Face amount

n. the original amount due on a promissory note or insurance policy as stated therein, without calculating interest.

Face value

n. in shares of stock, the original cost of the stock shown on the certificate, or “par value.”

Fact

n. an actual thing or happening, which must be proved at trial by presentation of evidence and which is evaluated by the finder of fact (a jury in a jury trial, or by the judge if he/she sits without a jury).

Fact finder (finder of fact)

n. in a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, the jury or judge (if there is no jury) who decides if facts have been proven. Occasionally a judge may appoint a “special master” to investigate and report on the existence of certain facts.

Factor

n. 1) a salesman who sells in his/her own name on behalf of others, taking a commission for services. 2) something that contributes to the result.

Failure of consideration

The refusal or inability of a contracting party to perform its side of a bargain.

Failure of issue

A situation in which a person dies without children who could have inherited her property.

Fair comment

n. a statement of opinion (no matter how ludicrous) based on facts which are correctly stated and which does not allege dishonorable motives on the part of the target of the comment. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that to protect free speech, statements made about a public person (politician, officeholder, movie star, author, etc.), even though untrue and harmful, are fair comment unless the victim can prove the opinions were stated maliciously-with hate, dislike, intent and/or desire to harm. Thus, a public figure may not sue for defamation based on published opinions or alleged information which would be the basis of a lawsuit if said or published about a private person not worthy of opinion or comment. This is a crucial defense against libel suits put up by members of the media.

Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)

A federal law that gives you rights when an error occurs on your credit card statement. You must notify the credit card company of the mistake within 60 days after it mailed the bill to you. The company must then correct the mistake, or at least acknowledge receipt of your letter within 30 days, and must correct the error within 90 days or explain why it believes the credit card statement is correct.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

A federal law that is designed to prevent inaccurate or obsolete information from entering or remaining in a credit report. The law requires credit bureaus to adopt reasonable procedures for gathering, maintaining and disseminating information and bars credit bureaus from reporting negative information that is older than seven years, except a bankruptcy, which may be reported for ten. If you notify a credit bureau of an error in your credit report, the FCRA requires the bureau to investigate your allegations within 30 days, review all information you provide, remove inaccurate and unverified information and adopt procedures to keep the information from reappearing. In addition, the law requires that creditors refrain from reporting incorrect information to credit bureaus.

Fair Debt Collections & Practices Act (FDCPA)

A federal law that outlaws unfair debt collection practices, including lying, harassing, misleading and otherwise abusing debtors, by debt collectors working for collection agencies. The law does not apply to creditors collecting their own debts. This law has greatly improved conditions for debtors, although more than a few debt collectors ignore the law. If a collection agency violates the law, debtors can contact the Federal Trade Commission for help.

Fair Housing Act & Fair Housing Amendments Act

Federal laws that prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. The federal Acts apply to all aspects of the landlord/tenant relationship, from refusing to rent to members of certain groups to providing different services during tenancy.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

A federal law that guarantees a worker’s right to be paid fairly. The FLSA defines the 40-hour workweek, sets out the federal minimum wage, states requirements for overtime and places restrictions on child labor.

Fair market value

n. the amount for which property would sell on the open market if put up for sale. This is distinguished from “replacement value,” which is the cost of duplicating the property. Real estate appraisers will use “comparable” sales of similar property in the area to determine market value, adding or deducting amounts based on differences in quality and size of the property.

Fair trade laws

n. state laws which permit manufacturers or producers to set minimum rates for resale of the product. They have been repealed or found violative of state constitutions in many states.

Fair use rule

A law that authorizes the use of copyrighted materials for certain purposes without the copyright owner’s permission. Generally, uses intended to further scholarship, education or an informed public are considered fair use, but recent years have seen severe limits placed on the amount of a work that can be reproduced under the fair use rule. n. the non-competitive right to use of copyrighted material without giving the author the right to compensation or to sue for infringement of copyright. With the growing use of copy machines, teachers and businesses copy articles, pages of texts, charts and excerpts for classroom use, advice to employees or to assist in research without violating the copyright.

