Glossary of Legal Terms – S





This glossary should not be relied upon as legal advice. It is provided for general informational purposes only. To properly advise on any given situation requires a knowledge of the facts surrounding that situation. Laws and the statutory definitions of terms will vary from state to state. Specific questions should be directed to an attorney licensed in your state.


Sale-leaseback:   A transaction in which the buyer leases back the property to the seller for a specified period of time.

Sales contract:   A contract signed by the buyer and sellerthat details the terms of a home purchase.

Saltbox style:   A design that dates to colonial times and takes its name from the shape of saltboxes.

Sanitary sewer:   The drain line in a house that carries away food and human wastewater to a municipal sewer system or a septic system.

Sash:   One of two windows in a double-hung window.

Schematic designs:   Renderings of floor plans and the exterior of a house.

Second mortgage:   Another loan placed upon a piece of property.

Secondary mortgage market:   A market of packaged home loans that are resold as securities to investors. Major players are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Secured loan:   Any loan backed by collateral.

Security:   Apiece of property designated as collateral.

Seller broker:   A seller broker represents the interest of the seller.

Seller carry-back:   An agreement in which the seller provides financing for a home purchase.

Seller take-back:   An agreement in which the seller provides financing for a home purchase.

Seller’s market:   A hot real estate market in which sellers have the advantage and multiple offers are common.

Semi-custom home:   The buyer of a semi-custom home is free to make some design changes but not to the home’s structural plan.

Sentence Report: A document containing background material on a convicted person. It is prepared to guide the judge in the imposition of a sentence. Sometimes called a presentence report.

Septic system:   A self-contained sewage treatment system that distributes wastewater to an underground storage area and relies on bacterial action to decompose solid waste matter.

Sequester: To separate. Sometimes juries are separated from outside influences during their deliberations. For example, this may occur during a highly publicized trial.

Sequestration of Witnesses: Keeping all witnesses (except plaintiff and defendant) out of the courtroom except for their time on the stand, and cautioning them not to discuss their testimony with other witnesses. Also called separation of witnesses. This prevents a witness from being influenced by the testimony of a prior witness.

Serentil: An antipsychotic drug for schizophrenics. Serentil® has been associated with other drugs that may cause cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death.

Service Mark: Any word, name, symbol, character, design, drawing or device used to identify services rendered and to distinguish them from services rendered or offered by others.

Service of Process: Providing a formal notice to the defendant that orders him/her to appear in court to answer plaintiff’s allegations.

Service: The delivery of a legal document, such as a complaint, summons, or subpoena, notifying a person of a lawsuit or other legal action taken against him or her. Service, which constitutes formal legal notice, must be made by an officially authorized person in accordance with the formal requirements of the applicable laws.

Servicer:   A firm that collects mortgage payments and manages borrowers’ escrow accounts.

Serzone: A prescription medication used to treat depression. Cases of life-threatening liver failure have been reported in patients treated with

Setback:   The minimum distance a house or buildings must be from the lot line.

Setoff: A creditor’s right to keep debtor’s money that they have in their possession in order to apply it to a pre-petition debt owed by the debtor.

Settlement statement:   A document that details who has paid what to whom.

Settlement: An agreement between the parties disposing of a lawsuit.

Settlor: The person who sets up a trust. Also called the grantor.

Sever: The separation of a case into two separate trials of a case where two or more defendants have been named in the same criminal indictment or information; the removal of one or more claims in a civil lawsuit so that such claims may be tried separately.

Several Liability: Liability separate and distinct from the liability of another which is sufficient to support a lawsuit without reference to anyone else’s liability.

Severance of Actions: Judicial proceeding separating the claims of multiple parties and permitting separate actions on each one or some combination of them.

Shared-appreciation mortgage:   A loan that allows a lender or other party to share in the borrower’s profits when the home is sold.

Shared-equity transaction:   A transaction in which two buyers purchase a property, one as a resident co-owner and the other as an investor co-owner.

Shed ceiling:   A shed ceiling pitches upward at one end.

Shed roof:   A shed roof pitches up longer on one side than the other.

