linger in the criminal codes of some states.

See: seized

See: seizin

Having ownership and possession of something. This term is not used much these days, but it may turn up in an old will ("I leave all the property of which I die seized as follows:....") or other document. Also spelled "seised."

Ownership of real estate; in the old sense of the term, both ownership and possession. This term is not used in modern real estate transactions, but appears in some old deeds.

The taking of physical evidence or property by law enforcement officials. Siezed evidence can include taking blood for a drug test to impounding a car used in a robbery. In most cases, the police must obtain a search warrant before they can seize personal property.

Taking part in a transaction or business deal that benefits oneself rather than a person or company to whom one owes a fiduciary duty. For instance, a director of a corporation owes a duty to the corporation not to engage in transactions that benefit the director rather than the corporation. Self-dealing can also apply to owners of a partnership or limited liability company who do not inform their co-owners of business opportunities that should belong to the company.

The use of reasonable force to protect oneself from an aggressor. Self-defense shields a person from criminal liability for the harm inflicted on the aggressor. For example, a robbery victim who takes the robber's weapon and uses it against the robber during a struggle won't be liable for assault and battery if he can show that his action was reasonably necessary to protect himself from imminent harm.

Owning and working in a business other than a corporation, as opposed to working for an employer.

Self-Employment Tax
Social Security and Medicare taxes on net self-employment income that is a percentage of an individual's earned income up to a certain limit (called the Social Security Wage Base) that increases each year, and then a lower percentage of wages without limit. The tax is reported on Schedule SE of the individual's income tax return.

Immediately effective without further action, legislation, or legal steps.

Obtaining relief or enforcing one's rights outside of the normal legal process. Examples include repossessing a car when payments have not been made, retrieving borrowed or stolen goods, demanding and receiving payment, or abating a nuisance (such as digging a ditch to divert flooding from someone else's property). Self-help is legal as long as it does not "break the public peace" or violate some other law (although brief trespass is common).

The making of statements that might expose the maker to criminal prosecution, either now or in the future. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from forcing a person to provide evidence (as in answering questions) that might lead to prosecution for a crime.

Self-Proving Will
A will that is created in a way that allows a probate court to easily accept it as the true will of the person who has died. In some states, a will is self-proving when two witnesses sign under penalty of perjury that they observed the willmaker sign it and that he told them it was his will. If no one contests the validity of the will, the probate court will accept the will without hearing the testimony of the witnesses or other evidence. In other states, the willmaker and one or more witnesses must sign an affidavit (sworn statement) before a notary public certifying that the will is genuine and that all willmaking formalities were observed.

Refers to a statement or answer to a question that serves no purpose and provides no evidence, but only argues or reinforces the legal position of a particular party in a lawsuit. An example would be a lawyer asking his own client: "Are you the sort of person who would never do anything dishonest?" A judge may disallow this kind of question unless there is some evidentiary value.

Self-Settled Trust
A special needs trust funded with property belonging to the beneficiary, such as a direct inheritance, recovery in a personal injury lawsuit, or gift.

To transfer possession and ownership of goods or other property for money or something of equivalent value.

An individual or entity that sells goods or other property to a buyer.

Senior Lien
The first lien or security interest placed on property at a time before all other liens, called junior liens.

Punishment in a criminal case. A sentence can range from a fine and community service to life imprisonment or death. For most crimes, the sentence is chosen by the trial judge; the jury chooses the sentence only in a capital case, when it must choose between life in prison without parole and death.

See: simplified employee pension plan

An individual retirement account set up to receive contributions from a simplified employee pension plan.

Separate Property
In community property states, property owned and controlled entirely by one spouse in a marriage. At divorce, separate property is not divided under the state's property division laws, but is kept by the spouse who owns it. Separate property includes all property that a spouse obtained before marriage, through inheritance, or as a gift. It also includes any property that is traceable to separate property -- for example, cash from the sale of a vintage car owned by one spouse before marriage -- and any property that the spouses agree is separate property. (See also: community property, equitable distribution)

In the context of marriage, the state of living apart. Spouses are said to be separated if they no longer live in the same dwelling, even though they may continue their relationship. They may also be considered separated while living in the same house, if they no longer share a bedroom and each live their separate lives. A legal separation results when the parties separate and a court rules on the division of property, alimony (spousal support), or child support and child custody, but does not grant a divorce.

Separation Agreement
An agreement between two married people to live apart indefinitely. Similar to a marital settlement agreement, a separation agreement may define the spouses' rights with regard to property, custody, and support.

Separation Of Church And State
A phrase most famously used by Supreme Court Justice Black in the case of Everson v. Board of Education. In discussing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Justice Black said that the clause erected a "wall of separation between church and state." He explained that this means, among other things, that the government cannot participate in the affairs of a religious group, set up a church, aid or prefer one religion over another, or aid or prefer religion over nonreligion.

Separation Of Powers
The principle that the three branches of government -- legislative, executive, and judicial -- have separate and distinct functions and should not operate in each other's realms.

1) To isolate, separate, or keep a person or people apart from others. For example, a jury in a highly publicized trial may be sequestered to prevent them from reading or hearing anything about the case. A sequestered jury may have to live apart from their families for the duration of the trial. A witness who is sequestered is required to leave the courtroom so he or she does not hear the testimony of other witnesses. 2) For a court to take custody of property that is the subject of a dispute, pending the outcome of a legal proceeding to determine ownership.

1) The act of isolating a jury or witness. 2) The act of a court taking property that is a subject of a legal dispute pending the outcome of a lawsuit to determine ownership. (See also: sequester)

Latin for one after another, as in a series. For example, issues or facts might be discussed seriatim (or "ad seriatim"), meaning one by one in order.

Serious Health Condition
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees may take leave for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves (1) inpatient care; (2) incapacity for more than three full days with continuing treatment by a health care provider; (3) incapacity due to pregnancy or prenatal care; (4) incapacity due to, or treatment for, a chronic serious health condition; (5) permanent or long-term incapacity for a condition for which treatment may not be effective, such as a terminal illness; or (6) absence for multiple treatments for either restorative surgery following an injury or accident, or a condition that would require an absence of more than three days if not treated.

An outdated term for employee.

1) Delivering legal papers to a defendant or a plaintiff in a lawsuit. 2) Delivering written notification of the sender's intent to invoke a legal or contractual right. See: service of process, personal service, substituted service

Service Business
An enterprise that derives income primarily from providing personal services, rather than goods. Examples include plumbers, contractors, consultants, physicians, and accountants.

Service By Fax
Using a fax machine to deliver legal documents, which otherwise would be sent with a process server or served by mail. Service by fax is often specifically allowed by statute, and is followed by mailing an original (hard copy) of the document.

Service By Mail
Mailing legal pleadings to opposing attorneys or parties, while filing the original with the court clerk, along with a declaration stating that the copy was mailed to a particular person at a specific address.

Service By Publication
Serving a summons or other legal document in a lawsuit on a defendant by publishing the document in an advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation. Service by publication is used to attempt to notify a defendant who is intentionally absent, in hiding, or at an unknown address. It's allowed only after a judge has been convinced, based on a sworn declaration, of the serving party's inability to find the defendant after trying hard. Service by publication is commonly used in a divorce action to serve a spouse who has disappeared without a leaving a forwarding address or to give notice to people who might have a right to object to a "quiet title" action to clear title to real estate.

Service Mark
A word, phrase, logo, symbol, color, sound, or other device used by a business to identify a service and distinguish it from those of its competitors. In practice, the legal rights and protections for trademarks and service marks are identical.