False arrest

n. physically detaining someone without the legal right to do so. Quite often this involves private security people or other owners or employees of retail establishments who hold someone without having seen a crime committed in their presence or pretend that they are police officers. While they may be entitled to make a “citizen’s arrest” they had better be sure that they have a person who has committed a crime, and they must call law enforcement officers to take over at the first opportunity. Other common false arrest situations include an arrest by a police officer of the wrong person or without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and/or without a warrant. Only when the arresting party knowingly holds someone who has not committed a crime, is the false arrest itself a crime. However, probable false arrest can be the basis of a lawsuit for damages, including mental distress and embarrassment.

False imprisonment

Intentionally restraining another person without having the legal right to do so. It’s not necessary that physical force be used; threats or a show of apparent authority are sufficient. False imprisonment is a misdemeanor and a tort (a civil wrong). If the perpetrator confines the victim for a substantial period of time (or moves him a significant distance) in order to commit a felony, the false imprisonment may become a kidnapping. People who are arrested and get the charges dropped, or are later acquitted, often think that they can sue the arresting officer for false imprisonment (also known as false arrest). These lawsuits rarely succeed: As long as the officer had probable cause to arrest the person, the officer will not be liable for a false arrest, even if it turns out later that the information the officer relied upon was incorrect.

False pretenses

n. the crime of knowingly making untrue statements for the purpose of obtaining money or property fraudulently. This can range from claiming zircons are diamonds and turning back the odometer on a car, to falsely stating that a mine has been producing gold when it has not. It is one form of theft.

Family

n. 1) husband, wife and children. 2) all blood relations. 3) all who live in the same household including servants and relatives, with some person or persons directing this economic and social unit.

Family allowance

A certain amount of a deceased person’s money to which immediate family members are entitled at the beginning of the probate process. The allowance is meant to help support the surviving spouse and children during the time it takes to probate the estate. The amount is determined by state law and varies greatly from state to state.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

A federal law that requires employers to provide an employee with 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a year’s time for the birth or adoption of a child, family health needs or personal illness. The employer must allow the employee to return to the same position or a position similar to that held before taking the leave. There are exceptions to the FMLA: the most notable is that only employers with 50 or more employees are covered–about half the workforce.

Family court

A separate court, or more likely a separate division of the regular state trial court, that considers only cases involving divorce (dissolution of marriage), child custody and support, guardianship, adoption, and other cases having to do with family-related issues, including the issuance of restraining orders in domestic violence cases.

Family purpose doctrine

n. a rule of law that the registered owner of an automobile is responsible for damages to anyone injured when the auto is driven by a member of the family with or without the owner’s permission. The theory of this liability is that the vehicle is owned for family purposes. This doctrine is the law in some states instead of making a registered owner liable for damages caused by anyone driving his/her car with permission.

Fault divorce

A tradition that required one spouse to prove that the other spouse was legally at fault, to obtain a divorce. The “innocent” spouse was then granted the divorce from the “guilty” spouse. Today, 35 states still allow a spouse to allege fault in obtaining a divorce. The traditional fault grounds for divorce are adultery, cruelty, desertion, confinement in prison, physical incapacity and incurable insanity. These grounds are also generally referred to as marital misconduct.

Federal court

A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, federal law–for example, patents, federal taxes, labor law and federal crimes, such as robbing a federally chartered bank–and cases where the parties are from different states and are involved in a dispute for $75,000 or more.

Federal question

n. one basis for filing a lawsuit in federal district court is that it is based on subjects enumerated in the U.S. Constitution or when a federal statute is involved. Thus, existence of such a federal question gives the federal court jurisdiction.

Federal Tort Claims Act

n. a statute (1948) which removed the power of the federal government to claim immunity from a lawsuit for damages due to negligent or intentional injury by a federal employee in the scope of his/her work for the government. It also established a set of regulations and format for making claims, giving jurisdiction to federal district courts.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

A federal government agency established to regulate business practices and enforce antitrust laws. The FTC often shows up in the news when big businesses merge, but it also plays a role in protecting consumers from unfair business practices, including actions by collection agencies and credit bureaus. While the FTC generally does not have authority to intervene in individual consumer disputes, the FTC can take action against a company about which it has received numerous consumer complaints.

Fee

n. 1) absolute title in land, from old French, fief, for “payment,” since lands were originally given by lords to those who served them. The word “fee” can be modified to show that the title was “conditional” on some occurrence or could be terminated (“determinable”) upon a future event. 2) a charge for services.

Fee simple

n. absolute title to land, free of any other claims against the title, which one can sell or pass to another by will or inheritance. This is a redundant form of “fee,” but is used to show the fee (absolute title) is not a “conditional fee,” or “determinable fee,” or “fee tail.”