Shingle style:   An alternative style of Victorian homes that evolved in the late 19th century to simplify the complexity of the traditional Victorian house.

Shingles:   Thin, wedge-shaped pieces of wood or flat rectangular pieces of slate, mineral fiber, glass fiber or composition asphalt installed on a roof to prevent water seepage.

Shoe molding:   An unobtrusive finish trim between the floor and the baseboard designed to hide any irregularities in the seam between the floor and wall or baseboard.

Show Cause Order: An order issuing from the court requiring a party to appear and demonstrate why certain relief should or should not be granted.

Sidebar: A conference between the judge and lawyers, usually in the courtroom, out of earshot of the jury and spectators.

Sill cock:   An exterior threaded faucet connection for garden hoses that provides water outside a home.

Sill plate:   A horizontal piece of wood placed on top of the foundation.

Skylight:   A window in a roof that allows natural light to illuminate a room.

Slab foundation:   A foundation built directly on soil with no basement or crawl space.

Slander: False and defamatory spoken words tending to harm another’s reputation, business, or means of livelihood. Slander is spoken defamation; libel is published.

Slider window:   A window that is composed of two windows, or sashes, that glide open and closed on a metal track.

Small Claims Court: A court that handles civil claims for small amounts of money. People often represent themselves rather than hire an attorney.

Social Host Liability: The liability of a person (the “social host”) who furnishes free alcoholic beverages to another (the “guest”), when the guest subsequently sustains injuries or causes injury to a third person because of his intoxication.

Soffit:   An external area under the overhang of a roof.

Soils test:   A test of the subsoil to ensure that foundations can be safely constructed.

Sole custody: One parent has the complete physical and legal custody of the children.

Sovereign Immunity: The doctrine that the government, state or federal, is immune to lawsuit unless it gives its consent.

Spanish Mission style:   A design that is derived from the original missions established by the Spanish in the Southwest.

Spastic Cerebral Palsy: A form of cerebral palsy that causes tightness in the muscles. Because of this tightness, spastic cerebral palsy patients have a difficult time controlling their movement.

Special assessmen:t   When a homeowners’ association needs or wants extra funds, it levies a special assessment upon the owners.

Special deposit account:   Rehabilitation mortgages require a special deposit account from which restoration and remodeling funds included in the loan are disbursed to the appropriate contractors as work is completed.

Special Jurisdiction: Power of a court to deal with only a limited type of case.

Specific Loss: In a workers’ compensation case, this is the compensation payable for loss (amputation) or permanent loss of use of members of the body, complete loss of hearing in one or both ears, loss of vision in one or both eyes, and disfigurement.

Specific Performance: A remedy requiring a person who has breached a contract to perform specifically what he or she has agreed to do. Specific performance is ordered when damages would be inadequate compensation.

Specifications:   The written requirements for materials, equipment, construction systems and standards.

SPECT: SPECT or Single Photon Emission Tomography produces a computerized image of the brain through utilization of radioactive isotopes. SPECT does not generally produce an image of the same quality as that produced by PET. Nonetheless, SPECT scanning can be an effective diagnostic tool.

Speculation home:   A home that has been built without a buyer.

Speech therapy: Therapy used to increase communication skills. It may also include teaching sign language or using a communication device.

Speedy Trial: The rule of law arising under the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution or under state constitutions mandating that a person accused of a crime be discharged in the event the prosecuting authorities fail to bring him/her to trial within certain specified periods of time.

Spendthrift provision: A trust with restrictions on alienation designed to protect the fund from dissipation by the beneficiary or seizure by the beneficiary’s creditors.

Spendthrift Trust: A trust set up for the benefit of someone who the grantor believes would be incapable of managing his or her own financial affairs.

Splash block:   A slanted block used to divert runoff water from a downspout away from the foundation.

Split-level style:   A home that is a ranch-style house stacked to fit on a smaller lot and perhaps to accommodate a garage.

Spoliation: Generally, the destruction of evidence.

Spouse: Husband or wife.

Square footage:   The number of square feet of livable space in a home or building.

