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Last Modified: November 17, 2022

De Facto

The literal translation of “de facto” is “according to fact.” Often vaguely interpreted as “indeed” or “in fact.” However, what “de facto” actually legally describes as “an officer, a government, a past action, or a state of affairs that must be accepted for all practical purposes, but is illegal or illegitimate.” “A recognition of authority even when legal or formal requirements have not been met” (Nolo Law). De Facto is based on authority. Something could be classified as “de facto” through failure to fulfill the criteria for a position, special circumstances that require desperate (if unauthorized) action, and/or a deliberate take over of an office or duty.

Example Sentence

Because of how busy he was, Mr. Tipman never formally filed for his company to become a corporation making it a de facto corporation.

Case Study

The infamous Jim Crow Laws that were enacted in the Reconstruction Era as a stealthy replacement for the n-illegal Black Codes sought to reinforce the discriminatory status quo that existed in much of the post-Civil War South through racial segregation. Although mistreatment of Black Americans in the name of the law was no longer an option, the separation of races (and the consequent strengthening of the existing race-based caste system) sustained de facto racism. The “separate but equal” doctrine upon which Jim Crow Laws were based was rooted partly in the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson which upheld segregation.  However, this doctrine was eventually overturned in Brown v. Board of Education, which determined that the de facto racism perpetuated by Jim Crow Laws was the same as official racism and that segregation was directly opposed to the legal equality that Black citizens were entitled to.

Other Important Information

This term is rarely used in most cases, especially personal injury ones. It applies more to government and leadership. However, it may apply to a corporation that fails to formally follow all the laws in creating a corporation. The court may treat a de facto corporation the same as a legitimate corporation to protect those involved with the corporation that in good faith thought it was an actual corporation. There may also be de facto laws that are not found anywhere in writing, but that nearly everyone follows.

Written by Utah’s Personal Injury Lawyers