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Let's say I want to

  1. Create a taxi-like service that avoids requiring medallion
  2. Create a hotel-like service that can avoid zoning and insurance laws
  3. Create a tax scheme involving moving money in interesting ways so that I can pay less taxes
  4. Refuse to decorate a cake with offensive-to-me decoration

From what I know of US law, you can get a lawyer to advise you (and if the offence is criminal, that may help lower the penalty). However, if after preforming the action, the state decides that what you did is against the law, you can still get in trouble.

Are there jurisdictions where I can go to a court with my proposal for what I plan to do, argue for it, and receive a binding judgement? By binding, I mean of similar strength of common Double jeopardy rules. That way, if later I get sued I can show a previous court ruling stating that what I am doing is fine.

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    Comment because it is not a court, but for the tax question in the USA, a taxpayer can request a private letter ruling from the IRS. It is a process and has a cost, and a PLR is applicable only to that taxpayer for that situation. Others cannot rely on it.
    – Damila
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 13:40
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaratory_judgment But courts do not usually entertain purely hypothetical situations, because the world is chaotic and your proposal however detailed is extremely unlikely to contain all possible actions you'll undertake or situations.
    – xngtng
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 14:26
  • Laws are also numerous and even the strongest criminal double jeopardy rules usually do not completely preclude a lawsuit on different grounds.
    – xngtng
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 14:29
  • The problem with applying Double Jeopardy to civil matters is that Double Jeopardy doesn't apply in the case of being prosecuted by different sovereigns (i.e. different states, or a state and the federal government). Generally speaking, there is an analog of Double Jeopardy that applies in civil cases (res judicata), but if it only applies when the same person sues you, it's not very useful. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 22:53

3 Answers 3

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Yes

The status of advisory opinions varies across the world.

US Federal courts are prohibited from giving them, but some state courts can and do, albeit rarely. Courts in Australia can’t, but those in Canada can.

Many international tribunals can be asked for them including the International Criminal Court and the European Human Rights Court.

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Processes vary greatly from country to country on this matter.

In the U.S., most courts (including the federal courts) cannot issue advisory opinions that are binding, subject to some narrow exceptions in fact patterns different from those you are envisioning.

But, if there is a "bona fide dispute" involving an actual case or controversy between two or more well defined parties, it is sometimes possible to get a declaratory judgment from a court regarding what a law means, or the meaning of contract.

For example, if you are in a position where you have no choice but to administer a law one way or the other in a particular upcoming case, you can usually ask a court for guidance.

Also, some administrative agencies can enter into binding agreements with citizens regarding how it will treat a particular activity (the comments give the example that is typical of the IRS issuing a private letter ruling to a taxpayer) in advance.

Sometimes an agency charged with enforcing a law (e.g. a prosecutor's office) can likewise make a binding interpretation of the law that people to whom the binding interpretation of it are legally entitled to rely upon.

Furthermore, even when these options are not available, something called an opinion letter from an attorney in the U.S., while not binding courts in later litigation, can mitigate the harm suffered from breaking the law because you will usually be found to have acted in good faith in interpreting the law even if you are wrong, and may shift some of the exposure to monetary harm from a misinterpretation of the law to the author of the opinion letter if you are a person whose reliance on the opinion letter is expressly intended by the author of the opinion letter.

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If you have a business idea and feel that a competitor might be unhappy about it, the competitor would be tempted to cause maximum damage to you by letting you invest lots of money in your idea, and then sue you just when your idea starts making money. What you would want is either be sure that you won't get sued, or not invest any money.

In this situation you can ask a court for a declaratory judgement. The competitor can avoid any cost by declaring that they won't sue you, otherwise the court will have to decide whether they can sue you or not.

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