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The United States Reports is the official reporter of the Supreme Court of the United States.

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:

  • the title of the reports;
  • the volume number;
  • page number; and
  • year of decision.

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.[1]

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:

  • year of decision
  • the abbreviated title of the court; and
  • the decision number (not the court file number)

Rather than utilizing page numbers for pin-point references, which would depend upon particular printers and browsers, pin-point quotes refer to paragraph numbers.

Australia

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.

Reports

Abbreviation Report Years
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 -
VR Victorian Reports -

Neutral citation

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.[2]

The standard format looks like this:

Year of decision Court identifier Ordinal number
[2005] HCA 1

So the above mentioned Mabo case would then be cited like this: [1992] HCA 23.

There is a unique court identifier code for most courts. The court and tribunal identifiers include:

Court Identifier Court
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

References

Canada

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:

Hunter v. Southam, [1984] 2 S.C.R. 145.

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., [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295.
R. v. Oakes, [1986] 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,

Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General), 2005 SCC 35, [2005] 1 S.C.R. 791.

This format was introduced in 2006. Prior to this format, the opposite order of parallel citation was used.

Reports

Abbreviation Report years
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.R. National Reporter
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

Neutral citation

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
2000 SCC 1

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

References

  • Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 6th edition (McGill Law Journal) ISBN 0-459-24393-4 (bound), ISBN 0-459-24394-2 (paperback). This is not available online.
  • Canadian Citation Committee A Neutral Citation Standard for Case Law

England and Wales

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, [1932] 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.

Law Reports

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.

Abbreviation Law Report years
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 -
K.B. King's Bench 1901–1951
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 -

Neutral citation

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 [2002] 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).

How to cite a case

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 [2002] UKHL 20, [2002] 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 [2002] UKHL 20, [2002] 2 AC 692 [58].

If a case is not reported in the Law Reports, the next best report is the Weekly Law Reports (e.g. [2002] 2 WLR 1315), and then the All England Reports (e.g. [2002] 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 [2002] 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 [1932] AC 562, 573.

[edit] References

Germany

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.

Federal Constitutional Court of Germany

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

BVerfGE 65, 1 (43), Urteil des Ersten Senats vom 15. Dezember 1983 auf die mündliche Verhandlung vom 18. und 19. Oktober 1983, Az. 1 BvR 209, 269, 362, 420, 440, 484/83.

in full and

BVerfGE 65, 1 (43).

in short.

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.

BVerfG, NJW 2009, 1234 (1235 f.).

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.

Federal Court of Justice of Germany

The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof, short BGH) publishes the official collections BGHSt for decisions in penal law and BGHZ for those in private law.

The Katzenkönigfall e.g. would be cited

BGHSt 35, 347 ff., Urteil des 4. Strafsenats vom 15. September 1988, Az. 4 StR 352/88, 35, 347.

in full and

BGHSt 35, 347 ff.

in short (in this example, not a specific page but the case as such is cited; "ff." means "sqq.").

Other federal courts

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.

Other courts

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

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.

Supreme Court of India

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.

High Courts

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.

New Zealand

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 [1984] 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.

Reporters

Abbreviation Reporter Years
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.

Neutral citation

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[2] 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
[2005] NZSC 1

There is a unique court identifier code only for the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. These identifiers are:

Court Identifier Court
NZSC Supreme Court of New Zealand
NZCA New Zealand Court of Appeal

The Philippines

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.

Official reporter

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:

People v. Flores, 442 Phil. 561 (2002)

where:

  • People v. Flores is the name of the case
  • 442 is the volume number of the Philippine Reports where the case may be found
  • Phil. is the standard abbreviation of Philippine Reports
  • 561 is the page number in the Philippine Reports which contains the beginning of the decision. If this number is followed by a comma then another page number (i.e., 442 Phil. 561, 563), the latter number indicates the particular page where the annotated text can be found
  • (2002) is the year the case was decided.

Unofficial reporter

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:

Fortich v. Corona, G.R. No. 131457, 24 April 1998, 289 SCRA 624

where:

  • Fortich v. Corona is the name of the case
  • G.R. No. 131457 is the case docket number originally assigned by the Supreme Court at the time the action was filed with the Court
  • 24 April 1998 is the exact date the decision of this case was promulgated
  • 289 is the volume number of the Supreme Court Reports Annotated where the case may be found
  • SCRA is the standard abbreviation of Supreme Court Reports Annotated
  • 624 is the page number in the Supreme Court Reports Annotated which contains the beginning of the decision. If this number is followed by a comma then another page number (i.e., 289 SCRA 624, 627), the latter number indicates the particular page where the annotated text can be found

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)

Lower court decisions

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).

Scotland

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, [2005] CSIH 1

The Supreme Court has issued a practice note on the use of neutral citation.

United States

The standard case citation format in the United States is:

Roe v. Wade [Case], 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

where:

  • Roe v. Wade is the abbreviated name of the case. Generally, the first name Roe is the surname of the plaintiff, who is the party who filed the suit for an original case, or the appellant, the party appealing in a case being appealed from a lower court, or the petitioner when litigating in the high court of a jurisdiction; and Wade is the surname of the defendant, the party responding to the suit, or the appellee, the party responding to the appeal, or the respondent, when defending in the high court of the jurisdiction. There are exceptions. For example, under the Rules of the United States Supreme Court, parties are typically referred to as petitioner and respondent under Rule 12 (when seeking discretionary review by writ of certiorari), but are occasionally referred to as plaintiff and defendant under Rule 17 (when invoking the court's original jurisdiction as provided for in the U.S. Constitution) or as appellant and appellee under Rule 18 (when direct review is provided for by federal statute).
  • 410 is the volume number of the "reporter" in which the Court's written opinion in the Roe v. Wade is published,
  • U.S. is the abbreviation of the reporter, here "U.S." stands for United States Reports,
  • 113 is the page number (in volume 410 of United States Reports) where the opinion begins, and
  • 1973 is the year in which the court rendered its decision.
  • The abbreviated name of the court will be included inside the parenthesis before the year if the name of the court is not obvious from the reporter. In this example the name of the court (United States Supreme Court) is obvious and thus omitted.