Service Of Process
The delivery of copies of legal documents such as summons, complaint, subpena, order to show cause (order to appear and argue against a proposed order), writs, notice to quit the premises, and certain other documents, usually by personal delivery to the defendant or other person to whom the documents are directed. In certain cases of absent or unknown defendants, the court will allow service by publication in a newspaper. Once all parties have filed a complaint, answer, or any pleading in a lawsuit, further documents usually can be served by mail or even fax. (See also: personal service, substituted service)

Servient Estate
A parcel of land that is subject to an easement that benefits another parcel of real estate, called a dominant estate. For example, one parcel (the servient estate) might be subject to a right of way that provides access to another parcel (the dominant estate). (See also: running with the land)

Servient Tenement
See: servient estate

1) A meeting of a court, legislature, or other government body to carry out business. For courts, this is also called sitting. 2) The period of time during which such a body is gathered together and working, as in "the spring term," or "the court is in session."

To schedule, as to "set a case for trial."

Set Aside
1) As a verb, to vacate or annul a court order or judgment. For example, the losing party in a trial might file a motion asking the judge to set aside the verdict. 2) As a noun, something (often money) that is to be used for a particular purpose. For example, funds that are earmarked for a specific program might be described as a set-aside.

The distance between a property boundary and a building. Local zoning laws usually require minimum setbacks.

A claim made by someone who allegedly owes money, that the amount should be reduced because the other person owes him or her money. This is often raised in a counterclaim filed by a defendant in a lawsuit. By claiming a setoff, the defendant does not necessarily deny the plaintiff's original demand, but seeks to reduce the amount of money owed to the plaintiff by the amount that the plaintiff owes to the defendant.

1) The scheduling of a particular legal proceeding, such as a hearing or trial. 2) The date and time when a particular hearing or trial is scheduled to take place.

To resolve a lawsuit before going to trial.

1) The resolution of a dispute or lawsuit. 2) Payment or adjustment. For example, a debtor might settle an account by paying the full amount owed, or an insurance company might settle a property damage claim by paying the insured for the covered damage. 3) The distribution of property and wrapping up of a decedent's affairs by the executor. 4) The transfer of real property from the seller to the buyer (and new owner); closing.

The person who creates a trust by a written trust declaration. Called a "trustor" in many (particularly western) states and is sometimes referred to as a "grantor" or "donor." The settlor usually transfers the original assets into the trust. Compare: grantor

Severability Clause
A provision in a contract that preserves the rest of the contract if a portion of it is invalidated by a court. Without a severability clause, a decision by the court finding one part of the contract unenforceable would invalidate the entire document.

Severable Contract
A contract which is comprised of several separate contracts such that the breach of one does not necessarily mean the breach of the remainder -- for example, a sales agreement for several pieces of equipment each with its own payment schedules.

Several Liability
When a party is responsible for his or her own obligation (separately from another's liability), so that the plaintiff may bring a separate action against that party without suing other responsible parties. Compare: joint liability

1) Separation of legal claims by court order to allow the claims to be tried separately. For example, a judge might sever the trials of two defendants accused of the same crime. 2) Money paid or benefits provided to an employee who is fired, laid off, or agrees to leave. (See also: severance pay)

Severance Pay
Money paid to an employee who is laid off, fired or leaves by mutual agreement. Employers are not generally required to offer severance pay, although a few states require some severance pay for employees who lose their job in a plant closing or large layoff. Employers may also be obligated to provide severance pay if they promised to do so in an employment contract or employee handbook.

Sex Offender
A generic term for persons convicted of crimes involving sex, including rape, molestation, sexual harassment, and pornography production or distribution.

Sexual Harassment
Offensive and unwelcome sexual conduct that is so severe or pervasive that it affects the terms and conditions of the victim's employment, either because the victim's submission or failure to submit to the behavior is the basis for job-related decisions (like firing or demotion) or because the victim reasonably finds the workplace abusive or hostile as a result of the harassment.

an imperative, usually indicating that certain actions are mandatory, not permissive. Compare: may

1) A portion of a benefit from a trust, estate, claim, or business. 2) A portion of ownership interest in a corporation, represented by a stock certificate.

Shared Custody
After a divorce or separation between parents, the sharing of parenting responsibilities for children born to the parents. (See also: joint custody)

Shared Equity Mortgage
A mortgage in which the lender gets a share of the equity of the home in exchange for providing a portion of the down payment. When the property is later sold, the lender is entitled to a portion of the proceeds.

An owner of a corporation whose ownership interest is represented by shares of stock in the corporation. The benefits of being a shareholder include the right to vote for members of the board of directors, to receive dividends if approved by the board of directors, to participate in a division of assets the upon dissolution and winding up of the corporation, and to bring a derivative action (lawsuit) if the corporation is poorly managed. A shareholder's rights may be limited by a buy-sell agreement. Also called a stockholder.

Shareholder's Derivative Action
See: derivative action

Shareholders' Agreement
An agreement among the shareholders of a corporation that can cover buy-sell rights, restrictions on transferring shares, voting rights, and/or the employment of a shareholder. (See also: buy-sell agreement)

Shareholders' Meeting
A meeting of all or most shareholders of a corporation to hear reports on the company's business situation. Shareholders usually elect members of the board of directors at an annual shareholders' meeting, often by proxies.

Sharp Practice
Questionable or unethical actions, especially by a lawyer. Sharp practice may include making misleading statements or threats, ignoring agreements, improperly using process, or employing other tricky and/or dishonorable means barely within the law. A consistent pattern of sharp practice may lead to discipline by a court or state bar association.

Shelley V. Kraemer (1948)
A U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court declared so-called restrictive covenants in real property deeds that prohibited the sale of property to non-Caucasians to be unconstitutional and in violation of the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment. Where such covenants remain in the text of deeds they must be ignored.

Sheltered Workshop
A place of employment designed and managed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.

A method of locating the subsequent history of a case using a book or computerized version of Shepard's Citations. This process can locate a list of decisions which either follow, distinguish, or overrule any case.

The top law enforcement officer for a county, usually elected, who is responsible for police protection outside of incorporated cities, management of the county jail, and providing bailiffs for protection of the courts. The sheriff's uniformed police are called deputy sheriffs. A sheriff also handles civil activities like serving summons, subpenas, and writs, conducting judgment sales, and fulfilling various functions ordered by the courts.

Sheriff's Sale
A sale of property seized by the sheriff pursuant to a court order in order to satisfy a judgment against the property's owner.

Sherman Antitrust Act
A federal antitrust law, enacted in 1890, that prohibits direct or indirect interference with interstate trade. This Act was amended by the Clayton Act in 1914.

Shield Laws
Statutes in some states that make communications between news reporters and informants confidential and privileged, freeing journalists of the obligation to testify about them in court. This is similar to the doctor-patient, lawyer-client, or priest-parishioner privilege. The goal is to let journalists gather news without being ordered to reveal sources and notes of conversations. In states that have no shield law, many judges have found reporters in contempt of court (and given them jail terms) for refusing to name informants or reveal information gathered on the promise of confidentiality.

Shifting The Burden Of Proof
In a lawsuit, the transfer of the obligation to prove particular facts from one party to the other. For example, the person who sued (the plaintiff) initially bears the burden of proving facts that, if no rebutting evidence is presented, would allow that party to win the case. The burden may then shift to the defendant to prove one or more defenses to the plaintiff's case.

The crime of stealing goods from a retail store by a customer or someone posing as a customer.