Fee tail

n. an old feudal expression for a title to real property which can only be passed to one’s heirs “of his body” or certain heirs who are blood relatives. If the blood line ran out (no children) then the title would revert to the descendants of the lord who originally gave the land to the title-holding family. Thus, it could not be transferred to anyone outside the family. The intention was to keep lands within a family line and not subdivided. In 16th century England, trusts were established to get around this “restraint on alienation” so the land could be held in trust for another person to use. Fee tail is of historic and academic interest only.

Felony

A serious crime (contrasted with misdemeanors and infractions, less serious crimes), usually punishable by a prison term of more than one year or, in some cases, by death. For example, murder, extortion and kidnapping are felonies; a minor fist fight is usually charged as a misdemeanor, and a speeding ticket is generally an infraction.

Felony murder doctrine

n. a rule of criminal statutes that any death which occurs during the commission of a felony is first degree murder, and all participants in that felony or attempted felony can be charged with and found guilty of murder. A typical example is a robbery involving more than one criminal, in which one of them shoots, beats to death or runs over a store clerk, killing the clerk. Even if the death were accidental, all of the participants can be found guilty of felony murder, including those who did no harm, had no gun, and/or did not intend to hurt anyone. In a bizarre situation, if one of the holdup men or women is killed, his/her fellow robbers can be charged with murder.

Feres doctrine

A legal doctrine that prevents people who are injured as a result of military service from successfully suing the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The doctrine comes from the U.S. Supreme Court case Feres v. United States, in which servicemen who picked up highly radioactive weapons fragments from a crashed airplane were not permitted to recover damages from the government. Also known as the Feres-Stencel doctrine or the Feres rule.

Fictitious defendants

n. when a party suing (plaintiff) is not sure if he/she knows if there are unknown persons involved in the incident or the business being sued, there are named fictitious persons, usually designated Doe I, Doe II, and so forth, or “Green and Red Company,” with an allegation in the complaint that if and when the true names are discovered they will be inserted in the complaint by amendment. Naming fictitious defendants stops the statute of limitations (the time in which a party has to file a lawsuit) from running out even though the true name is not yet known. Sometimes during the investigation or discovery (taking depositions or asking written questions under oath) new information about a potential defendant is found and the real name substituted. Then that person is served with a summons and complaint. If no substitution of a real name for a Doe has been made by the time of trial, usually the fictitious defendants are then dismissed from the case since they never existed in the first place, and the case continues against the named defendants. Fictitious defendants are not permitted in federal cases.

Fictitious name

Fictitious names are often used in conducting a business (see doing business as.) They may also be used when filing a lawsuit against a party whose real name is unknown or when it is appropriate to conceal the true name of the party.

Fiduciary

1) n. from the Latin fiducia, meaning “trust,” a person (or a business like a bank or stock brokerage) who has the power and obligation to act for another (often called the beneficiary) under circumstances which require total trust, good faith and honesty. The most common is a trustee of a trust, but fiduciaries can include business advisers, attorneys, guardians, administrators of estates, real estate agents, bankers, stockbrokers, title companies or anyone who undertakes to assist someone who places complete confidence and trust in that person or company. Characteristically, the fiduciary has greater knowledge and expertise about the matters being handled. A fiduciary is held to a standard of conduct and trust above that of a stranger or of a casual business person. He/she/it must avoid “self-dealing” or “conflicts of interests” in which the potential benefit to the fiduciary is in conflict with what is best for the person who trusts him/her/it. For example, a stockbroker must consider the best investment for the client and not buy or sell on the basis of what brings him/her the highest commission. While a fiduciary and the beneficiary may join together in a business venture or a purchase of property, the best interest of the beneficiary must be primary, and absolute candor is required of the fiduciary. 2) adj. defining a situation or relationship in which a person is acting as a fiduciary for another. Normally, the term is synonymous to a trustee, which is the classic form of a fiduciary relationship.

Fiduciary relationship

n. where one person places complete confidence in another in regard to a particular transaction or one’s general affairs or business. The relationship is not necessarily formally or legally established as in a declaration of trust, but can be one of moral or personal responsibility, due to the superior knowledge and training of the fiduciary as compared to the one whose affairs the fiduciary is handling.

