Legal English – “Sua Sponte”

Sua sponte” (Pronunciation: SOO-ah SPOHN-tay; Origin: Latin) is a Latin phrase translating to “of his, her, its or their own accord.” The phrase is used to refer to actions by an official body, such as a court, when it takes an action that is not based on a request made by another party.  That is, it takes the action without being prompted to do so by any other party.

Please note that, because the phrase is a direct foreign language borrowing, it may be appropriate to present the phrase in italics in certain contexts.

Here are some example sentences that use the phrase:

  • “Due to a number of procedural defaults, I’m going to dismiss this complaint without prejudice sua sponte. In the event that it makes its way back into court, you can raise the issues described in your latest filing then. To rule on them now would be a waste of the court’s time.”
  • “I don’t want to file the motion, but there still may be some risk of the court issuing a related order sua sponte.  We should spend some time performing research regarding whether a court is empowered to do so without a party’s request.
  • “That sua sponte dismissal saved us a significant amount of work. I guess we can put that brief on hold for now.”

When it comes to judicial actions that can be taken sua sponte, there are limits. Not all relief that can be requested by parties to a litigation can be issued on a court’s own motion. Common actions taken sua sponte include recusal (a judge may remove him or herself from a case when there is a conflict of interest) and dismissal and/or transferral of a case where there is a deficiency with respect to a necessary element creating jurisdiction for the court to hear a case.