Short Cause
A lawsuit that is estimated to take no more than one day. A short cause case may get priority for courtroom space because it can fill a time-slot between bigger cases. However, if a supposed "short cause" lasts beyond one day the judge is authorized to declare a mistrial and the case will be reset later as a "long cause."

Short Sale
A sale of a house in which the proceeds fall short of what the owner still owes on the mortgage. Short sales usually occur when the homeowner is facing foreclosure. Many lenders will agree to accept the proceeds of a short sale and forgive the rest of what is owed on the mortgage when the owner cannot make the mortgage payments. By accepting a short sale, the lender can avoid a lengthy and costly foreclosure, and the owner is able to pay off the loan for less than what is owed. (See also: deed in lieu of foreclosure)

Shortening Time
A court order allowing a motion or other legal matter to be set at a time shorter than provided by law or court rules. Shortening time is usually granted when the time for trial or some other court action is approaching and a hearing must be heard promptly by the judge. Example: Local rules require that a party give the other side ten days' notice before a hearing. If the trial is set to begin in nine days, a court might shorten the time to schedule a hearing to five days, provided the notice is served within 24 hours.

Shotgun Charge
See: dynamite charge

Show Cause Order
See: order to show cause

Sick Leave
Time off work due to illness or injury.

Sickness Benefits
See: disability benefits

1) An area in front of or next to a judge's bench (the raised desk in front of the judge) away from the witness stand and the jury box, where lawyers are called to speak confidentially with the judge out of earshot of the jury. 2) A discussion between the judge and attorneys at the bench off the record and outside the hearing of the jurors or spectators.

Sideline Business
A small business activity carried on in addition to an individuals full-time employment or principal trade or business.

Signature Guarantee
Verification from a bank or broker that a signature is genuine. It's similar to notarization, but notarization is not a substitute for a guarantee.

Signing Statement
A written statement issued by the President of the United States when signing a bill into federal law. The statement may address how the executive branch intends to interpret or enforce provisions of the new law. For example, a signing statement might declare that the president believes a part of the law is unconstitutional. The legal effect of signing statements is unclear. Use of signing statements that assert claims about the constitutionality of laws was condemned by an American Bar Association report in 2006.

Silent Partner
An investor who puts money into a business and in exchange receives a share in the profits, but takes no part in management and may be unknown to the public or customers. A silent partner may be liable for business debts and judgments unless designated as a limited partner in a limited partnership agreement.

Similarly Situated
Alike in all relevant ways for purposes of a particular decision or issue. This term is often used in discrimination cases, in which the plaintiff may seek to show that he or she was treated differently from others who are similarly situated except for the alleged basis of discrimination. For example, a plaintiff who claims that she was not promoted because she is a woman would seek to show that similarly situated men -- that is, men with similar qualifications, experience, and tenure with the company -- were promoted. This term is also used to define the group of people on whose behalf a class action may be brought: Everyone in the group must be similarly situated as to the issue(s) litigated. For example, in a case alleging that a credit card company charged improper fees, only people who had a credit card with that company during the time when the improper fees were imposed could be members of the class.

Simple Trust
See: discretionary trust

Simplified Employee Pension Plan
A pension plan allowing self-employed business owners to make contributions toward their own retirement plans and to their employees retirement plans. Contributions are made directly to an individual retirement account set up for each employee (a SEP-IRA) and there the contributions accumulate tax-deferred until withdrawn.

Simultaneous Death Act
A statute in effect in most states that helps determine inheritance among beneficiaries who die at the same time. The statutes provide that if spouses, siblings, or other beneficiaries die simultaneously, or if it cannot be determined who died first, then it is presumed that each died before the other.

Sine Qua Non
Latin for "without which it could not be," an indispensable action or condition. Example: if Charlie had not left the keys in the ignition, his ten-year-old son could not have started the car and backed it over Polly's bike. So Charlie's act was the sine qua non of the damage to Polly's bike.

Single-Entry Accounting
A system of tracking business income and expenses that requires each item of income or expense to be recorded just once. Compare: double-entry accounting

Latin for location. Used to refer to the site of a crime or accident or where a building stands.

Skip Person
Someone who receives property (by gift or inheritance) from another person who is at least two generations older -- most commonly, a grandparent. Transferring assets to a skip person can trigger the federal generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT).

An untruthful oral (spoken) statement about a person that harms the person's reputation or standing in the community. Because slander is a tort (a civil wrong), the injured person can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. If the statement is made via broadcast media -- for example, over the radio or on TV -- it is considered libel, rather than slander, because the statement has the potential to reach a very wide audience. Both libel and slander are forms of defamation. (See also: defamation)

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, in which a corporation, business, or developer sues an organization in an attempt to scare it into dropping protests against its actions. SLAPP suits typically involve the environment -- for example, a developer might sue local residents, who are petitioning to change zoning laws to prevent a real estate development, for interference with the developer's business interests. Many states have "anti-SLAPP suit" statutes that protect citizens' rights to free speech and to petition the government.

Slayer Statute
A state law that prohibits someone who intentionally caused another's death from inheriting money or property from the deceased person.

Small Claims Court
A state court that resolves disputes involving relatively small amounts of money -- usually between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on the state. Adversaries usually appear without lawyers -- in fact, some states forbid lawyers in small claims court -- and recount their side of the dispute in plain English. Evidence, including the testimony of eyewitnesses and expert witnesses, is relatively easy to present because small claims courts do not follow the formal rules of evidence that govern regular trial cases. A small claims judgment has the same force as does the judgment of any other state court, meaning that if the loser -- now called the "judgment debtor" -- fails to pay the judgment voluntarily, it can be collected using normal collection techniques, such as property liens and wage garnishments.

Small Entity
Status of a patent applicant that entitles the applicant to pay reduced application, issuance, and maintenance fees. Small entities are any for-profit company with 500 or fewer employees, any nonprofit organization, or an independent inventor.

Small Estate
An estate that contains property with a value small enough to be eligible, under state law, for simplified probate procedures or out-of-court transfers of the deceased person's property.

Smoking Gun
Slang for evidence that decisively proves a cause.

Social Security
The general term that describes a number of related programs, including retirement, disability, dependents, and survivors benefits. These programs provide workers and their families with some monthly income when their normal flow of income shrinks because of retirement, disability, or death. These programs are administered by the Social Security Administration.

Social Security Administration
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent federal agency that administers the Social Security program, which includes retirement, disability, dependents, and survivors benefits.

Social Security Statement
An accounting of each worker's earnings and work credits for purposes of calculating the amount of Social Security retirement, disability, survivors, or dependents benefits to which an individual is entitled. Social Security statements are generally mailed out each year to people age 60 and older who are not receiving benefits. You can also obtain your statement online on the Social Security Administration's website.

Social Security Tax
A portion of the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax that is 12.4% of an individual's net earned income. The employee's share of the Medicare tax is 6.2% of wages up to a certain limit (called the Social Security Wage Base) that increases each year. The employer's share of the Medicare tax is 6.2% of an employee's wages up to that limit.

Anal copulation by a man inserting his penis in the anus either of another man or a woman. If accomplished by force, without consent, or with someone incapable of consent, sodomy is a felony in all states in the same way that rape is. Homosexual (male to male) consensual sodomy between consenting adults has traditionally been a felony, but increasingly is either decriminalized or seldom prosecuted. Sodomy with a consenting adult female is virtually never prosecuted even in those states in which it remains on the books as a criminal offense.

Sole Custody
A custody arrangement under which one parent is the only one to have either legal or physical custody or both. A parent with sole physical custody has the right to live with the child, while the other parent has visitiation rights. A parent with sole legal custody has the right to make all decisions affecting the child, including decisions about education, religion, and medical care.