Fieri facias

Latin for “that you cause to be done.” This is a court document that instructs a sheriff to seize and sell a defendant’s property in order to satisfy a monetary judgment against the defendant.

Fighting words

n. words intentionally directed toward another person which are so nasty and full of malice as to cause the hearer to suffer emotional distress or incite him/her to immediately retaliate physically (hit, stab, shoot, etc.). While such words are not an excuse or defense for a retaliatory assault and battery, if they are threatening they can form the basis for a lawsuit for assault.

File

A term commonly used to describe both the process of submitting a document to a court–for example, “I filed my small claims case today”–and to describe the physical location where these papers are kept. Traditionally, a court’s case files were kept indefinitely in one or more cardboard folders. Today many files–especially those for inactive cases–are stored by computer.

Filing fee

A fee charged by a public official to accept a document for processing. For example, you must usually pay a filing fee to submit pleadings and other documents to the court in a civil matter, or to put a deed on file in the public records.

Final beneficiary

The person or institution designated to receive trust property upon the death of a life beneficiary. For example, Jim creates a trust through which his wife Jane receives income for the duration of her life. Their daughter, the final beneficiary, receives the trust principal after Jane’s death

Final decree

n. another name for a final judgment. In states where there are interlocutory decrees of divorce (in the hope that a further wait may lead to reconciliation), followed several months later by the actual divorce, the second order is called a final decree, issued after the filing of a declaration that the couple is still asunder (can not get back together).

Final judgment

n. the written determination of a lawsuit by the judge who presided at trial (or heard a successful motion to dismiss or a stipulation for judgment), which renders (makes) rulings on all issues and completes the case unless it is appealed to a higher court. It is also called a final decree or final decision.

Final settlement

n. an agreement reached by the parties to a lawsuit, usually in writing and/or read into the record in court, settling all issues. Usually there are elements of compromise, waiver of any right to reopen or appeal the matter even if there is information found later which would change matters (such as recurrence of a problem with an injury), mutual release of any further claim by each party, a statement that neither side is admitting fault, and some action or payment by one or both sides. In short, the case is over, provided the parties do what they are supposed to do according to the final settlement’s terms. With the glut of cases crowding court calendars and overwhelming the system and delays in getting to trial (due to three factors: increased criminal case load, increased litigious nature of society and an insufficient number of judges), judges encourage attempts to settle, including mandatory settlement conferences with judges or experienced settlement attorneys present.

Finder’s fee

A fee charged by real estate brokers and apartment-finding services in exchange for locating a rental property. These fees are permitted by law. Some landlords, however, charge finder’s fees merely for renting a place. This type of charge is not legitimate and, in some areas, is specifically declared illegal.

Finding

n. the determination of a factual question vital (contributing) to a decision in a case by the trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) after a trial of a lawsuit, often referred to as findings of fact. A finding of fact is distinguished from a conclusion of law which is determined by the judge as the sole legal expert. Findings of fact and conclusions of law, need not be made if waived or not requested by the trial attorneys, leaving just the bare judgment in the case.

Firm offer

n. in contract law, an offer (usually in writing) which states it may not be withdrawn, revoked or amended for a specific period of time. If the offer is accepted without a change during that period, there is a firm, enforceable contract.

First degree murder

n. although it varies from state to state, it is generally a killing which is deliberate and premeditated (planned, after lying in wait, by poison or as part of a scheme), in conjunction with felonies such as rape, burglary, arson, or involving multiple deaths, the killing of certain types of people (such as a child, a police officer, a prison guard, a fellow prisoner), or certain weapons, particularly a gun. The specific criteria for first degree murder, are established by statute in each state and by the U.S. Code in federal prosecutions. It is distinguished from second degree murder in which premeditation is usually absent, and from manslaughter, which lacks premeditation and suggests that at most there was intent to harm rather than to kill.

First impression

adj. referring to a legal issue which has never been decided by an appeals court and, therefore, there is no precedent for the court to follow. To reach a decision the court must use its own logic, analogies from prior rulings by appeals courts and refer to commentaries and articles by legal scholars. In such cases the trial judge usually asks for legal briefs by attorneys for both sides to assist him/her.

Fishing expedition

Legal grasping at straws; the use of pre-trial investigation (discovery) or witness questioning in an unfocused attempt to uncover damaging evidence you can use against your adversary.

