Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported. Although case citations are formatted differently in different jurisdictions, they generally contain the same key information.
Where cases are published in paper form the citation will usually contain:
In some report series, for example in England and Australia, the volumes are not numbered independently of the year: thus the year and volume number (usually no greater than 4) are required to identify which book of the series has the case reported within its covers. In citations of this type it is usual in these jurisdictions for square brackets "[year]" to be applied to the year (which may not be the year that the case was decided: for example, a case decided in December 2001 may have been reported in 2002).
The Internet brought with it the opportunity for courts to publish their decisions on web sites. Decisions of many courts from all over the world can now be found through the website WorldLII and its member institutes.
Most decisions of courts are not published in printed law reports. The expense of typesetting and publishing them has limited the printed law reports to the significant cases. Internet publishing of court decisions resulted in a flood of information. The result was that a medium-neutral citation system had to be adopted. This usually contains the following information:
Rather than utilizing page numbers for pin-point references, which would depend upon particular printers and browsers, pin-point quotes refer to paragraph numbers.
The standard case citation format in Australia is:
|Style of cause||(year of decision)||[year of report]||volume||report||(series)||page|
|Mabo v Queensland (No 2)||(1992)||175||CLR||1.|
Like in Canada, there has been divergence between citation styles. There exists commercial citation guides published by Butterworths and other legal publishing companies, academic citation styles and court citation styles. Each court in Australia may cite the same cases slightly differently. There is presently a movement in convergence to the comprehensive academic citation style of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation published by the Melbourne University Law Review.
|AAR||Administrative Appeals Reports||-|
|ALJR||Australian Law Journal Reports||-|
|ALR||Australian Law Reports||1983 -|
|CLR||Commonwealth Law Reports||1903 -|
|FLC||Family Law Cases|
|FLR||Federal Law Reports||-|
|NSWLR||New South Wales Law Reports||-|
|Qld R||Queensland Reports||-|
|SASR||South Australian State Reports||-|
Australian courts and tribunals have now adopted a neutral citation standard for case law. The format provides a naming system that does not depend on the publication of the case in a law report. Most cases are now published on AustLII using neutral citations.
The standard format looks like this:
|Year of decision||Court identifier||Ordinal number|
So the above mentioned Mabo case would then be cited like this:  HCA 23.
There is a unique court identifier code for most courts. The court and tribunal identifiers include:
|HCA||High Court of Australia|
|FCA||Federal Court of Australia|
|FCAFC||Federal Court of Australia - Full Court (Appeals bench)|
|FamCA||Family Court of Australia|
|FMCA||Federal Magistrates' Court of Australia|
|FMCAfam||Federal Magistrates' Court of Australia, family law decisions|
|AAT||Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia|
There are a number of citation standards in Canada. Many legal publishing companies and schools have their own practice for citation. Since the late 1990s, however, there has been a convergence among much of legal community to a single standard which has been formulated in the "The Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation", known as the "McGill Guide" after the McGill Law Journal that first published it. The following format reflects this standard.
The standard case citation in Canada looks like this:
The format can be broken into its component parts:
|Style of cause||(year of decision),||[year of report]||volume||report||(series)||page||jurisdiction/court|
|R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd.,||||1||S.C.R.||295.|
|R. v. Oakes,||||1||S.C.R.||103.|
|Re Canada Trust Co. and O.H.R.C.||(1990),||69||D.L.R.||(4th)||321||(Ont. C.A.).|
The Style of Cause is italicized as in all other countries and the party names are separated by "v." (English) or "c." (French). Prior to 1984 the appellant party would always be named first. However, since then case names do not switch order when the case is appealed.
Undisclosed parties to a case are represented by initials (e.g. R. v. R.D.S.). Criminal cases are prosecuted by the Crown which is always represented by "R." for Regina (queen) or Rex (king). Constitutional references are always entitled "Reference re" followed by the subject title.
Usually either the year of the decision or the year of the report is cited, but not usually both. Only if they are different years can they both be cited at the same time. If they are the same, one should always use the report year.