Stack or Stacking: Purchasers of insurance have the option to “stack” uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. If you choose “stacking,” this means that you can add the coverage together for each vehicle you have insured, at least under the policy. (An issue presently exists as to whether you can “stack” coverage’s under separate policies of insurance.) For example, if you have two vehicles, with $100,000/$300,000 (meaning $100,000 available per person, and $300,000 available per accident) in uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, you can “stack” the coverage’s and have available $200,000/$600,000 in coverage.

Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area:   Areas designated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget that contain a city of 50,000 or more.

Standard Of Care: That which a reasonably prudent person would do under the same circumstances. Failure to comply with the standard of care will render a party liable for damages to an injured party.

Standard of Proof or Burden of Proof: Degree of proof required in a specific kind of case to prevail. In the majority of civil cases, it is proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

Standard payment calculation:   A calculation that is used to determine the monthly payment necessary to repay the balance of a home loan in equal installments.

Standing: The legal right to bring a lawsuit. Only a person with something at stake has standing to bring a lawsuit.

Stare Decisis: Policy of the courts to not overturn precedents; adherence to precedents.

Starter home:   Homes that fall within the lower price range of a typical first-time buyer.

Statement of intentions: A document that the debtor files at the commencement of a bankruptcy case describing what he or she intends to do with secured assets.

Status Offenders: Youths charged with the status of being beyond the control of their legal guardian or are habitually disobedient, truant from school, or having committed other acts that would not be a crime if committed by an adult. They are not delinquents (in that they have committed no crime), but rather are persons in need of supervision, minors in need of supervision, or children in need of supervision, depending on the state in which they live. Status offenders are placed under the supervision of the juvenile court.

Statute of Frauds: The requirement that certain types of contracts be in writing to be enforceable. Examples of such contracts include; contracts for the purchase or sale of land and agreements which by their terms cannot be performed within one year.

Statute Of Limitations: A statute that fixes the time within which a lawsuit on a claim must be filed, and beyond which, it will be forever barred.

Statute: An act, code or rule enacted by the legislature and adopted as law.

Statutory Construction: Process by which a court seeks to interpret the meaning and scope of legislation.

Statutory Law: Law enacted by the legislative branch of government, as distinguished from case law or common law.

Statutory lien: Lien arising solely by force of a statute on specified circumstances or conditions.

Stay: A temporary suspension of legal proceedings by court order.

Steel framing:   A construction method used by commercial and residential builders.

Step-rate mortgage:   A loan that allows a gradual increase in the interest rate during the first few years of the loan.

Stipulation: An agreement by attorneys on both sides of a civil or criminal case about some aspect of the case; e.g., to extend the time to answer, to adjourn the trial date, or to admit certain facts at the trial.
Straight bankruptcy: Chapter 7 bankruptcy in which debts are discharged, non-exempt property is liquidated and there is no extended payment plan involved.

Storm sewer:   A drain line, which is not connected to the sewer line, removes all other wastewater from a home.

Storm windows:   Sets of windows and screens that are installed on older double-hung windows.

Straight purchase:   A transaction in which the buyer gives a new-home builder a deposit to begin building and the balance when the sale of the house closes.

Strict Construction: Judicial interpretation of the law whereby the judge adheres to the literal meaning of the words. Compare with liberal construction which expands the literal meaning of the statute to meet cases that are clearly within the spirit or reason of the law.

Strict Liability: Liability that arises without the necessity of first showing fault or negligence. For example, many states impose strict liability on the owners of animals that cause damage or injury.

Strike plate:   The metal part of a lock that is anchored to the doorframe and holds the door closed.

Strike: Highlighting in the record of a case, evidence that has been improperly offered and will not be relied upon.

Stroke: Damage to a part of the brain when its blood supply is suddenly reduced or stopped. This stoppage in blood flow can occur as the result of a blood vessel becoming blocked or bursting inside the brain. The part of the brain deprived of blood dies and can no longer function.

Stucco:   A mixture of sand and cement used to cover the exterior surface or interior walls of a home or building.

Studs:   The upright pieces of lumber or steel in a wall to which panels, siding, drywall or other coverings are attached.