Fitness

The ability of a prospective adoptive parent to provide for the best interests of a child. A court may consider many aspects of the prospective parents’ lives in evaluating their fitness to adopt a child, including financial stability, marital stability, career obligations, other children, physical and mental health and criminal history.

Fixed in a tangible medium of expression

A requirement before a work can be protected by a copyright. The work must be recorded in some physical medium, whether on paper, audio tape or computer disk. This means that spontaneous speech or musicianship that is not recorded, (a jazz solo, for instance) is not protected by copyright.

Fixed rate mortgage

A mortgage loan that has an interest rate that remains constant throughout the life of the loan, so that the amount you pay each month remains the same over the entire mortgage term, typically 15, 20 or 30 years.

Fixture

n. a piece of equipment which has been attached to real estate in such a way as to be part of the premises and its removal would do harm to the building or land. Thus, a fixture is transformed from a movable asset to an integral part of the real property. Essentially a question of fact, it often arises when a tenant has installed a lighting fixture, a heater, window box or other item which is bolted, nailed, screwed or wired into the wall, ceiling or floor. Trade fixtures are those which a merchant would normally use to operate the business and display goods and may be removed at the merchant’s expense for any necessary repair.

Flight

n. running away or hiding by a person officially accused of a crime with the apparent intent of avoiding arrest or prosecution.

Floating easement

n. an easement (a right to use another’s property for a particular purpose) which allows access and/or egress but does not spell out the exact dimensions and location of the easement.

FOB

1) adj. short for free on board, meaning shipped to a specific place without cost. 2) adj. referring to purchased goods shipped without transportation charge to a specific place. Free on board at the place of manufacture shows there is a charge for delivery. Example: if an automaker in Detroit sells a car “FOB Detroit,” then there will be a shipping charge if delivery is taken anywhere else. If the contract reads “FOB New Orleans,” then the auto will be shipped to that city without charge, but with charge for delivery from New Orleans to somewhere else.

For sale by owner (FSBO)

Selling your house without a real estate broker. Doing so can save you a commission but requires that you devote time and energy not only to marketing and showing the house but also to learning and following the legal rules controlling sales of real estate in your area. The acronym FSBO is pronounced “fizzbo.”

For value received

A phrase used in a promissory note, a bill of exchange or a deed to show that some consideration (value) has been given without stating what that payment was.

Forbearance

Voluntarily refraining from doing something, such as asserting a legal right. For example, a creditor may forbear on its right to collect a debt by temporarily postponing or reducing the borrower’s payments.

Forced sale

n. a sale of goods seized to satisfy (pay) a judgment.

Forcible entry

n. the crime of taking possession of a house or other structure or land by the use of physical force or serious threats against the occupants. This can include breaking windows or doors or using terror to gain entry, as well as forcing the occupants out by threat or violence after having come in peacefully.

Foreclosure

The forced sale of real estate to pay off a loan on which the owner of the property has defaulted.

Foreclosure sale

n. the actual forced sale of real property at a public auction (often on the courthouse steps following public notice posted at the courthouse and published in a local newspaper) after foreclosure on that property as security under a mortgage or deed of trust for a loan that is substantially delinquent. The lender who has not been paid may bid for the property, using his/her/its own unpaid note toward payment, which can result in a bargain purchase.

Foreign corporation

n. a corporation which is incorporated under the laws of a different state or nation. A “foreign” corporation must file a notice of doing business in any state in which it does substantial regular business. It must name an “agent for acceptance of service” in that state, or the Secretary of State in some jurisdictions will automatically be that agent so people doing business with a foreign corporation will be able to bring legal actions locally if necessary.

Foreign divorce

A divorce obtained in a different state or country from the place where one spouse resides at the time of the divorce. As a general rule, foreign divorces are recognized as valid if the spouse requesting the divorce became a resident of the state or country granting the divorce, and if both parties consented to the jurisdiction of the foreign court. A foreign divorce obtained by one person without the consent of the other is normally not valid, unless the nonconsenting spouse later acts as if the foreign divorce were valid, for example, by remarrying.

Forensic

1) adj. from Latin forensis for “belonging to the forum,” ancient Rome’s site for public debate and currently meaning pertaining to the courts. Thus, forensic testimony or forensic medicine are used to assist the court or the attorneys in legal matters, including trials.

Forensic medicine

n. research, reports and testimony in court by experts in medical science to assist in determining a legal question. Cause of death is a common issue determined by pathologists who may be coroners or medical examiners.