Where available cases should be cited with their neutral citation immediately after the style of cause and preceding the print citation. For example,
This format was introduced in 2006. Prior to this format, the opposite order of parallel citation was used.
|Admin. L.R.||Administrative Law Reports||1983–1991|
|Admin. L.R. (2d)||Administrative Law Reports (second series)||1992–1998|
|Admin. L.R. (3d)||Administrative Law Reports (third series)||1999 -|
|A.N.W.T.Y.T.R.||Alberta, Northwest Territories & Yukon Tax Reporter||1973 -|
|A.C.W.S.||All Canada Weekly Summaries||1970–1979|
|A.C.W.S. (2d)||All Canada Weekly Summaries (second series)||1980–1986|
|A.R.||Alberta Reports||1976 -|
|C.C.L.T. (2d)||Canadian Cases on the Law of Torts|
|D.L.R.||Dominion Law Reports|
|D.L.R. (2d)||Dominion Law Reports (second series)|
|D.L.R. (3d)||Dominion Law Reports (third series)||- 1984|
|D.L.R. (4th)||Dominion Law Reports (fourth series)||1984 -|
|F.C.R.||Federal Court Reports||1971 -|
|N.B.R. (2d)||New Brunswick Reports||1969 -|
|N.S.R. (2d)||Nova Scotia Reports||1969 -|
|O.R. (3d)||Ontario Reports||1986 -|
|S.C.R.||Supreme Court Reports||1970 -|
|W.W.R.||Western Weekly Reports||1911–1950, 1971 -|
|W.W.R.(N.S.)||Western Weekly Reports (New Series)||1950–1971|
In 1999 the Canadian Judicial Council adopted a neutral citation standard for case law. The format provides a naming system that does not depend on the publication of the case in a law report.
The standard format look like this:
|Year of decision||Court identifier||Ordinal number|
There is a unique court identifier code for most courts. There are a few courts in Quebec and Ontario that have yet to adopt the system. A list of the court identifiers include:
|Court Identifier||Court||from year|
|SCC||Supreme Court of Canada||2000|
|FCT||Federal Court of Canada - Trial Division||2001|
|FCA||Federal Court of Canada - Appeal Division||2001|
|TCC||Tax Court of Canada||2003|
|CMAC||Court Martial Appeal Court|
|Comp. Trib.||Competition Tribunal of Canada|
|BCCA||British Columbia Court of Appeal|
|BCSC||Supreme Court of British Columbia|
|BCPC||Provincial Court of British Columbia|
|BCHRT||British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal|
|BCSECCOM||British Columbia Securities Commission|
|ONCA||Ontario Court of Appeal|
|QCCA||Quebec Court of Appeal|
The standard case citation format in England and Wales is:
|Style of cause||(year of decision),||[year of report]||volume||report||(series)||page||jurisdiction/court|
|Donoghue v Stevenson,||||A.C.||562||(H.L.).|
|R v Dudley and Stephens,||(1884)||14||Q.B.D.||273.|
In England and Wales as with certain Commonwealth countries, the abbreviation "R" for rex (king) or regina (queen), is used for cases in which the state is a party (typically criminal cases or judicial review cases).
Square brackets "[ ]" are used when the year is essential to locating the report (e.g. the official law reports either - as with Donoghue v Stevenson, above - do not have volume numbers or, if there are multiple volumes in a single year, they are numbered 1, 2, etc.). Round brackets "( )" are used when the year is not essential but is useful for information purposes, e.g. in reports which have a cumulative volume number such as R v Dudley and Stevens, above.
The term "reporter", meaning a law report or a series of them, is not widely used in England and Wales.
Before 1865, English courts used a large number of privately-printed reports, and cases were cited based on which report they appeared in. (This system was also used in the United States and other common law jurisdictions during that period).
In 1865, many English cases were reprinted in a set of volumes called English Reports, abbreviated E.R. Between 1865 and 1875, decisions were published in a single series of law reports simply known as the "Law Reports" (L.R).