Sole Proprietorship
A business owned by an individual that has not been registered as a limited liability company, a corporation, or any other type of legal tax entity. For IRS purposes, the owner (sole proprietor) and the business are one tax entity, meaning that business profits are reported and taxed on the owner's personal tax return. The main downside of a sole proprietorship is that its owner is personally liable for all business debts.

1) The crime of encouraging or inducing another to commit a crime. 2) The crime of paying or requesting money in exchange for sex; prostitution. 3) The act of requesting something from others, such as asking others to donate to a particular charity, purchase products, or patronize a certain business.

In the United Kingdom, an attorney who may provide all legal services except representing a client in court. Only a specially trained attorney, called a barrister, makes court appearances. The United States does not make this distinction among attorneys.

Solicitor General
The chief trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice, who is responsible for arguing cases before the Supreme Court. The Solicitor General is the second-highest ranking attorney in the Department of Justice, behind the Attorney General.

Solitary Confinement
The placement of a prisoner in a cell away from other prisoners, usually as a form of internal discipline, but occasionally to protect the convict from other prisoners or to prevent the prisoner from causing trouble.

1) Having sufficient funds or other assets to pay debts. 2) Having more assets than liabilities (debts). Compare: insolvency

Sonia Sotomayor
U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2010. Sotomayor is the Court's first Hispanic Justice and the third woman to serve on the Court.

Sound Mind And Memory
When making a will, the ability to understand in general what one owns, one's family relationships, and the meaning and effect of the will.

Sound Recording
A type of copyrighted work resulting from the fixation of a series of musical or other sounds (including narration or spoken words) in some medium. The result is known as a phonorecord. A sound recording copyright protects the way that the composition is performed. The performer, producer, or recording company usually claims copyright in a sound recording.

Sounds In
Referring to an underlying legal basis or cause of action -- such as a contract or tort (civil wrong) -- in a lawsuit. For example: "Plaintiff's first cause of action against defendant sounds in tort, and his second cause of action sounds in contract."

Sovereign Immunity
A legal principal making governmental bodies and employees immune from being sued in their own courts without governmental consent. The legislature can, and often does, carve out areas where this immunity will be waived (canceled).

Internet slang for unsolicited bulk email, primarily unsolicited commercial email (UCE). Spam has been linked with fraudulent business schemes, chain letters, and offensive sexual and political messages.

Speaking Demurrer
An attempt to introduce new evidence during a hearing on a demurrer. Because a demurrer is an argument that assumes all of the facts in the challenged pleading are correct, evidence outside of the pleading may not be considered, and speaking demurrers are therefore not allowed. (See also: demurrer)

Spear Phishing
See: phishing

Special Administrator
1) A person appointed by acourt to take charge of only a designated portion of an estate during probate. For example, a special administrator with particular expertise on art might be appointed to oversee the probate of a wealthy person's art collection, but not the entire estate. 2) A person appointed to be responsible for a deceased person's property for a limited time or during an emergency, such as a challenge to the will or to the qualifications of the named executor. In such cases, the special administrator's duty is to maintain and preserve the estate, not necessarily to take control of the probate process. (See also: administrator, administrator pendente lite, administrator ad litem)

Special Appearance
1) The personal attendance in court of a party or attorney for the sole purpose of arguing that the court does not have personal jurisdiction over that party. If the party or attorney instead makes a "general" appearance in court, that party is presumed to have waived the right to contest the court's jurisdiction. 2) A one-time court appearance by an attorney for a party who either is represented by another attorney or is not represented at the time. Quite often an attorney will make a "special appearance" to protect the interests of a potential client, but before a fee has been paid or arranged.

Special Circumstances
In criminal cases, particularly homicides, actions of the accused or the situation under which the crime was committed for which state statutes allow or require imposition of a more severe punishment. "Special circumstances" in murder cases may well result in the imposition of the death penalty (in states with capital punishment). Such circumstances may include: rape, kidnapping or maiming prior to the killing, multiple deaths, killing a police officer or prison guard, or actions showing wanton disregard for life such as throwing a bomb into a restaurant. (See also: capital punishment)

Special Damages
Damages that compensate the plaintiff for quantifiable monetary losses such as medical bills and the cost to repair damaged property (direct losses) and lost earnings (consequential damages). Distinguished from general damages, for which there is no exact dollar value to the plaintiff's losses.

Special Education
The broad term used to describe the educational system available for children (ages three to 21) with disabilities, including physical, mental, and learning disabilities See: individualized education program

Special Immigrant
A catchall category of people made eligible to apply for U.S. green cards by specially passed laws. Commonly used special immigrant types include workers for recognized religions, former U.S. government workers, and foreign doctors who have been practicing medicine in the United States for many years.

Special Master
A person appointed by the court to carry out an order of the court, such as selling property or mediating child custody cases. (See also: master)

Special Needs
The needs of a person with disabilities for things and services other than food and shelter, which SSI provides.

Special Needs Trust
A trust designed to hold and disburse property for the benefit of an SSI recipient so that SSI and Medicaid won't consider the trust property or disbursements to be a resource or income. To accomplish this purpose, the trust typically gives the trustee sole discretion over trust disbursements and bars the trustee from making disbursements that would impair the beneficiarys eligibility for SSI and Medicaid. In addition, the trust must be for the beneficiarys sole benefit and bar creditors from going after trust assets. A special needs trust funded with the beneficiarys own property (a self-settled trust) is subject to additional restrictions. Also called a supplemental needs trust.

Special Power Of Attorney
See: limited power of attorney

Special Prosecutor
An attorney from outside of the government selected by the Attorney General or Congress to investigate and possibly prosecute a federal government official for wrongdoing in office. The theory behind appointing a special prosecutor is that there is a built-in conflict of interest between the Department of Justice and officials who may have political or governmental connections with that department.

Special Verdict
The jury's decisions or findings of fact with the application of the law to those facts left up to the judge, who will then render the final verdict. This type of limited verdict is used when the legal issues to be applied are complex or require difficult computation.

See: special damages

Specific Bequest
A specific item of property that is left to a named beneficiary under a will. (See also: ademption)

Specific Devise
A gift of a specific piece of property through a will. (See also: devise)

Specific Finding
A decision on a fact made by a jury in its verdict at the judge's request. Often the judge gives a jury a list of decisions to be made on specific findings of fact to help the jurors focus on the issues. For example, a judge may ask the jury to answer the specific question, "Was the defendant exceeding the speed limit?"

Specific Intent
A person's intent to produce the precise consequences of that person's act, including the intent to do the physical act itself. For example, larceny is taking the personal property of another with the intent to permanently deprive the other person of it. A person is not guilty of larceny just because he took someone else's property; the prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to take the property, and that he took it in order to keep it permanently.

Specific Legacy
A gift of a specific piece of property through a will. (See also: legacy)

Specific Performance
A contract remedy provided by a court that orders the losing side to perform its part of an agreement rather than, or possibly in addition to, paying money damages to the winner. Generally required in cases of unique goods, for example artwork or antiques.

The narrative portion of a patent application that describes the purpose, structure, and operation of the invention, as well as any relevant prior technology (prior art). The specification must provide enough information about the invention so that a person proficient in the field of invention can build and operate it.

Speculative Damages
Possible financial loss or expenses claimed by a plaintiff that are contingent upon a future occurrence, purely conjectural, or highly improbable. These damages should not be awarded. For example, a plaintiff may claim that in ten years, as he ages, he may begin to feel pain from a healed fracture caused by a defendant (even though no doctor has testified this is likely to happen), and should therefore recover money from the defendant now.