Sua Sponte: A Latin phrase which means on one’s own behalf. Voluntary, without prompting or suggestion.

Sub Judice: Under consideration by the court.

Subagent:   When an agent brings a buyer to a property, they in effect act as a subagent to the listing agent.

Subcontractor:   Specialty construction companies hired by the general contractor to perform certain tasks.

Subdivision:   The process in which the owner of a large piece of property divides it into smaller parcels.

Sub-flooring:   The sheathing, usually made of plywood, placed on top of floor joists and covered by flooring.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction: The court’s power to deal with the general subject matter involved in a case. For example, a bankruptcy court judge has no subject matter jurisdiction to hear a divorce case.

Subordinate loan:   A second or third mortgage.

Subordination Agreement: An agreement establishing the priority of payment of claims, whereby a creditor may agree that claims of other creditors are discharged before payment is made to the subordinated creditor.

Subornation of Perjury: Procuring someone to make a false statement under oath.
Subpoena: A legal document issued by the court ordering a person to appear as specified and give testimony and/or produce evidence.

Subpoena Duces Tecum: Command to produce some document or paper.

Subrogation: Substitution of one person for another, giving the substitute the same legal rights as the original party. For example, an insurance company may have a right of subrogation to sue anyone whom the person it compensated had a right to sue.

Substantial abuse: The characterization of a bankruptcy case filed by an individual whose debts are primarily consumer debts and where the court finds that the granting of relief would be an abuse under the chapter 7 laws because the debtor can pay its debts.

Substantive consolidation: Putting the assets and liabilities of two or more related debtors into a single pool to pay creditors.

Substantive law: The body of law that creates, defines and regulates right. Compare with procedural law which prescribes the manner to enforce rights or obtaining redress for invasion of rights.

Sue: The act of bringing a lawsuit.

Sui Juris: One who is competent and of the age of majority.

Suit or Lawsuit: Generally, a court action brought by one person, the plaintiff, against another, the defendant , seeking compensation for some injury or enforcement of a right.

Summary Judgment: A judgment issued by the court before trial based upon a finding that there are no disputed issues of fact and that the applicable law compels a certain result.

Summary Proceeding: An expedited proceeding under simplified rules, allowing the case to proceed to hearing quickly. Landlord-tenant matters are typically the subject of summary proceedings.

Summation: The closing argument of the parties.

Summons: Formal document beginning a civil action or special proceeding which is a means to gain jurisdiction over a party. Also, a document directed to a sheriff or other authorized person ordering him to serve the person named on the summons who must appear at a certain place and time to respond to the action.

Sump pump:   A pump that moves water from a basement sump pit.

Supersedeas: A writ from a superior court suspending the power of a lower court to issue an execution upon a judgment issued by it.

Supervised visitation: Visitation by a parent with his child while another adult (other than the custodial parent) is present.

Supplemental Agreement: In a workers’ compensation case, this is the form signed by the injured employee when there has been a change in disability status.

Supplier of Goods: In products liability law, all parties in the chain of supply of a product for profit, including manufacturers, sellers, and dealers.

Support Trust: A trust that instructs the trustee to spend only as much income and principal (the assets held in the trust) as needed for the beneficiary’s support.

Supress: To exclude evidence based on a violation of constitutional rights, rule of law or procedure.

Surety Bond: A bond purchased at the expense of the estate to insure the executor’s proper performance. Often called a fidelity bond.

Survey:   A precise measurement of a piece of property by a licensed surveyor.

Survival Action: A survival action is brought by the administrator of a deceased person’s estate in order to recover loss to the estate resulting from a tort. A survival action continues in the decedent’s personal representative a right of action which accrued to the decedent at common law because of a tort. A survival action, unlike a wrongful death action, is not a new cause of action. Where death is caused by negligence, both a survival action and a wrongful death action may be brought.

Survival Statutes: Statutory law that provides for a legal action to continue after the death of a person involved in the action.

Survivorship: Another name for joint tenancy.

Sustain: A court ruling upholding an objection or a motion.

Sweat equity:   The non-cash value put into a piece of property by the owner, such as do-it-yourself home improvements.