Since 1875 the official law reports have been split into a number of different series, the current series being the Appeal Cases (A.C.), Chancery (Ch.), Family (Fam.) and Queen's Bench (Q.B.) (or King's Bench—K.B.—depending on the monarch of the time). These 4 series are cited in preference to all others in court. There are two main unofficial law reports which report all areas of law, the Weekly Law Reports (W.L.R.) and the All England Reports (All E.R.). In addition there are a number of unofficial specialist law reports which focus on a particular area, e.g. the Entertainment and Media Law Reports (E.M.L.R.) or the Criminal Appeal Reports (Cr. App. R.). See the table below for a list of the most common current and past law reports.
|A. & E.||Admiralty and Ecclesiastical (L.R.)||1865 -|
|A.C.||Appeal Cases (L.R.)||1890 -|
|All E.R.||All England Law Reports||1936 -|
|B.C.L.C.||Butterworths Company Law Cases||1983 -|
|B.H.R.C.||Butterworths Human Rights Cases||1996 -|
|B.M.L.R.||Butterworths Medico-Legal Reports||???? -|
|C.C.R.||Criminal Cases Reserved (L.R.)||1865–1875|
|Ch.||Chancery (L.R.)||1891 -|
|Ch. App.||Chancery Appeal (L.R.)||1865–1874|
|Ch. D.||Chancery Division (L.R.)||1875–1890|
|Con. L.R.||Construction Law Reports||1985 -|
|C.P.||Common Pleas (L.R.)||1865–1876|
|Cr. App. Rep.||Criminal Appeal Reports||1987 -|
|E.C.H.R.||European Court of Human Rights Cases||1960 -|
|E.G.L.R.||Estates Gazette Law Reports||1975 -|
|Eq.||Equity Cases (L.R.)||1865–1875|
|Ex. D.||Exchequer Division (L.R.)||1875–1890|
|F.C.R.||Family Court Reports||1987 -|
|G.C.C.R.||Goode Consumer Credit Reports||1882 -|
|H.L.||House of Lords (L.R.)||1866–1875|
|I.R.L.R.||Industrial Relations Law Reports||1972 -|
|I.P. & T.||Butterworths Intellectual Property and Technology Cases||1999 -|
|J.P.||Justice of the Peace Law Reports||2003 -|
|I.T.L.R.||International Tax Law Reports||1998 -|
|L.G.R.||Butterworths Local Government Reports||1997 -|
|L.R.C.||Law Reports of the Commonwealth||1995 -|
|O.P.L.R.||Occupational Pensions Law Reports||1992 -|
|P. & D.||Probate and Family||1850 -|
|P.C.||Privy Council (L.R.)||1865–1874|
|P.L.R.||Estates Gazette Planning Law Reports||1988 -|
|Q.B.||Queen's Bench (L.R.)||1952 -|
|Q.B.D.||Queen's Bench Division (L.R.)||1875–1890|
|R.P.C.||Reports of Patent Cases||1939 -|
|S.T.C.||Simon's Tax Cases||1973 -|
|T.C.||Official Tax Case Reports||1883 -|
|W.L.R.||Weekly Law Reports||1953 -|
Since 2001, judgments in the House of Lords, Privy Council,
Court of Appeal and Administrative Court have been issued with
neutral citations. This system was extended to other parts of the
High Court in 2002. Judgments with neutral citations are freely
available on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute
website (www.bailii.org). Neutral citations identify judgments
independently of any series of reports, and cite only parties, year
of judgment, court and case number. For example,
Rottman v MPC  UKHL 20
identifies the 20th judgment in 2002 in the UK House of Lords. UKHL stands for UK House of Lords. EWHC and EWCA identify the England and Wales High Court and Court of Appeal respectively. These abbreviations are generally followed by an abbreviation indicating the court or division (e.g. Admin, Ch, Crim, Pat).