Speedy Trial
In criminal prosecutions, the right of a defendant to have a trial within a short time, premised on the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process. Each state has a statute or constitutional provision limiting the time an accused person may be held before trial (for example, 45 days). Charges must be dismissed and the defendant released if the period expires without trial. However, defendants often waive the right to a speedy trial in order to prepare a stronger defense or negotiate a plea to a lesser offense.

Spend Down
To spend resources on medical needs when an applicant for certain Medicaid benefits has resources over the resource limit. When the applicant's resources are sufficiently reduced, he or she will qualify for Medicaid.

Spendthrift Clause
A provision in a trust that restricts a beneficiary's ability to transfer rights to future payments of income or capital under the trust to a third party. In effect, the clause prevents "spendthrift" beneficiaries from squandering an inheritance before they receive it and it also protects a beneficiary's inheritance from creditors.

Spendthrift Trust
A trust created for a beneficiary who may be irresponsible with money. The trustee keeps control of the trust income, doling out money to the beneficiary as needed, and sometimes paying third parties (creditors, for example) on the beneficiary's behalf, bypassing the beneficiary completely. Spendthrift trusts typically contain a provision prohibiting creditors from seizing the trust fund to satisfy the beneficiary's debts. These trusts are legal in most states. (See also: property control trust)

Spite Fence
An unsightly fence erected for no other purpose than to irritate a neighbor. Such a fence may be illegal under local fence height and appearance regulations or state laws that specifically bar spite fences. Even if it doesn't violate regulation or laws, the fence may still be illegal if it was built with malicious intent.

Split Custody
A custody arrangement that involves multiple children and awards sole custody of one child to one parent and sole custody of another child to the other parent. This arrangement is generally disfavored by judges because it's generally not considered beneficial to split up siblings.

See: petitioner

Spontaneous Exclamation
A sudden statement (also known as an "excited utterance") made by someone who has seen a surprising, startling, or shocking event (such as an accident or a death), or has suffered an injury. For example, "Oh my God, that blue car hit the little girl!" Spontaneous exclamations are often introduced at trial as evidence of the speaker's state of mind or the truth of the matter being spoken about, and will be admitted if the judge decides that the circumstances surrounding the statement make it likely that the speaker was telling the truth. Without this determination, the statement is simply hearsay; that is, a statement made out of court and offered for the truth of the matter it deals with. (See also: hearsay)

Spot Zoning
Zoning a parcel of land differently from the parcels around it. For example, a school might be allowed in a residential zone if the local zoning authority decides it benefits the public welfare and is consistent with the city's general land use plan. If a particular instance of spot zoning is challenged in court, the court might find it illegal if it violates the general plan, allows development that is very different from the current surrounding uses, or appears to favor an individual property owner to the detriment of the public. Compare: variance

Spousal Privilege
See: marital privilege 

Spousal Share
See: elective share

Spousal Support
Monetary support paid by one former spouse to another, usually for a specified period of time, pursuant to a divorce agreement or court order. In many states, it's called alimony.

Springing Durable Power Of Attorney
A durable power of attorney that takes effect only when and if the principal becomes incapacitated.

Springing Interest
An interest in property that will take effect in the future, at a specific time or when a specific event occurs. For example, a will or deed might give someone the right to use property for life and direct that ownership of the property then pass to someone else.

Sprinkling Trust
A trust that gives the person managing it -- the trustee -- the discretion to disburse its funds among the beneficiaries in any way the trustee sees fit. It is a type of property control trust. (See also: pot trust)

See: Social Security Administration

Social Security Disability Insurance. This federal program provides monthly cash payments to disabled persons who qualify because they have paid enough Social Security taxes. There are no resource or income ceilings.

Supplemental Security Income, a federal program that provides cash payments to persons of limited income and resources who are disabled (according to federal standards), over age 65, or blind. SSI is the main form of government support for people who arent eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits and who meet the programs income and resources requirements.

1) In law, a person holding money or property in which he or she has no right or title while awaiting the outcome of a dispute between two or more claimants to the money or property is settled. Once the right to legal possession is established by judgment or agreement, the stakeholder has a duty to deliver to the owner the money or property. (See also: escrow agent) 2) In business, a person or company that can be affected by an organization's actions and therefore has an interest in the outcome of a project or activity.

Repeatedly and obsessively harassing someone in ways that alarm and frighten them. Commonly, stalking begins with annoying or threatening phone calls, letters, or electronic communications and escalates to constant following or surveillance. Stalking is a crime in every state, though it may be called by another name, such as criminal harassment. It can be difficult to convict someone of stalking because much of the behavior may be legal when looked at in isolation; only when acts are repeated intensively do they become intimidating and abusive, rising to the level of illegal stalking.

Standard Mileage Rate
The dollar amount per mile that the Internal Revenue Service sets annually for small businesses and self-employed people to calculate their vehicle expenses for tax deduction purposes.

Standard Of Care
The degree of care (watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence) that a reasonable person should exercise under the circumstances. If a person does not meet the standard of care, he or she may be liable to a third party for negligence.

Standard Oil Co. Of New Jersey V. United States (1911)
U.S. Supreme Court decision confirming the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust, because its monopoly position was an unreasonable restraint on trade under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The right to file a lawsuit or make a particular legal claim. Only a person or entity that has suffered actual injury has standing to seek redress in court. For example, an advocacy group may not file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a statute on its own; there must be a plaintiff who has actually been harmed by the statute.

Star Chamber Proceedings
Proceedings of any court or other government body that are held in secret and produce arbitrary results. This derogatory term takes its name from an English court, whose members were appointed by the crown, that met in the 15th to 17th centuries. That court, which met in a room that was apparently decorated with gilt stars, decided guilt and punishment of people accused of violating the monarch's orders. Its practices made "star chamber" synonymous with any unfair and secretive proceedings.

Stare Decisis
(stah-ry dee-sigh-sis) Latin for "let the decision stand," a doctrine requiring that judges apply the same reasoning to lawsuits as has been used in prior similar cases.

Starker Exchange
See: 1031 exchange

1) A body of people that is politically organized, especially one that occupies a clearly defined territory and is sovereign. 2) The political system that governs such a body of people. 3) One of the constituent parts of a nation, as in any of the 50 states.

State Action
The involvement of a government in a particular activity. Certain constitutional claims prohibit only state action, not private activities. For example, the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives people a right against laws that restrict their speech, not against private efforts to restrict speech (for example, by a private employer).

State Court
A court in the state judicial system, rather than the federal judicial system, that decides cases involving state law or the state constitution. State courts are often divided according to the dollar amount of the claims they can hear. Depending on the state, small claims, justice, municipal, or city courts usually hear smaller cases, while district, circuit, superior, or county courts (or in New York, supreme court) have jurisdiction over larger cases. State courts may also be divided according to subject matter, such as criminal court, family court, and probate court.

State's Attorney
See: district attorney (DA)

Stated-Income Loan
A type of home mortgage loan originally meant for self-employed people, allowing them to state their typical income without providing documentary proof (such as the W-2s and pay stubs that people holding traditional jobs can provide). Unfortunately, after stated-income loans were widely misused during the real estate bubble days of the early 2000s, new federal Truth in Lending rules make them all but unavailable. These loans were also popularly referred to as "no doc" or "liar" loans.