Forensic testimony

n. any testimony of expert scientific, engineering, economic or other specialized nature used to assist the court and the lawyers in a lawsuit or prosecution.

Forensics

n. public speaking or argumentation.

Foreseeability

n. reasonable anticipation of the possible results of an action, such as what may happen if one is negligent or consequential damages resulting from breach of a contract.

Foreseeable risk

n. a danger which a reasonable person should anticipate as the result from his/her actions. Foreseeable risk is a common affirmative defense put up as a response by defendants in lawsuits for negligence. A skier hits a bump on a ski run, falls and breaks his leg. This is a foreseeable risk of skiing. A mother is severely injured while accompanying her child on a roller coaster when the car jumps the track and comes loose. While there is potential risk, she had the right to anticipate that the roller coaster was properly maintained and did not assume the risk that it would come apart. Signs that warn “use at your own risk” do not bar lawsuits for risks that are not foreseeable.

Forfeit

v. to lose property or rights involuntarily as a penalty for violation of law. Example: the government can take automobiles or houses which are used for illegal drug trafficking or manufacture. A drug pusher may forfeit his/her car (property) if caught carrying drugs in it and found guilty. A parent may have to forfeit his/her house if his/her daughter is selling drugs from the house, even though the parent had nothing to do with and no knowledge of the drugs. One may have to forfeit one’s driver’s license or lose driving privileges due to multiple traffic violations or drunk driving.

Forfeiture

The loss of property or a privilege due to breaking a law. For example, a landlord may forfeit his or her property to the federal or state government if the landlord knows it is a drug-dealing site but fails to stop the illegal activity. Or, you may have to forfeit your driver’s license if you commit too many moving violations or are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Forger

n. a person who commits the crime of forgery, by making false documents or signatures.

Forgery

n. 1) the crime of creating a false document, altering a document, or writing a false signature for the illegal benefit of the person making the forgery. This includes improperly filling in a blank document, like an automobile purchase contract, over a buyer’s signature, with the terms different from those agreed. It does not include such innocent representation as a staff member autographing photos of politicians or movie stars. While similar to forgery, counterfeiting refers to the creation of phoney money, stock certificates or bonds which are negotiable for cash. 2) a document or signature falsely created or altered.

Form interrogatories

Printed or “canned” sets of questions that one party in a lawsuit asks an opposing party. Form interratories cover the issues commonly encountered in the kind of lawsuit at hand. For example, lawyers’ form books have sets of interrogatories designed for contract disputes, landlord-tenant cases and many others. Form interrogatories are often supplemented by questions written by the lawyers and designed for the particular issues in the case.

Forthwith

adv. a term found in contracts, court orders and statutes, meaning as soon as it can be reasonably done. It implies immediacy, with no excuses for delay.

Forum

Refers to the court in which a lawsuit is filed or in which a hearing or trial is conducted.

Forum nonconveniens

Latin for an inconvenient court. Because these days strict written rules of jurisdiction and venue are used to decide where a case can and cannot be properly filed, this term has largely lost any real meaning, except as yet another example of a confusing Latin term that lawyers take pleasure in using.

Forum shopping

The process by which a plaintiff chooses among two or more courts that have the power–technically, the correct jurisdiction and venue–to consider his case. This decision is based on which court is likely to consider the case most favorably. In some instances, a case can properly be filed in two or more federal district courts as well as in the trial courts of several states–and this makes forum shopping a complicated business. It often involves weighing a number of factors, including proximity to the court, the reputation of the judge in the particular legal area, the likely type of available jurors and subtle differences in governing law and procedure.

Foster care

Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents have a legal responsibility to care for their foster children, but do not have all the rights of a biological parent–for example, they may have limited rights to discipline the children, to raise them according to a certain religion or to authorize non-emergency medical procedures for them. The foster parents do not become the child’s legal parents unless the biological parents’ rights are terminated by a court and the foster parents adopt the child. This is not typically encouraged, as the goal of foster care is to provide temporary support for the children until they can be returned to their parents. See also foster child.

Foster child

A child placed by a government agency or a court in the care of someone other than his or her natural parents. Foster children may be removed from their family home because of parental abuse or neglect. Occasionally, parents voluntarily place their children in foster care.