If a neutral citation is available for a judgment, it should immediately follow the party names. If the judgment has also been reported in a law reports series, follow the neutral citation with the 'best report', which is usually from the official Law Reports series (Appeals Cases - AC, Chancery - Ch, Family - Fam, Queen's Bench - QB etc).
The case of Rottman v MPC was reported in the Appeals
Cases, so the citation should be:
Rottman v MPC  UKHL 20,  2 AC 692.
This means that a report of the case and the judgment can be found in the 2002 volumes, vol 2, of the Law Reports series called Appeals Cases, beginning at page 692.
To cite a particular paragraph from the judgment, add the paragraph number in square brackets at the end of the citation: Rottman v MPC  UKHL 20,  2 AC 692 .
If a case is not reported in the Law Reports, the next best report is the Weekly Law Reports (e.g.  2 WLR 1315), and then the All England Reports (e.g.  2 All ER 865). In some situations, it might be preferable to cite a specialist series, eg Rottman v MPC was also cited in the Human Rights Law Reports, at  HRLR 32.
For cases before 2001, cite the best report. If referring to a particular page of the judgment, give that page number after the page number on which the report begins. The following citation refers to page 573 of the Donoghue v Stevenson judgment:
Donoghue v Stevenson  AC 562, 573.
In Germany there are two types of citation, the full citation of a case and its shortened form. In e.g. scientific articles the full citation of a particular case is only used at its first occurrence, after that its shortened form is used. In most law journals the articles themselves only use the shortened form, the full citations for all articles sometimes are summarized at the beginning of that journals edition.
The most important cases of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany are published by the court in its official collection. This collection is abbreviated "BVerfGE", whereas BVerfG is short for Bundesverfassungsgericht, the German court name, and E stands for Entscheidung (decision).
Starting in 2004, the court also publishes the "BVerfGK" collection, containing decisions made only by a Kammer, a specific part of the court.
The so-called Volkszählungsurteil for example could be cited
in full and
|official collection||volume||page of beginning||page cited||more detailed information and date||case number|
|BVerfGE||65,||1||(43),||Urteil des Ersten Senats
vom 15. Dezember 1983
[in case of a hearing:] auf die mündliche Verhandlung vom 18. und 19. Oktober 1983,
|Az. 1 BvR 209, 269, 362, 420, 440, 484/83|
For the meaning of the different case numbers of the BVerfG see the German article.
If decisions are not published by the court yet or will not be published by it at all, law journals can be cited, e.g.
Where NJW stands for the law journal Neue Juristische Wochenschrift, 2009 is the year, 1234 the page of the beginning and 1235 the cited page(s) - "f." stands for "seq.". In general, citations of the official collections are preferred.
The Katzenkönigfall e.g. would be cited
in full and
in short (in this example, not a specific page but the case as such is cited; "ff." means "sqq.").
The official collection of the Federal Social Court of Germany (Bundessozialgericht, BSG) is abbreviated BSGE.
The official collection of the Federal Finance Court of Germany (Bundesfinanzhof, BFH) is BFHE.
The official collection of the Federal Labor Court of Germany (Bundesarbeitsgericht, BAG) is BAGE.
For the other courts generally the same rules apply, though most of them do not publish an official collection, so that they have to be cited from a law journal.
India's vast federated judicial system admits to a large number of reporters, each with their own style of citation. There are over 200 law reports in India – subject-wise and state(province)-wise; authorized and unauthorized.
The official reporter for Supreme Court decisions is the Supreme Court Reports. These reports however lag behind other journals in the speed of reporting. Whilst decisions themselves are uploaded by the Supreme Court itself on www.courtnic.nic.in, the edited versions with headnotes in the official reporter take years to compile. However, some reporters have been authorised to publish the Court's decisions. The All India Reporter is an old and respected reporter that, in addition to the Supreme Court, also reports decisions of the various State High Courts. Other popular reporters include Supreme Court Cases, which has become the most cited report in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court Almanac and Judgements Today.