Under immigration law, the name of the visa category a person has been assigned and the group of privileges received upon becoming either a permanent resident or a nonimmigrant (temporary visa holder). For example, a green card shows that the holder has the status of a permanent resident and the privilege of living and working in the United States on a permanent basis. An F-1 or M-1 visa indicates that the holder has the status of a student and the privilege of attending school in the United States until the study program is completed.

Status Conference
A meeting of the judge and the lawyers (or unrepresented parties) in a pending legal matter, to determine how the case is progressing. At the status conference, the judge may ask about what discovery has been conducted, whether and how the parties have tried to settle the case, and other pretrial matters. The judge may also schedule dates for pretrial motions, completion of discovery, and trial. Often, court rules require the parties to file paperwork before the conference answering questions about the issues to be discussed at the conference.

A written law passed by Congress or a state legislature and signed into law by the president or a state governor. (In fairly rare circumstances, a legislative act can become law without the approval of the head of the executive branch of government.) Statutes are often gathered into compilations called "codes," large sets of books that can be found in many public and all law libraries and on the Internet.

Statute Of Frauds
A law in every state that requires certain types of documents to be in writing and signed by the party to be charged (usually, the defendant in a lawsuit). Examples include: real estate transfers (conveyances), leases for more than a year, wills, and some types of contracts.

Statute Of Limitations
The legally prescribed time limit in which a lawsuit must be filed. Statutes of limitation differ depending on the type of legal claim and on state law. For example, many states require that a personal injury lawsuit be filed within one year from the date of injury -- or in some instances, from the date when it should reasonably have been discovered -- but some allow two years. Similarly, claims based on a written contract must be filed in court within four years from the date the contract was broken in some states and five years in others. Statute of limitations rules apply to cases filed in all courts, including federal court.

Statutory Damages
Predetermined payments established by law to compensate for certain injuries. Statutory damages are sometimes made available because it is too difficult to calculate actual damages.

Statutory Offer Of Settlement
A written offer of a specific sum of money made by a defendant to a plaintiff, which will settle the lawsuit if accepted within a short time. The offer may be filed with the court. If the eventual judgment for the plaintiff is less than the offer, the plaintiff will not be able to claim the court costs usually awarded to the prevailing party.

Statutory Rape
Sexual intercourse with a person who has not yet reached the age of consent (determined by state law), whether or not the sexual act is against that person's will. In many states, "Romeo and Juliet" trysts, in which the male and female are young and there is little or no difference in age between them, are punished less severely than when the victim is significantly younger than the perpetrator. When the victim is not only below the age of consent, but also a child (as defined by state law), the offense may be rape or child molestation.

Statutory Share
See: elective share

Statutory Subject Matter
A requirement for utility patent rights. To qualify, an invention must fit into at least one of five categories: compositions of matter (compounds such as a drug or glue); articles of manufacture (simple devices such as screwdrivers and rakes); machines (devices with moving parts, such as an auto engine); processes (a method of doing something such as an implant procedure); and new and useful improvements of any of the above categories.

A court order that suspends or stops certain proceedings. (See also: automatic stay)

Stay Of Execution
A court-ordered delay in carrying out the death penalty.

Stayaway Order
A court order prohibiting one party from coming near or contacting another. Most common in divorce actions and cases of stalking.

A child born to or legally adopted by your spouse before your marriage whom you have not legally adopted. If you adopt the child, your parent-child relationship is the same as if the child were biologically related to you.

Stephen Breyer
U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Breyer is generally considered to be a liberal on the Court.

The spouse of a parent, who becomes the stepparent of that parent's child upon marriage. Stepparents are not legal parents of their spouse's children unless they complete a stepparent adoption, which requires the consent of the other legal parent or the termination of that parent's rights. (See also: stepparent adoption)

Stepparent Adoption
The formal, legal adoption of a child by a stepparent who is married to a legal parent or in a marriage-equivalent relationship like a domestic partnership or civil union. Most states have special provisions making stepparent adoptions relatively easy if the child's noncustodial parent gives consent, is dead or missing, or has abandoned the child.

Stepped-Up Basis
An increased basis (value that is used to determine taxable profit or loss when property is sold) given to inherited property that went up in value after the deceased person acquired it but before the new owner inherited it. The basis of the new owner is "stepped up" to the market value of the property at the time of death. The stepped-up basis means that when the property is eventually sold, there will be less taxable capital gain.

1) An agreement between the parties to a lawsuit. For example, if the parties enter into a stipulation of facts, neither party will have to prove those facts: The stipulation will be presented to the jury, who will be told to accept them as undisputed evidence in the case. 2) A representation or statement, typically by a party to a contract.

A term used in wills that refers to distribution of property to descendants of a common ancestor or branch of a family. (See also: per stirpes)

1) A proportional ownership interest of a corporation's capital, represented by shares (equal units of ownership). 2) Inventory (goods) of a business meant for sale.

Stock Certificate
A printed document proving ownership of shares of a corporation. A certificate states the name of the corporation, the state and date of incorporation, the number of shares of stock that the certificate represents, the registered number of the certificate, the name of the shareholder, and the date of issuance. The certificate is signed by authorized officers of the corporation.

Stock Dividend
See: dividend

Stock In Trade
The inventory held by a business for sale.

Stock Option
The right to purchase stock in the future at a price set at the time the option is granted (by sale or as compensation by the corporation). To actually obtain the shares of stock the owner of the option must exercise the option by paying the agreed upon price and requesting issuance of the shares.

See: shareholder

Stockholder's Derivative Action
See: derivative action

Stop And Frisk
A law enforcement officer's brief detention, questioning, and search for a concealed weapon when the officer has reason to believe that the detainee has committed or is about to commit a crime. Any further search requires either a search warrant or probable cause to believe the suspect will commit or has committed a crime (including carrying a concealed weapon, which itself is a crime).

Straight-Line Depreciation
A method of deducting the cost of a business asset by deductions in equal annual amounts. The period of time is specified by the Internal Revenue Code for different categories of assets, typically from three to 39 years.

Strategic Default
The decision by a borrower to stop making payments on a loan, even though the borrower is able to continue making payments. Strategic default most often appears in the home or commercial mortgage context when the property owner is underwater (that is, the amount of the mortgage is more than the owner's equity in the home or property).

Straw Man
1) A person to whom title to property or a business is transferred (sometimes known as a "front") for the sole purpose of concealing the true owner -- for example, a person is listed as the owner of a bar in order to conceal a criminal who cannot obtain a liquor license. 2) A fallacious argument intended to distract.

A roadway in an urban area, owned and maintained by the municipality for public use. A private road cannot be a street.

Strict Construction
Interpreting a legal provision (usually a constitutional protection) narrowly. Strict constructionists often look only at the literal meaning of the words in question, or at their historical meaning at the time the law was written. Also referred to as "strict interpretation" or "original intent," because a person who follows the doctrine of strict construction of the Constitution tries to ascertain the intent of the framers at the time the document was written by considering what the language they used meant at that time.

Strict Liability
Automatic responsibility for damages due to manufacture or use of equipment or materials that are inherently dangerous, such as explosives, animals, poisonous snakes, or assault weapons. A person injured by such equipment or materials does not have to prove the manufacturer or operator was negligent in order to recover money damages.

Strict Scrutiny
A legal standard to determine the constitutionality of a statute, used when the statute implicates a fundamental right or relates to a suspect classification under the equal protection clause (such as race). To determine if a statute passes the test, a court considers whether the government has a compelling interest in creating the law, whether the statute is "narrowly tailored" to meet the government's objectives, and whether there are less restrictive means of accomplishing the same thing. (See also: rational basis)

1) An organized work stoppage by employees, intended to pressure the employer to meet the employees' demands (for example, for higher pay, better benefits, or safer working conditions). 2) For the judge to order that all or part of a party's pleading be removed or disregarded, typically after a motion by the opposing party. 3) For the judge to order evidence deleted from the court record and instruct the jury to disregard it. Typically, this order is made regarding testimony by a witness in court.

anything built on land, from a shed to a highrise.