Four corners of an instrument

n. the term for studying an entire document to understand its meaning, without reference to anything outside of the document (“extrinsic evidence”), such as the circumstances surrounding its writing or the history of the party signing it. If possible a document should be construed based on what lies within its four corners, unless such examination cannot solve an ambiguity in its language.

Framing

The act of displaying another company’s web page within a bordered area of a website — similar to the “picture-in-picture” feature offered on some televisions. For example, when a user enters a search engine request, the search engine might display the contents of an online store within the search engine’s website, framed by the search engine’s text and logos. When a web page is framed within another website, the URL or domain name of the framed web page is not displayed and users are not able to bookmark that site.

Franchise

1) n. a right granted by the government to a person or corporation, such as a taxi permit, bus route, an airline’s use of a public airport, business license or corporate existence. 2) n. the right to vote in a public election. 3) v. to grant (for a periodic fee or share of profits) the right to operate a business or sell goods or services under a brand or chain name. Well-known franchise operations include McDonald’s, Holiday Inns, Ace Hardware, Rexall Drug Stores, and Amway Distributors. 4) n. the right one has to operate a store or sell goods or services under a franchise agreement, as in “we have the Taco Bell franchise in our town.” 5) adj. referring to a “franchise tax” which is placed on businesses (especially corporations) for the right to conduct business, as distinguished from a tax on property, income or profits tax.

Franchise tax

n. a state tax on corporations or businesses.

Fraternal benefit society benefits

These are benefits, often group life insurance, paid for by fraternal societies to their members. Elks, Masons or Knights of Columbus are common fraternal societies that provide benefits. Also called benefit society, benevolent society or mutual aid association benefits. Under bankruptcy laws, these benefits are virtually always considered exempt property.

Fraud

n. the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right. A party who has lost something due to fraud is entitled to file a lawsuit for damages against the party acting fraudulently, and the damages may include punitive damages as a punishment or public example due to the malicious nature of the fraud. Quite often there are several persons involved in a scheme to commit fraud and each and all may be liable for the total damages. Inherent in fraud is an unjust advantage over another which injures that person or entity. It includes failing to point out a known mistake in a contract or other writing (such as a deed), or not revealing a fact which he/she has a duty to communicate, such as a survey which shows there are only 10 acres of land being purchased and not 20 as originally understood. Constructive fraud can be proved by a showing of breach of legal duty (like using the trust funds held for another in an investment in one’s own business) without direct proof of fraud or fraudulent intent. Extrinsic fraud occurs when deceit is employed to keep someone from exercising a right, such as a fair trial, by hiding evidence or misleading the opposing party in a lawsuit. Since fraud is intended to employ dishonesty to deprive another of money, property or a right, it can also be a crime for which the fraudulent person(s) can be charged, tried and convicted. Borderline overreaching or taking advantage of another’s naiveté involving smaller amounts is often overlooked by law enforcement, which suggests the victim seek a “civil remedy” (i.e., sue). However, increasingly fraud, which has victimized a large segment of the public (even in individually small amounts), has become the target of consumer fraud divisions in the offices of district attorneys and attorneys general.

Fraud in the inducement

n. the use of deceit or trick to cause someone to act to his/her disadvantage, such as signing an agreement or deeding away real property. The heart of this type of fraud is misleading the other party as to the facts upon which he/she will base his/her decision to act

Fraudulent conveyance

n. the transfer (conveyance) of title to real property for the express purpose of putting it beyond the reach of a known creditor. In such a case the creditor may bring a lawsuit to void the transfer. However, if the transfer was made without knowledge of the claim (or before a debt has matured), for other legitimate reasons, and/or in the normal course of business, then the creditor’s attempt to obtain a judgment setting aside the conveyance will probably fail.

Fraudulent transfer

In a bankruptcy case, a transfer of property to another for less than the property’s value for the purpose of hiding the property from the bankruptcy trustee — for instance, when a debtor signs a car over to a relative to keep it out of the bankruptcy estate. Fraudulently transferred property can be recovered and sold by the trustee for the benefit of the creditors.

Free and clear

adj. referring to the ownership of real property upon which there is no lien, encumbrance, recorded judgment or the right of anyone to make a claim against the property. The term is used in contracts for sale of real property and deeds, to state that the title has no claim against it.

Freehold

n. any interest in real property which is a life estate or of uncertain or undetermined duration (having no stated end), as distinguished from a leasehold which may have declining value toward the end of a long-term lease (such as the 99-year variety).