For instance, the case of Sebastian Hongray v. Union of India can be cited thus:
AIR 1984 SC 571 - where 'AIR' is the All India Reporter, '1984' is the year of judgement (AIR does not use a volume-based classification), 'SC' is the Supreme Court of India and '571' is the page number;
(1984) 1 SCC 339 - which corresponds to the Year (of publication), Volume (of the reporter), Supreme Court Cases (name of the reporter)and Page Number (within the volume);
1984 Cri LJ 289 (SC) - which corresponds to Year (of publication), Criminal Law Journal (name of reporter) and Page Number (within the 1984 volumes). The forum is indicated in simple parentheses.
A citation of the "Supreme Court Almanac" looks like this - Additional Secretary, Government of India v. Alka Subhash Gadia (1990) 2 Scale 1352; and, "Judgements Today" like this - Premium Granites v. State of Tamil Nadu JT (1994) 1 SC 374.
The "Supreme Court Cases (SCC)" published supplementary reports for a few years in the early 1990s. Those citations looked like this - Federation of Mining Associations v. State of Rajasthan 1992 Supp (2) SCC 239, which points to page 239 of the Second Supplementary Volume of the SCC reports in the year 1992. From 1996 the Supplementary Volumes were numbered in sequence after the regular volumes.
The SCC also have a separate series of subject-based reporting of the decisions of the Supreme Court. For instance - Rathinam Nagbhushan Patnaik v. Union of India 1994 SCC (Cri) 740, which refers to the SCC Criminal Reports, and Delhi Transport Corporation v. Mazdoor Congress 1991 SCC (L&S) 1213, which refers to the SCC Labour & Services Reports.
All India Reporter is the most popular nation-wide reporter for decisions of the High Courts. An AIR High Court citation looks like this - Surjya Kumar Das v. Maya Dutta AIR 1982 Cal 222, where 'Cal' refers to the Calcutta High Court, Kolkata. This is a uniform style for AIR High Court reports. Only the shortened indicator of the forum changes for different High Courts. The Calcutta Weekly Notes is the oldest continuously published law journal in India having uninterrupted publication since 1896 reporting reportable decisions of the High Court at Calcutta. Reports are cited in the style 105 CWN 345 where 105 refers to the Volume no. calculated at one volume per year from the initial volume published in 1896.
The standard case citation format in New Zealand is:
|Style of cause||(year of decision)||[year of reporter]||volume||reporter||page|
|Taylor v New Zealand Poultry Board||||1||NZLR||394|
|R v Howse||(2005)||21||CRNZ||823|
Several leading law reviews in New Zealand have also adopted the Australian Guide to Legal Citation such as the Canterbury Law Review. The AGLC style is also rather similar to citation style in New Zealand. This is probably to aid exchanges in academic work between both sides of the Tasman as opposed to any sort of sense of cultural inferiority.
|NZLR||New Zealand Law Reports||1881 -|
|CRNZ||Criminal Reports of New Zealand||1983 -|
|NZBORR||New Zealand Bill of Rights Reports|
|NZAR||New Zealand Administrative Reports||1976-|
|NZFLR||New Zealand Family Law Reports||1981-|
|DCR||District Court Reports||1981-|
Additionally, a number of other report series exist for specialist areas such as Family, Employment and Tax Law.
New Zealand courts and tribunals have begun to adopt a neutral citation standard for case law. The format provides a naming system that does not depend on the publication of the case in a law report. Most cases are now published on AustLII using neutral citations, although such formats are only used for Court of Appeal and Supreme Court judgments. Outside of AustLII, only the Supreme Court uses such citations in relation to its own judgments.
The standard format looks like this:
|Year of decision||Court identifier||Ordinal number|
There is a unique court identifier code only for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. These identifiers are:
|NZSC||Supreme Court of New Zealand|
|NZCA||New Zealand Court of Appeal|
Despite the long-standing civil law tradition in the Philippines, reliance on judicial precedents has become indispensable since the period of American rule. Decisions of the Supreme Court are expressly recognized as part of the internal law, and are thus cited with frequency in court decisions or legal pleadings. Even as there is only one Supreme Court in the Philippines, the citation of its decisions varies depending on which reporter of the case is relied upon.