Sua Sponte
(sooh-uh spahn-tay) Latin for "of one's own accord," most commonly used to describe a decision by a judge that neither party to a lawsuit has requested.

Subchapter S Corporation
See: S corporation

A person or business that contracts with an independent contractor to perform some portion of the work or services on a project which the independent contractor has agreed to perform. In building construction, subcontractors may include such trades as plumbing, electrical, roofing, cement work, and plastering.

A rental agreement or lease between a tenant and a new tenant (called a subtenant or sublessee) who will either share the rental or take over from the first tenant. The sublessee pays rent directly to the tenant. The tenant is still completely responsible to the landlord for the rent and for any damage, including that caused by the sublessee. Most landlords prohibit subleases unless they have given prior written consent. Compare: assign

To finish presenting evidence or an argument in a hearing or trial and give the matter over to the judge for a decision.

The process by which a creditor holding a priority debt agrees to accept a lower priority for the collection of its debt in a deference to a new debt. (See also: subordination agreement)

Subordination Agreement
A written contract in which a lender who has secured a loan by a mortgage or deed of trust agrees with the property owner to subordinate its loan (accept a lower priority for the collection of its debt), thus giving the new loan priority in any foreclosure or payoff. The agreement must be acknowledged by a notary so that it can be recorded in the official county records. (See also: subordination)

Subornation Of Perjury
The crime of encouraging, inducing, or assisting another in the commission of perjury, which is knowingly telling an untruth under oath. Example: Lawyer Frank is interviewing a witness in an accident case who says that Frank's client was jaywalking outside the crosswalk when struck by the defendant's car. Frank tells the witness to help his client by saying the accident occurred in the crosswalk and the witness so testifies in court. Frank is guilty of subornation of the witness's perjury.

Subpena (Subpoena)
A court order issued at the request of a party requiring a witness to testify, produce specified evidence, or both. A subpena can be used to obtain testimony from a witness at both depositions (testimony under oath taken outside of court) and at trial. Failure to comply with the subpena can be punished as contempt of court.

Subpena Duces Tecum
A type of subpena, usually issued at the request of a party, by which a court orders a witness to produce certain documents at a deposition or trial.

See: subpena

Subprime Loan
A loan to a borrower who does not qualify for a loan at the best market rates (the prime rate) because of a weak credit history, inadequate assets to secure the loan, or an income too low to guarantee payments. These loans are offered at a higher interest rate because of the increased risk to the lender. Not all lenders engage in subprime lending and the rates and terms of the loans vary from institution to institution.

Subprime Mortgage
See: subprime loan

A taking on of the legal rights of someone whose debts or expenses have been paid. For example, subrogation occurs when an insurance company that has paid off its injured claimant takes the legal rights the claimant has against a third party that caused the injury, and sues that third party.

The insurance company that assumes the legal right to collect the claim of an injured claimant (the subrogor) against the third party that caused the injury, in return for paying the other's expenses in advance. (See also: subrogation)

An injured claimant who, after being compensated by an insurance company (the subrogee), gives the insurance company the right to collect a claim against the third party that caused the injury. (See also: subrogation)

1) To sign at the end of a document. The courts have been flexible in recognizing signatures elsewhere on a contract or will, on the theory that a document should be found valid if possible. 2) To order and agree to pay for an issue of stock, bonds, limited partnership interest, investment, or periodical magazine or newspaper.

Subscribing Witness
A person who signs a document indicating that they have witnessed a signature. For example, a person who witnesses the signing of a will is a subscribing witness.

A corporation or other limited liability entity that operates under the legal authority of a larger "parent" corporation. Typically, a parent corporation owns a controlling interest in the shares of a subsidiary corporation, giving the parent the votes necessary to control who is appointed to the subsidiary's board of directors.

Substantial Performance
When a party to a contract, through no fault of that party, performs in a manner that varies slightly from the contract's obligations. In cases of substantial performance, a court may determine that it would be unfair to deny compensation. (See also: specific performance)

Substantive Law
Statutory or written law that governs the rights and obligations of everyone within its jurisdiction. It defines crimes and punishments, as well as civil rights and responsibilities. Compare: procedural law

Substituted Service
A method for the formal delivery of court papers that takes the place of personal service. Personal service means that the papers are placed directly into the hands of the person to be served. Substituted service, on the other hand, may be accomplished by leaving the documents with a designated agent, with another adult in the recipient's home, with the recipient's manager at work, or by posting a notice in a prominent place and then using certified mail to send copies of the documents to the recipient.

Putting one person or thing in the place of another. For example, a substitution of parties takes place when a new party is named to take the place of a party who has died or is otherwise unable to continue as a party. Or, one attorney might substitute into a case to replace the attorney of record if, for example, the client fired the first attorney.

Substitution Of Attorney
A document in which a party to a lawsuit states that his or her attorney is being replaced by another attorney or by the party acting in propria persona. (See also: substitution)

Substitution Of Parties
A replacement of one of the parties in a lawsuit because of events that prevent the party from continuing with the trial. For example, substitution of parties may occur when one party dies or, in the case of a public official, when that public official is replaced or removed from office.

See: sublease

Success Billing
A method for lawyers to bill clients that is based on how the lawyer solves the client's problem, instead of the number of hours the lawyer spends working on it. For example, if a lawyer represents a company that's being sued, they might agree that the client will pay a certain fee if the lawyer settles the case for an amount that the client's insurance policy will cover.

The passing of property or legal rights after death. The word commonly refers to the distribution of property under a states intestate succession laws, which determine who inherits property when someone dies without a valid will. When used in connection with real estate, the word refers to the passing of property by will or inheritance, as opposed to gift, grant, or purchase.

Succession Representative
In Louisiana, another term for executor. See: executor

Successive Sentences
In criminal law, when a defendant has been convicted of more than one crime, the judge's ruling that the sentences for each conviction will be served one after the other, rather than at the same time (concurrent sentences).

Successor Trustee
The person or institution who takes over the management of living trust property when the original trustee has died or become incapacitated.

The pain, hurt, inconvenience, embarrassment, and inability to perform normal activities as a result of injury, for which a person injured by another's negligence or wrongdoing may recover general damages. Usually in the combination "pain and suffering."

Sufficient Cause
See: good cause

Sui Generis
(soo-ee jen-ris) Latin for of its own kind, and used to describe a form of legal protection that exists outside typical legal protections -- that is, something that is unique or different. In intellectual property law, for example, ship hull designs have achieved a unique category of protection and are "sui generis" within copyright law.

The intentional killing of oneself.

Suicide Clause
Standard clause in life insurance policies that limits payments made to survivors of a policyholder who commits suicide within a certain period after purchasing the policy.

See: lawsuit

Sum Certain
An amount that is directly stated in a contract or negotiable instrument (like a promissory note) at the time the document is written. For example, "I agree to pay you $500 for painting my living room."

Summary Adjudication
A court order ruling that certain factual issues are already determined prior to trial, based on a motion by one of the parties, supported by evidence, contending that these issues are settled and need not be tried. For example, in a car accident case there might be overwhelming and uncontradicted evidence of the defendant's carelessness, but conflicting evidence as to the extent of the plaintiff's injuries. The plaintiff might ask for summary adjudication on the issue of carelessness, but go to trial on the question of injuries. If there is any question as to whether there is conflict on the facts on an issue, the summary adjudication must be denied regarding that matter.

