Thursday, January 11, 2007

U.S. v. Hicks (9th Cir. - Jan. 11, 2007)

Sur-reply or surreply? (Or, for that matter, sur reply.) Which one is it?

At the bottom of page 326 in this opinion today, Judge Betty Fletcher uses "sur-reply" when describing the response of the United States to the reply brief of the defendant. Mind you, I've never filed one. But I've always thought that, if I did, I'd call it by a single word: surreply. No hyphen.

I've seen the word spelled both ways, though I always thought "surreply" was more common. But seeing Judge Fletcher use the hypenated version got me wondering whether I was right or she was right. Or whether we both were. So I tried to look it up.

Only I still don't have a definitive answer. The term isn't in Black's Law Dictionary, so no help there. (And isn't it a sign of the times that when I went to look the word up, I immediately did so by trying to grab Black's online, not realizing that my hard copy of this book was less than two feet away from me.) And people seem to file briefs and write opinions using both spellings.

There are various writs that are described by putting the "sur" in a separate word (e.g., sur cui in vita and sur disclaimer), but those merely seem derived from the Latin "sur" and so are only marginally helpful. More analogous to what we're talking about, I think, are "surrebutter" and "surrejoinder," which are, respectively, the plaintiff's answer of fact to the defendant's rebutter and rejoinder. Both of which are spelled as one word.

So, in the end, I think it's probably surreply rather than sur-reply; or, at a minimum, that the former is probably preferred to the latter. At least until someone smarter tells me otherwise.