The Philippine Reports is the official reporter of decisions of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. The standard format for citation of the Philippine Reports is:
In the last few decades, the Philippine Reports has suffered from production problems, resulting in long delays in publication, as well as significant gaps within its published series. As a result, the privately published Supreme Court Reports Annotated (published by Central Professional Books, Inc.) has become more widely used than the Philippine Reports, even by the courts. The proper format for citation of the Supreme Court Reports Annotated is:
Owing to the delays in the regular publication of the Philippine Reports, reliance on the SCRA has been tolerated, although if a case may be found at the Philippine Reports, it is preferred that the official reporter be cited in lieu of the SCRA.
When citing cases which have not yet been reported in the Philippine Reports or the SCRA, the above citation without reference to the SCRA is preferred (i.e., Fortich v. Corona, G.R. No. 131457, 24 April 1988)
As there are no official or unofficial reporters that regularly publish decisions of the Court of Appeals and other lower courts, citation of their decisions hews to the same format as cases not reported either in the Philippine Reports or the SCRA. Thus: (case name), (docket number), (Exact date of promulgation of decision).
The standard case citation formats in Scotland are:
|Name of parties||Year of decision,||Year of report||Volume||Series||Court||Page|
|HM Advocate v Megrahi,||2000||JC||555|
|McFarlane v Tayside Health Board,||2000||SC||(HL)||1|
|Forbes v Underwood,||(1886)||13||R (or 'Rettie')||465|
|Smith v Brown,||||CSIH||1|
The Supreme Court has issued a practice note on the use of neutral citation.
The standard case citation format in the United States is:
These numbers are used to find a particular case, both when looking up a case in a printed reporter and when accessing it via the Internet or services such as LexisNexis or Westlaw.
This format also allows different cases with the same parties to be easily differentiated. For example, looking for the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miller v. California would yield four cases, some involving different people named Miller, and each involving different issues.
Cases from the Supreme Court of the United States are officially printed in the United States Reports. A citation to the United States Reports looks like this:
Many court decisions are published by more than one reporter. A citation to two or more reporters for a given court decision is called a "parallel citation". For U.S. Supreme Court decisions, there are several unofficial reporters, including the Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.) and United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition (commonly known simply as Lawyer's Edition) (L. Ed.), which are printed by private companies and provide further annotations to the opinions of the Court. Although a citation to the latter two is not required, some attorneys and legal writers prefer to cite all three case reporters at once:
The "2d" after the L. Ed. signifies the second series of the Lawyers' Edition. United States case reporters are sequentially numbered, but the volume number is never higher than 999. When the 1,000th volume is reached (the threshold in earlier years was lower), the volume number is reset to 1 and a "2d" is appended after the reporter's abbreviation. Some case reporters are in their third series, and a few are approaching their fourth.
Some very old Supreme Court cases have odd-looking citations, such as Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803). The "(1 Cranch)" refers to the fact that, before there was a reporter series known as the United States Reports compiled by the Supreme Court's Reporter of Decisions, cases were gathered, bound together, and sold privately by the Court's Reporter of Decisions. In this example, Marbury was first reported in an edition by William Cranch, who was responsible for publishing Supreme Court reports from 1801 to 1815. Such reports, named for the individual who gathered them and hence called "nominative reports," existed from 1790 to 1874. Beginning in 1874, the U.S. government created the United States Reports, and at the same time simultaneously numbered the volumes previously published privately as part of a single series and began numbering sequentially from that point. In this way, "5 U.S. (1 Cranch)" means that it is the 5th overall volume of the United States Reports series, but the first that was originally published by William Cranch; four volumes of opinions prior to that were (for example) published by Alexander Dallas (for example, "4 U.S. (4 Dall.)"), and after Cranch's 9 volumes, 12 more were published by Henry Wheaton (e.g., "15 U.S. (2 Wheat.)").