Freeze-out

Majority shareholders in a company using their power to deprive one or more minority shareholders of their role in governing the company. This is done to force the minority shareholders to sell their stock at a reduced price and exit the company.

Fresh pursuit

n. immediate chase of a suspected criminal by a law enforcement officer, in which situation the officer may arrest the suspect without a warrant. It can also refer to chasing a suspect or escaped felon into a neighboring jurisdiction in an emergency, as distinguished from entering another jurisdiction with time to alert law enforcement people in that area. Example: when a deputy sheriff from Montgomery County pursues a car driven by a suspected bank robber into Baltimore County (in which he normally has no power to enforce the law), the doctrine of fresh pursuit allows him/her to make the arrest. It is also called hot pursuit.

Friendly suit

A lawsuit brought by two parties, not as adversaries, but as collaborators in order to resolve a legal question that affects them both. For example, two companies might bring a friendly suit to court in order to clarify a legal interpretation of a contract between them.

Friendly witness

A witness whom you have called to testify, and whom you may not cross-examine. If the witness testifies in a way that hurts your case, you can ask the judge to declare him a “hostile witness,” which means that you can begin to cross-examine him with leading questions.

Frisk

v. quickly patting down the clothes of a possible criminal suspect to determine if there is a concealed weapon. This police action is generally considered legal (constitutional) without a search warrant. Generally it is preferred that women officers frisk women and men officers frisk men.

Frivolous

adj. referring to a legal move in a lawsuit clearly intended merely to harass, delay or embarrass the opposition. Frivolous acts can include filing the lawsuit itself, a baseless motion for a legal ruling, an answer of a defendant to a complaint which does not deny, contest, prove or controvert anything, or an appeal which contains not a single arguable basis (by any stretch of the imagination) for the appeal. A frivolous lawsuit, motion or appeal can result in a successful claim by the other party for payment by the frivolous suer of their attorneys’ fees for defending the case. Judges are reluctant to find an action frivolous, based on the desire not to discourage people from using the courts to resolve disputes.

Frolic

An employee detour that is so far removed from the purposes of employment that the employer will not be liable for any injury he causes while on the trip. For example, the U.S. Postal Service would not have been responsible for any injuries caused by Seinfeld’s Newman and Kramer when they used a U.S. Postal Service truck to cart bottles to Michigan for recycling.

Fruit of the poisonous tree

n. in criminal law, the doctrine that evidence discovered due to information found through illegal search or other unconstitutional means (such as a forced confession) may not be introduced by a prosecutor. The theory is that the tree (original illegal evidence) is poisoned and thus taints what grows from it. For example, as part of a coerced admission made without giving a prime suspect the so-called “Miranda warnings” (statement of rights, including the right to remain silent and what he/she says will be used against them), the suspect tells the police the location of stolen property. Since the admission cannot be introduced as evidence in trial, neither can the stolen property.

Frustration of purpose

n. sometimes called commercial frustration, when unexpected events arise which make a contract impossible to be performed, entitling the frustrated party to rescind the contract without paying damages.

Fugitive from justice

n. a person convicted or accused of a crime who hides from law enforcement in the state or flees across state lines to avoid arrest or punishment.Governors are required to “deliver up” and return any fugitives from justice to the state where they allegedly committed the crime, a process called extradition.

Full disclosure

n. the need in business transactions to tell the “whole truth” about any matter which the other party should know in deciding to buy or contract. In real estate sales in many states there is a full disclosure form which must be filled out and signed under penalty of perjury for knowingly falsifying or concealing any significant fact.

Full faith and credit

“Full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Thus, a judgment in a lawsuit or a criminal conviction rendered in one state shall be recognized and enforced in any other state, so long as the original judgment was reached by due process of law. Each state has a process for obtaining an enforceable judgment based on a “foreign” (out-of-state) judgment.

Funding a trust

Transferring ownership of property to a trust.

Fungible things

n. sometimes merely called “fungibles,” goods which are interchangeable, often sold or delivered in bulk, since any one of them is as good as another. Grain or gravel are fungibles, as are securities which are identical.

Future interest

A right to property that cannot be enforced in the present, but only at some time in the future. For example, John’s will leaves his house to his sister Marian, but only after the death of his wife, Hillary. Marian has a future interest in the house.