Summary Judgment
A final decision by a judge, upon a party's motion, that resolves a lawsuit before there is a trial. The party making the motion marshals all the evidence in its favor, compares it to the other side's evidence, and argues that there are no "triable issues of fact." Summary judgment is awarded if the undisputed facts and the law make it clear that it would be impossible for the opposing party to prevail if the matter were to proceed to trial.

Summary Probate
A relatively simple probate proceeding available for "small estates," as that term is defined by state law. Every state's definition is different, and many are complicated, but a few states include estates worth $100,000 or more. Some states allow summary probate whenever the value of property in the estate doesn't exceed what is needed to pay a family allowance and certain creditors.

The final argument of an attorney at the close of a trial in which he or she attempts to convince the judge or jury of the virtues of the client's case. (See also: closing argument)

A form prepared by the plaintiff and issued by a court that informs the defendant that he or she has been sued. The summons requires that the defendant file a response with the court -- or in many small claims courts, simply appear in person on an appointed day -- within a given time period or risk losing the case under the terms of a default judgment.

Sunset Law
A law that automatically terminates the agency or program it establishes unless the legislature expressly renews it. For example, a state law creating and funding a new drug rehabilitation program within state prisons may provide that the program will shut down in two years unless it is reviewed and approved by the state legislature.

Sunshine Laws
Statutes that provide public access to government agency meetings and records.

Superior Court
The main county trial court in many states, mostly in the West. (See also: state court)

Supernumerary Witness
A witness beyond the required number of witnesses. For example, the third witness where only two are needed to witness the signing of a will.

(soo-per-seed-es) Latin for "you shall desist," an order (writ) by an appeals court commanding a lower court not to enforce or proceed with a judgment or sentence pending the decision on the appeal or until further order of the appeals court.

Superseding Cause
See: intervening cause

Completing or making an addition to, particularly to a document -- for example, a supplemental complaint, supplemental claim, or supplemental proceeding.

Supplemental Needs Trust
See: special needs trust

Supplemental Register
A secondary list of trademarks and service marks maintained by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Supplemental Register provides limited trademark rights and benefits and consists of marks that do not qualify for the Principal Register, usually because they are nondistinctive and consumers do not associate these terms with a specific source. (In trademark terminology, they lack secondary meaning.) Descriptive marks, surnames, and marks consisting primarily of geographical terms are commonly placed on the Supplemental Register. (See also: secondary meaning, Principal Register)

Support Our Law Enforcement And Safe Neighborhoods Act Of 2010
An Arizona immigration law that is considered one of the toughest immigration enforcement measures in the country. The law requires police to ask for the identification papers of anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant. It also requires any noncitizens in Arizona to carry their immigration paperwork with them at all times.

Suppression Of Evidence
1) A judge's order that certain evidence may not be admitted at trial because it was obtained illegally, such as an involuntary confession or drugs discovered in an illegal search. 2) For a prosecutor in a criminal case to improperly hide or withhold evidence that he or she is legally required to provide to the defense.

(soo-prah) Latin for "above." In legal briefs and decisions, it is used to refer the reader to an earlier cited authority.

Supremacy Clause
Provision under Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, providing that federal law is superior to and overrides state law when they conflict.

Supreme Court
America's highest court, which has the final power to decide cases based on federal statutes or the U.S. Constitution, cases in which the U.S. government is a party, or in certain lawsuits between parties in different states. The U.S. Supreme Court has nine justices -- one of whom is the Chief Justice -- who are appointed for life by the president and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Most states also have a supreme court, which is the final arbiter of the state's constitution and state laws. However, in several states, the highest state court uses a different name.

An additional charge of money made because it was omitted in the original calculation or as a penalty, such as for paying a bill late.

A person who agrees to be responsible for another's debt or obligation, such as a bonding company that posts a bond for a building contractor. Unlike a guarantor (who is liable to creditors only if the debtor fails to perform) a surety is directly liable.

Language in a legal document that is irrelevant or has no legal effect and therefore can be ignored.

Surrender Value
The amount of money an insurance policyholder would get from selling the policy back to the insurance company Only some kinds of life insurance policies, such as whole life policies, have a surrender value. Term life insurance has no surrender value. (See also: avails)

1) A person acting on behalf of another or a substitute, including a woman who gives birth to a baby of a mother who is unable to carry the child. 2) A judge in some states responsible only for probates, estates, and adoptions.

Surrogate Court
See: probate court

Surrogate Court
See: probate court

The act of observing persons or groups either with notice or their knowledge (overt surveillance) or without their knowledge (covert surveillance). Intrusive surveillance by private citizens may give rise to claims of invasion of privacy. Police officers, as long as they are in a place they have a right to be, can use virtually any type of surveillance device to observe property. Police cannot use specialized heat-scanning surveillance devices to obtain evidence of criminal activity inside a home. Law enforcement officials acquired additional surveillance capability following enactment of The Patriot Act.

Surviving Spouse
A widow or widower.

Surviving Spouse's Trust
When a couple creates a bypass (AB) trust, the revocable trust of the surviving spouse after one spouse has died.

A person who outlives another. The term is often used in wills and trust documents. For example a will might leave property "to my sons, Arnold and Zeke, or the survivor." If only one son is alive at the time the property is distributed, it would all go to him.

Survivors Benefits
An amount of money available to a deceased worker's surviving spouse and minor or disabled children, if the deceased worker qualified for Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

See: right of survivorship

Suspect Classification
In constitutional law, a group that meets certain qualifications that make the group likely subjects of discrimination. Suspect classifications include those based on race, national origin, and alienage.

Suspended Sentence
A criminal sentence that is not enforced unless the defendant fails to meet conditions imposed by the judge (such as a requirement to make restitution to victims or perform certain services) or commits another crime.

Suspension Of Deportation
An immigration remedy that is no longer available (with rare exceptions), it allowed undocumented immigrants placed into deportation proceedings to request permanent resident status on the basis of 1) continuous physical presence in the United States for at least seven years; 2) good moral character during this period; and 3) that the applicant's departure from the U.S. would cause "extreme hardship" to the applicant or any qualifying U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relatives, including spouse, parents, or children. The nearest remedy available now is called "cancellation of removal."

To agree with or rule in favor of a party in court. For example, if a judge agrees with an attorney's objection to a question at trial, the judge will say "objection sustained."

1) To declare under oath that one will tell the truth (sometimes "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth"). Failure to tell the truth, and to do so knowingly, is the crime of perjury. 2) To administer an oath to a witness that he or she will tell the truth, which is done by a notary public, a court clerk, a court reporter, or anyone authorized by law to administer oaths. 3) To install into office by administering an oath.

Swearing Match
A case that turns on the word of one witness versus another. The outcome of a swearing match usually depends on whom the jury finds most trustworthy.

Sweat Equity
An ownership interest in property that results from the hard labor a person puts into improving it. For example, Jenny gave her brother James a share of her new business in exchange for the hundreds of hours he worked to help her start it up.

Swift Witness
See: zealous witness

To cheat through trick, device, false statements, or other fraudulent methods with the intent to acquire money or property from another to which the swindler is not entitled. (See also: fraud, theft)

A joint venture among individuals or corporations to accomplish a particular business goal, such as the purchase, development, and sale of real estate, followed by division of the profits. A syndicate is similar to a partnership, but it has a specific objective or purpose after the completion of which it will dissolve.