When a case has been decided, but not yet published in the case reporter, the citation may note the volume but leave blank the page of the case reporter until it is determined. For example, Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. ___ (2007).
See the Supreme Court of the United States Reporter of Decisions for other edition names.
In the caption of a Supreme Court case, the first name listed is the name of the petitioning (appealing) party, followed by the party responding (respondent) to the appeal. In most cases, the appealing party was the losing party in the prior court. This is the same practice used in cases in the federal courts of appeal.
United States court of appeals cases are published in the Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, or F.3d). United States district court cases and cases from some specialized courts are published in the Federal Supplement (F. Supp. or F. Supp. 2d). Both are published by Thomson West; they are technically unofficial reporters, but have become widely accepted as the de facto "official" reporters of the lower federal courts because of the absence of a true official reporter. (Of the federal appeals and district courts, only one, the D.C. Circuit, has an official reporter, United States Court of Appeals Reports, and even that one is rarely used today.)
When lower federal court opinions are cited, the citation includes the name of the court. This is placed in the parentheses immediately before the year. Some examples:
State court decisions are published in several places. Many states have their own official state reporters, which publish decisions of one or more of that state's courts. Reporters that publish decisions of a state's highest court are abbreviated the same as the state's name (note: this is the traditional abbreviation, not the postal abbreviation), regardless of what the actual title of the reporter is. Thus, the official reporter of decisions of the California Supreme Court (titled California Reports) is abbreviated "Cal." (or, for subsequent series, "Cal. 2d," "Cal. 3d" or "Cal. 4th").
In addition to the official reporters, Thomson West publishes several series of "regional reporters" which cover several states each. These are the North Eastern Reporter, Atlantic Reporter, South Eastern Reporter, Southern Reporter, South Western Reporter, North Western Reporter, and Pacific Reporter. California, Illinois, and New York also each have their own line of Thomson West reporters, because of the large volume of cases generated in those states (titled, respectively, West's California Reporter, Illinois Decisions, and West's New York Supplement). Some smaller states (like South Dakota) have stopped publishing their own official reporters, and instead have certified the appropriate West regional reporter as their "official" reporter.
Here are some examples of how to cite West reporters:
Abbreviations for lower courts vary by state, as each state has its own system of trial courts and intermediate appellate courts.
When a case appears in both an official reporter and a regional reporter, either citation can be used. Generally, citing to the regional reporter is preferred, since out-of-state attorneys are more likely to have access to these. Many lawyers prefer to include both citations. Some state courts require that parallel citations (in this case, citing to both the official reporter and an unofficial regional reporter) be used when citing cases from any court in that state's system.
Some states, notably California and New York, have their own citation systems that differ significantly from the various federal and national standards. Citations in California style put the year between the names of the parties and the reference to the case reporter. Citations in New York style wrap the year in brackets instead of parentheses. Both New York and California wrap an entire citation in parentheses when it is used as a stand-alone sentence. New York puts the terminating period outside the parentheses, but California puts it inside. New York wraps just the reporter and page references in parentheses when the citation is used as a clause.
Either way, both state styles differ from the national/Bluebook style of simply dropping in the citation as a separate sentence without further adornment. Both systems use less punctuation and spacing in their reporter abbreviations.
For example, assuming that it is being placed as a stand-alone sentence, the Brown case above would be cited (using the official reporter) to a New York court as:
And, again, as a stand-alone sentence, the famous Greenman product liability case would be cited to a California court as:
Like the United States Supreme Court, some very old state case citations include an abbreviation of the name of either the private publisher or the reporter of decisions, a state-appointed officer who originally collected and published the cases. For example, in Hall v. Bell, 47 Mass. (6 Met.) 431 (1843), the citation is to volume 47 of Massachusetts Reports, which, like United States Reports, was started in the latter half of the 19th century and incorporated a number of prior editions originally published privately into the series, and began numbering from that point; "6 Met." refers to the 6th volume that had originally been published privately by Theron Metcalf. An example of a case cited to a reporter that has not been subsequently incorporated into an officially-published series is Pierson v. Post, 3 Cai. 175 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1804), reported in volume 3 of Caines' Reports, page 175, named for George Caines, who had been appointed to report New York cases; the case was before the New York Supreme Court of Judicature (now defunct). Most states gave up this practice in the mid- to late-1800s, but Delaware persisted until 1920.
