Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Dispositive Definition:

A fact or point of law which brings about the settlement of a contested issue.

Shumaker, in reference only to dispositive facts, writes:

"DISPOSITIVE FACTS. Such as originate, transfer, or extinguish rights, known respectively as investitive, translative, and divestitive facts."

In the context of criminal law, a dispositive fact might be the proving of an alibi. In the context of civil law, proven facts might set up an absolute immunity in the context of alleged personal injury, or an absolute privilege in the context of defamatory statements.

DISPOSITIVE ROAD SIGNIn the context of patent law, note the use of the word in the following paragraph, taken from a 1996 American case, Vitronics Corp.:

"It is always necessary to review the specification to determine whether the inventor has used any terms in a manner inconsistent with their ordinary meaning. The specification acts as a dictionary when it expressly defines terms used in the claims or when it defines terms by implication.... Claims must be read in view of the specification, of which they are a part. The specification contains a written description of the invention which must be clear and complete enough to enable those of ordinary skill in the art to make and use it. Thus, the specification is always highly relevant to the claim construction analysis. Usually, it is dispositive; it is the single best guide to the meaning of a disputed term."

In the context of an appeal, where the appellate court seizes upon a dispositive issue on which they would allow the appeal for example, they may then decline to address the other issues because their one finding is conclusive in any event as to the appeal being successful and a return to the lower courts for a re-analysis; dispositive.

See, also, the examples of the use of the word dispositive in the Legal Definition of Personal Rehabilitation and the Legal Definition of Provocation.


Shumaker, Walter and Longsdorf, George F., The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary (Chicago: Callaghan and Company, 1940), page 287.

Vitronics Corp. v. Conceptronic, Inc., 90 F. 3d 1576 (1996, United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit)

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!