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.

Supreme Court of the United States

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.

Lower federal courts

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 courts

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").

  • Green v. Chi. Tribune Co., 286 Ill. App. 3d 1 (App. Ct. 1996) - a case in the Illinois Appellate Court, reported in Illinois Appellate Court Reports. Note that, in contrast to New York, the Illinois Appellate Court is only the intermediate court of appeals in Illinois; decisions of the Illinois Supreme Court are reported in Illinois Reports, abbreviated "Ill." (or "Ill. 2d").

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:

  • Jackson v. Commonwealth, 583 S.E.2d 780 (Va. Ct. App. 2003) - a case in the Virginia Court of Appeals (an intermediate appellate court) published in the South Eastern Reporter
  • Foxworth v. Maddox, 137 So. 161 (Fla. 1931) - a case in the Florida Supreme Court published in the Southern Reporter
  • People v. Brown, 282 N.Y.S.2d 497 (1967) - a case in the New York Court of Appeals (New York's highest court) published in the New York Supplement. The case also appears in West's regional reporter: People v. Brown, 229 N.E.2d 192 (N.Y. 1967).

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:

  • (People v Brown, 20 NY2d 238 [1967]).

And, again, as a stand-alone sentence, the famous Greenman product liability case would be cited to a California court as:

  • (Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 Cal.2d 57.)[3]

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.

Unpublished decisions

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.[4] 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:

  • For cases that have not been published or put in an electronic database, or very recently-decided cases that have not yet been published or put in an electronic database, a citation to the case's docket number before the court that decided it is required.
    • Groucho Marx Prods. v. Playboy Enters., No. 77 Civ. 1782 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 30, 1977) - a decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; the docket number and specific date allow a researcher to track down the printed copy maintained by the court if needed (legal citation forms strongly prefer citations to traditional printed resources).
  • Cases which are intentionally left officially unpublished are nonetheless often "published" on computer services, such as LexisNexis and Westlaw. These services have their own citation formats based on the year of the case, an abbreviation indicating the computer service (or a specific database of that computer service), and a serial number (issued sequentially from 1 as documents are added to the database each year); citations to online databases also usually include the case's docket number and the specific date on which it was decided (due to the preference for citation to traditional printed resources). Examples include:
    • Fuqua Homes, Inc. v. Beattie, No. 03-3587, 2004 WL 2495842 (8th Cir. Nov. 8, 2004) - a case found on the Westlaw electronic database, decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit; the citation includes the case's original docket number (No. 03-3587), and a citation to the electronic database that indicates the year of decision, the database (WL for Westlaw) and a unique serial number in that database (2495842).
    • Chavez v. Metro. Dist. Comm'n, No. 3:02CV458(MRK), 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11266 (D. Conn. June 1, 2004) - a case decided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut; the citation includes the case's original docket number (No. 3:02CV458(MRK)), the year of decision, the database (U.S. Dist. LEXIS, indicating the LexisNexis database for U.S. District Court cases), and a unique serial number in that database (11266).

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."[5] 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.[6]

Vendor-neutral citations

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[7] 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:

  • Equal. Found. of Greater Cincinnati, Inc. v. City of Cincinnati, 1997 FED App. 0318P (6th Cir.) - a 1997 case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; the citation to the numbering system adopted by the court ("1997 FED App. 0318P") eliminates the need to cite to a specific vendor's product, in this case Thomson West's Federal Reporter (i.e., 128 F.3d 289).

Pinpoint citations

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:

  • Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 158, 93 S. Ct. 705, 729, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147, 180 (1973).

But in its opinions, the Court usually provides a direct pin cite only to the official reporter:

  • Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 158, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973).

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).

Types of citations

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.

External links

Law by state

See also

References

  1. ^ World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII)
  2. ^ a b http://austlii.edu.au
  3. ^ Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 C2d 57
  4. ^ Schmier v. Supreme Court, 78 Cal. App. 4th 703 (2000). The plaintiff in this case unsuccessfully challenged the selective publication policy as unconstitutional. The court retorted: "Appellant either misunderstands or ignores the realities of the intermediate appellate process." The court went on to describe the variety of frivolous appeals regularly encountered by the Courts of Appeal, and concluded: "Our typical opinions in such cases add nothing to the body of stare decisis, and if published would merely clutter overcrowded library shelves and databases with information utterly useless to anyone other than the actual litigants therein and complicate the search for meaningful precedent."
  5. ^ "CR 76.28(4)". Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure. Kentucky Court of Justice. http://kyrules.west.thomson.com/Find/Default.wl?DocName=KYSTRCPR76%2E28&FindType=W&DB=KY-TOC-WEB%3BSTAKYTOC&RS=WLW2%2E07&VR=2%2E0. Retrieved 2008-04-12.  
  6. ^ McDonald, Molly, "Door slowly opens for unpublished opinions", ABA Journal eReport, April 21, 2006.
  7. ^ AALL Citation Formats Committee

External links


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