A growing number of court decisions are not published in case reporters. For example, only 7% of the opinions of the California intermediate courts (the Courts of Appeal) are published each year. This is mainly because judges certify only significant decisions for publication, due to the massive number of frivolous appeals flowing through the courts and the importance of avoiding information overload. It is also argued that this is in part because in many states, especially California, the legislature has failed to expand the judiciary to keep up with population growth (for various political and fiscal reasons). To deal with their crushing caseloads, many judges prefer to write shorter-than-normal opinions that dispose of minor issues in the case in a sentence or two. They avoid publishing such abbreviated opinions, however, so as not to risk creating bad precedents.
Attorneys have several options in citing "unpublished" decisions:
Some court systems—such as the California state court system and the federal Court of Appeals for the Second, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits—forbid attorneys to cite unpublished cases as precedent. Other systems allow citation of unpublished cases only under specific circumstances. For example, in Kentucky, unpublished cases from that state's courts can only be cited if the case was decided after January 1, 2003 and "there is no published opinion that would adequately address the issue before the court." From 2004 to 2006, federal judges debated whether the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (FRAP) should be amended so that unpublished cases in all circuits could be cited as precedent. In 2006, the Supreme Court, over the objection of several hundred judges and lawyers, adopted a new Rule 32.1 of FRAP requiring that federal courts allow citation of unpublished cases. The rule took effect on January 1, 2007.
With the rise of the web, many courts placed new cases on websites. Some were published while others never lost their "unpublished" status. The major legal citation systems required cites to the officially published page numbers, in which publishers such as West Publishing claimed a copyright interest. (In view of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, that the mere alphabetical listing of telephone subscribers was an inadequate amount of effort to be valid to obtain copyright, the claim of copyright on page numbering of court decisions is probably not valid.)
A vendor-neutral citation movement led to provisions being made for citations to web-based cases and other legal materials. A few courts modified their rules to specifically take into account cases "published" on the web.
An example of a vendor-neutral citation:
In practice, most lawyers go one step farther, once they have developed the correct citation for a case using the rules discussed above. Most court opinions contain holdings on multiple issues, so lawyers need to cite to the page that contains the specific holding they wish to invoke in their own case. Such citations are known as pinpoint citations, "pin cites," or "jump cites."
For example, in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the word "person" as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the unborn. That particular holding appears on page 158 of the volume in which the Roe decision was published. A full pin cite to Roe for that holding would be as follows:
And a parallel cite to all three U.S. Supreme Court reporters, combined with pin cites for all three, would produce:
But in its opinions, the Court usually provides a direct pin cite only to the official reporter:
Even then, such citations are still quite lengthy, and obviously look quite mysterious and intimidating to laypersons when they try to read court opinions. Since the 1980s, there has been an ongoing debate among American judges as to whether they should relegate such lengthy citations to footnotes to improve the readability of their opinions, as strongly urged by Bryan Garner, one of the leading authors on legal writing style issues. Most judges do relegate some citations to footnotes (though the refusal of jurists such as Justice Stephen Breyer and Judge Richard Posner to use footnotes in their opinions is well-known).
There are two types of citations: proprietary and public domain citations. There are many citation guides; the most commonly acknowledged is called the Bluebook, published by student-run law reviews at several eminent law schools, namely Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review and Yale Law Journal. Public domain citations are those which refer to the official reporters, rather than a publication service such as Westlaw, LexisNexis, particular legal journals, or specialization-specific reporters.
States with their own unique style for court documents and case opinions also publish their own style guides which include information on their citation rules.